If you’re looking for a way to spend a Saturday afternoon with friends or family, the Smithsonian is providing the perfect solution. Today, September 21, is National Museum Day, and the Smithsonian is giving all Americans the chance to visit many of its nearly 1,500 museums across the country for free.
To take advantage of the day, visit Smithsonian.com, enter your email, and download your ticket. Though most people think of the Smithsonian as a Washington D.C. museum, there are exhibits and museums all over the country that are run by the institution.
When requesting a ticket, make sure to specify which museum you will want to be visiting. A list of participating museums can be found on their website to the left of the page, and you can search by state and zip code.
The event is run by Smithsonian Magazine in an effort to bring attention to some of the country’s most interesting, but not as well-known, exhibitions.
Examples of this include the Superstition Mountain Lost Dutchman Museum (an ore mill turned movie ranch, on land that’s been settled for 12,000 years) in Apache Junction, Arizona; the American Bookbinders Museum in San Francisco; or the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago.
The Smithsonian Institution has a long and interesting history. It started when an English chemist and mineralogist named James Smithson died in 1829. In his will, he stated that if his nephew and sole heir died without heirs, he wanted his estate to go to the United States “to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men” (via Smithsonian Archives).
Because of the quirky nature of the will, and the fact that many Democratic-Republicans were against a national institution due to their dedication to states’ rights, it took another decade of debate before Congress finally passed legislation in 1846.
The president at the time, President James Polk, signed it into law that very day.
Since then, the institution has expanded, and now a Smithsonian-sponsored museum exists in every state of the union. The state with the least number of participating museums is Alaska, which currently only has four. The state with the most is New York, which has 116. It is closely followed by California, which has 103.
It is a fun Saturday activity for adults but great for children as well. After all, most parents would agree that there is nothing better than seeing a child love to learn, as demonstrated by Princess Charlotte’s excitement on her first day of school.