Happy Birthday, Smithsonian!
The Smithsonian was officially created on August 10, 1846,
and one of the first things on the to-do list was constructing a building.
The 1850 glass lantern slide above
is the earliest-known photo of the Smithsonian Institution Building,
known as the Castle, and the only image of it under construction.
Smithsonian Explorers, c. 1862-63, Smithsonian Institution Archives
From the enchanting to the eccentric, the Smithsonian has an extremely rich past. There was even a group of rowdy scientists who used to live in the Smithsonian Castle. In 1857, a zoologist named William Stimpson formed a club of young naturalists aiming to build the Smithsonian’s collection. Their meetings were held in the Smithsonian Castle, and many of the members lived there.
Stimpson named the group the Megatherium Club, after the giant extinct sloth that once roamed South America. Over the years, the club developed somewhat of a rambunctious reputation among neighbors (they were known to drink beer late at night, and had sack races down the Castle halls). They called themselves “great beasts,” much like the sloth that they named themselves after.
Despite their mischief, these men were a dedicated group of naturalists, and we owe them a great deal for contribution their descriptions, classifications and specimens to American science, the Smithsonian, and many other institutions in the U.S.
“science doesn’t have all the answers,
but it is good at spotting the important questions
when they are camouflaged against a background of common sense.”