Melodrama at the Smithsonian

His friends knew him as a compulsive gambler, but clearly he was also a very smart investor. (Some people think they’re the same thing.) He took a small inheritance from his Hungerford relatives and built it into a fortune. And now we come to the heart of the story.

James Smithson never married. In his will he left his fortune to his only living relative, the son of his deceased half-brother, and then on to that nephew’s children. The will was clear: if the nephew died without an heir, the estate was to go “to the united states of America to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” 

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