Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 62.djvu/480

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The regents of the Smithsonian Institution held their annual meeting on January 28, and the report of the secretary for the year ending June 30, 1902, has been made public. The first year-book of the Carnegie Institution is nearly ready, and will probably be distributed at about the same time as the present number of the Monthly. Those who are interested in science have, therefore, an opportunity to judge the work of these institutions, so unique in their objects and so great in their possibilities. The two institutions have many points of similarity in their organization and aims. The original bequest of Smithson, approximately $500,000, was about the same as the average endowment of the leading colleges at the time, and the $10,000,000 given by Mr. Carnegie is now about equal to the average endowment of our great universities. Each institution is managed by a board, which meets once a year at Washington and is composed of eminent citizens of the country. Each institution has an executive head, but lacks any body corresponding to the faculty of a university. There are, however, several points of difference. The Smithsonian Institution is concerned with the diffusion as well as with the increase of knowledge, and its activities are supposed to extend 'per orbem.' The Carnegie Institution is confined to the advancement of knowledge by research, and the founder has stated: 'That his chief purpose is to secure, if possible, for the United States of America leadership in the domain of discovery.'

The Smithsonian Institution has performed a service of immense importance, though probably not on the lines expected by the founder. What should be done with Smithson's bequest was for years a matter of debate in congress and elsewhere. When the institution was finally organized in 1846, it was the main center of scientific work in the country. Its 'establishment' was the president of the United States with his cabinet, the vice-president and the chief justice. The regents represented the executive, the supreme court, the senate, the house, the District of Columbia and different states. The secretary was keeper of the museum, librarian and practically the head of all the scientific work done at Washington. But in fifty years the scientific activity of the country has developed in a way that is without precedent. The incomes of our leading universities are twice the original endowment of the Smithsonian, and the national government spends annually on the geological survey or the weather bureau twice this endowment.

The Smithsonian Institution might conceivably have become a branch of the government coordinate with the executive, legislative and judicial branches, but the reverse of this has happened; its functions have become increasingly unimportant, and it probably now is a drag on the government agencies that it still administers. The establishment is a mere name; the regents meet annually for an hour or two to listen to the report of the secretary; there is no more reason why the secretary should continue as keeper of the national museum than as librarian of the national library. The last report of the secretary is certainly dis-