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Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian Institution

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The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum and research complex, endowed by the British scientist, James Smithson, who provided money as a bequest in his will when he died in 1829. Located in Washington, D.C., the institution was created by an act of Congress in August 1846, under the management of a board of regents. Henry continued to guide the institution through the next 32 years.The Smithsonian Institution is an imposing establishment with 18 museums and galleries, 138 affiliate organizations, nine research centers, and 247 traveling exhibition service locations under its auspices. Smithsonian researchers have conducted their work at 57 sites around the globe.The Smithsonian Institution enjoys the reputation of providing more museum experiences than any other institution in the world. With more than 20 million visitors from across the world, the institution has shared some of America’s most celebrated and significant objects, including pieces from Amerindian culture.The National Museum of the American Indian, located in the institution, is the first national museum in the U.S. It presents a 10,000-year history with representation from more than 1,000 indigenous cultures.Among the IMAX theaters in the institution, the Albert Einstein Planetarium and the Discovery Theater provide a spectacular astronomical adventure.The Archives of American Art, which are a part of the complex, have the world’s largest collection of primary-source documents on American visual arts. The institution also showcases the portraits of distinguished Americans through the National Portrait Gallery.The Smithsonian Institution's other museum complexes include, but are not limited to, the National Museum of Natural History, National Design Museum, Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, and the National Zoological Park.The institution also operates a Kid’s Farm to educate children about domestic animals and show how food originates on American farms.

Smithsonian Institution Building

The Smithsonian Institution Building, located near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. behind the National Museum of African Art and the Sackler Gallery, houses the Smithsonian Institution's administrative offices and information center. The building is constructed of Seneca red sandstone in the Norman Revival style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs built in the Gothic and Romanesque revival styles) and is nicknamed The Castle. It was completed in 1855 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. [1]

Ship Plans

The Smithsonian's collection of watercraft plans, maintained by the History of Technology Division of the National Museum of American History, is a valuable resource for the maritime historian, the student of naval architecture, other scholars, the model builder, and craftspeople. To make this collection more accessible to the public, black-line reproductions of many of the plans are offered for sale. The following three publications contain descriptions of plans and instructions for ordering large-scale copies these catalogs are only available by writing to the address below. The catalogs and plans belonging to the Smithsonian Institution are copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any form without prior written permission.

1. Ship Plan List (American merchant ships and small craft)

This 250-page catalog lists plans of historic American watercraft -- bark canoes, clipper ships, fishing schooners, skipjacks, sidewheel steamers, harbor tugs, and many others.

Among the plans listed in the Ship Plan List are those published in the following books and articles by Howard I. Chapelle:

  • The American Fishing Schooners 1825 -- 1935
  • American Sailing Craft
  • American Small Sailing Craft
  • The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, with Edwin T. Adney
  • Boatbuilding
  • "Chesapeake Bay Crabbing Skiffs"
  • The History of American Sailing Ships
  • The National Watercraft Collection
  • The Search for Speed Under Sail: 1700 -- 1855
  • "Notes on Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks"

Unpublished plans by Howard I. Chapelle are also listed. These include plans for historic yachts, pilot schooners, and small craft.

This catalog also lists plans from:

  • The Historic American Merchant Marine Survey (HAMMS) of 1936 -- 1937
  • The William Maxwell Blake Collection of Drawings of Far East Watercraft
  • Miscellaneous commercial fishing vessels built in Seattle, Washington, 1910 -- 1930
  • Simplified Boatbuilding: The Flat-Bottom Boat, by Harry V. Sucher
  • Simplified Boatbuilding: The V-Bottom Boat, by Harry V. Sucher

U.S.N. Brig Lawrence
Detail of Warship Plan 4

2. The Smithsonian Collection of Warship Plans

This 129-page list includes plans for American sailing and early steam warships from the mid-18th century to 1900. Many are from Howard I. Chapelle's book The History of the American Sailing Navy. Some ordnance drawings also are included. This new edition contains more than 50 pages of new designs, including historic naval ship plans and drawings by Merritt A. Edson, Jr.

3. The Maritime Administration Collection of Ship Plans (1939 -- 1970)

This 70-page list includes ship design plans recently acquired from the Maritime Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. Fifty-five vessel designs are represented, including plans for World War II Liberty and Victory ships, cargo vessels, passenger ships, tankers, container ships, and other designs from the 1950s and 1960s. The collection also includes 60 sheets of design plans for the famous superliner SS United States.

  1. Ship Plans List/Maritime Collection: $20.00
  2. The Maritime Administration Collection of Ship Plans (1939-1970): $15.00
  3. The Smithsonian Collection of Warship Plans: $15.00

Foreign orders may obtain airmail by adding an additional US $5.00. Please indicate which catalog(s) you wish to receive and enclose a check or money order payable to the Smithsonian Institution for the total amount. Do not send cash. We cannot accept credit card orders. All foreign orders should be paid by check, in U.S. funds, payable on a New York bank.

All orders are handled by mail. Please send your order to:

Ship Plans
Smithsonian Institution
PO Box 37012
NMAH 5004 / MRC 628
Washington, DC 20013-7012 USA

Contact Form

To e-mail the Smithsonian ship plans service, please use this contact form. Please use this contact form for questions about our catalogs and collection of ship plans.

We raised the prices for copies of our drawings in December 2004 if you have a catalog older than that and don’t want the newer, expanded one, please write for the newer price(s) before sending a check..

Notice to Mariners

The majority of the Smithsonian watercraft plans are NOT original builder's plans. Most are the result of field documentation -- the process of taking the lines off historic vessels and half-hull models. Therefore, complete construction details and tables of offsets are not always available. Skilled naval architects and boat builders typically can develop tables of offsets from basic lines plans. In fact, we have heard from a number of boat builders who have built full-sized craft from Smithsonian plans. However, the Smithsonian cannot warrant the seaworthiness or safety of vessels built from its collection of study plans.

For questions on design drawings for specific vessels, please use the above contact form. We generally fill orders within four weeks of receipt.

Smithsonian Institution - History

  • Current
Recent Bulletin Reports
    | Ash eruption in March 2020 lava extrusion in August filled and then overflowed the crater in January 2021 | Small lava flows in the summit crater during September 2020-February 2021 | Ash plumes, SO2 plumes, and thermal anomalies continued during October 2020-March 2021 | Ash and sulfur dioxide plumes during October 2020-March 2021 | Block avalanches, pyroclastic flows, and ash explosions continue through February 2021 | Ash emissions in November and December 2020, then thermal anomalies through February 2021 | New domes appear in January and February 2021 large explosion on 27 January | Gas-and-ash emissions, SO2 plumes, and thermal anomalies during September 2020-February 2021 | Frequent small phreatic explosions through 13 December 2020 | New eruption in December 2020 with an active lava lake, lava flows, spattering, and a dome fountain | Increasing activity with ash emissions, explosions, and lava flows on multiple flanks during December 2020-February 2021 | Explosions, ash plumes, crater incandescence, and an active lava lake during September 2020-February 2021 | Lava dome growth in November 2020 and continuing thermal anomalies

The Volcanoes of the World database is a catalog of Holocene and Pleistocene volcanoes, and eruptions from the past 10,000 years.

Frequently Asked Questions (more questions are available)
    | 40-50 continuing eruptions at any given time. | About 1,400 active in the past 10,000 years. | No. | Range of 56-88 total eruptions per year since 1991. | 101 eruptions 5 years or longer. | 10 have >1 million people within 5 km. | 187 volcanoes with significant activity or impacts.

Site & Database News

14 May 2021 Database updated (4.10.0). Completed review of 2020 eruptions. Current eruptions updated through 6 May 2021. General updates to volcano data.

17 March 2021 Database updated (4.9.4). Current eruptions updated through 12 March 2021. General updates to volcano data.

1 February 2021 Database updated (4.9.3). Current eruptions updated through 28 January 2021. General updates to volcano data.

15 December 2020 Database updated (4.9.2). Current eruptions updated through 10 December 2020. General updates to volcano data. Style and organizational changes.

E3 Web Application

The "Eruptions, Earthquakes, & Emissions" web application (or "E3") is a time-lapse animation of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes since 1960. It also shows volcanic gas emissions (sulfur dioxide, SO2) since 1978 &mdash the first year satellites were available to provide global monitoring of SO2.

Who We Are

The mission of GVP is to document, understand, and disseminate information about global volcanic activity.

Maya Lin

I EXPLORE how we experience and relate to nature, setting up a systematic ordering of the land, tied to history, memory, time and language.

My art is an ode to nature. The Chesapeake Bay is a favorite. It is intricate and meandering and has been changed by human activity. But, nature is resilient.

To represent its beauty and fragility, I studied satellite images and historical maps for Folding the Chesapeake, an installation of 54,000 marbles. Through this work, I hope to motivate people to protect the bay as a vibrant life force.

Folding the Chesapeake is at the Smithsonian. It will be used to tell Maya Lin’s story and other women’s stories of their passion to protect nature.


Photo: Wolfe, Alexandra, “Art and Architecture: Maya Lin,” The Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2015. PHOTO MATT FURMAN

Content: Maya Lin, artist talk, 2015–2016, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery Nodjimbadem, Katie, “Maya Lin Used 54,000 Marbles to Model the Chesapeake Bay,” Smithsonian Magazine, November 9, 2015

Folklife Festival Narrative Session: Radio Bilingue Linea Abierta (with George Abe and others)

Hosted by Chelis Lopez and Samuel Orozco, Línea Abierta of California's Radio Biligue is the first and only national live talk and call-in program in public broadcasting interconnecting Spanish-speaking audiences and newsmakers throughout the United States and Mexico. During the Festival, the hosts recorded live interviews from "The Studio" stage with Folklife Festival participants, providing visitors with a glimpse into the radio production process. In this session, Lopez and Orozco are joined by presenter Ranald Woodaman and FandangObon members George Abe, Elaine Fukumoto, Nancy Sekizawa, Sean Miura, and Nobuko Miyamoto to discuss participatory music and dance traditions, with a focus on the connections between fandango son jarocho of Veracruz, Mexico, and the Japanese Buddhist ritual of obon. This narrative session was a part of the Sounds of California program at the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Digital Collections

The Libraries' physical collections comprise 1.5 million books and manuscripts, along with over 400,000 pieces of ephemera, microfilm, photo collections and a/v material, housed in over 21 locations in Washington, Maryland, New York, and Panama. Some of those collections are available via inter-library loan request through your local public, school, or corporate library. If you're with an organization interested in using one of our collections items in an exhibition, please see the Exhibition Loan Services page.

  • Additional details of the collections housed in the various library locations can be found on the branch web pages.
  • To see if a specific book or journal is in our collection, search our catalog.

How has your experience with music changed in 2020?

What happens when music making as we know it disappears—when the very act of singing together or going to a concert becomes dangerous? And then, how and why does music continue to function as an important tool for bringing people together? In a year defined by life under quarantine and social distancing, and a public reckoning about centuries of systemic racism and the calls for social justice, our experiences with music—to pray, to heal, to express sorrow and joy, to show solidarity and to protest, to celebrate loved ones, and to mourn—have changed dramatically.

People are finding new ways to enjoy and make music together, from balcony and backyard recitals to live streaming experiences to virtual choirs of individually recorded performances. Music has maintained a vital role in our collective experience, despite, or perhaps, because of the challenging circumstances that we face.


Were you involved in the design or construction of the original National Air and Space Museum building in Washington, DC? Share your story with us at [email protected]

Built in 1918, the Aircraft Building housed most of the Museum's aviation collection for decades. Taken in 1938, this photo also shows a tank and artillery piece displayed by the front door.

The Early Years

The Smithsonian's connection to flight began with the birth of the Institution, first headed by Joseph Henry, a physicist, balloon enthusiast, and sky-watcher. In 1861, Henry made a pivotal contribution to American aviation when he invited Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe to inflate his hot air balloon on the Smithsonian grounds. This demonstration eventually led to the birth of American aerial reconnaissance during the Civil War.

It is no wonder then, that the Smithsonian's aeronautical collection began well before 1976, when the National Air and Space Museum was constructed on the Mall in Washington, DC. One hundred years before, in 1876, a group of 20 beautiful kites was acquired from the Chinese Imperial Commission, seeding what would later become the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world.

The collections of the Museum were first housed in the Arts and Industries (A&I) Building, then after World War I, expanded to a Quonset hut erected by the War Department behind the Smithsonian Castle. Affectionately known as the "Tin Shed," the new building opened to the public in 1920, and would remain in use for the next 55 years.

The National Air Museum

In 1946, President Harry Truman signed a bill establishing the Smithsonian's National Air Museum to memorialize the development of aviation collect, preserve, and display aeronautical equipment and provide educational material for the study of aviation. The legislation didn't provide for the construction of a new building however, and the collection soon outgrew the Museum's exhibition space. Since there was no room left in the Arts and Industries Building or the "Tin Shed," WWII aircraft and other items such as engines and missiles were stored at an abandoned aircraft factory in Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The U.S. Navy had a similar collection in storage for the Smithsonian at Norfolk, Va.

In 1951 as a result of the Korean War emergency, the Museum had to vacate the Park Ridge premises. In response to the immediate need for space, Paul Garber, the National Air Museum's first curator, located 21 acres in Silver Hill, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. With the addition of several prefabricated buildings the site became the storage area for the National Air Museum. Garber had managed to save the collection. To honor his achievement, the location was named the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility in 1980.

Joining the Space Age

Well before spaceflight became a reality, the Smithsonian took a leading role in funding one of America's most important rocket pioneers. In 1916, Robert Goddard wrote to Secretary Charles Greeley Abbot requesting a grant to support his research. The Smithsonian awarded him $5,000 to conduct his first practical experiments in rocketry, and eventually published his classic treatise, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes.

Over the next 50 years, as the technology continued to advance, and as the collection expanded to include artifacts related to rocketry and spaceflight, it became clear that the Museum was entering a new phase. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a law that changed the name of the National Air Museum to the National Air and Space Museum to memorialize the development of both aviation and spaceflight. The Museum's collection on display expanded to include missiles and rockets, some of which were located outdoors near the Arts and Industries Building in an area that was known as "Rocket Row."

Funding to construct a new building was approved in 1971, and with the location determined: it would be on the National Mall between Fourth and Seventh Streets S.W., the Smithsonian Secretary, C. Dillon Ripley, hired former Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins as the National Air and Space Museum's director. Collins would guide the Museum through its construction, hire a team of top-notch professionals, oversee the creation of first-rate exhibits, and launch the Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies. This new division was devoted to active research in analysis of lunar and planetary spacecraft data and the lead center for Earth observations and photography from the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

Groundbreaking took place on November 20, 1972 and in early 1975 the awesome task of filling the building with air- and spacecraft began. The goal of opening during America's bicentennial year was met, and the building was inaugurated with great fanfare on July 1, 1976.

The success of the Smithsonian's new National Air and Space Museum exceeded expectations. The five millionth visitor crossed the threshold only six months after opening day. Today, the National Air and Space Museum is one of the most visited museums in the world.


Two days before the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' historic 1903 flights, the Museum greeted the second century of flight by opening a spectacular new companion museum. Located on the grounds of Washington Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center dwarfs the Museum in Washington, DC in size. It displays more than 150 aircraft in its huge Boeing Aviation Hangar and about as many rockets, missiles, satellites, and other spacecraft in its James S. McDonnell Space Hangar , with more artifacts being moved there all the time. The Center houses a new and larger restoration facility, an archives, collections processing unit, conservation laboratory, and collections storage for small objects.

The Flight Continues

The collection that started in 1876 with a group of 20 kites has grown to nearly 60,000 objects. A large portion of the major objects in the collection are on public display, either at the Museum or on loan to other Institutions around the world. Many more objects remain in storage. The Museum remains the preeminent American institution for memorializing flight, and for collecting, preserving, and presenting aviation and space technology. It also plays a pivotal role in planetary research. Today the Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies has team members on all active missions to Mars (the Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Express spacecraft), Mercury (MESSENGER spacecraft), and the Moon (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter).

What is to come will be limited only be the imaginations of future generations, many of whom will be inspired by a childhood visit to see the remarkable airplanes and spacecraft at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Celebrating Influential Latinos in American History

Smithsonian Latino Center Presents Nuestra América: 30 Inspiring Latinas/Latinos Who Have Shaped the United States

Nuestra América is an anthology that tells the stories of notable Latino figures such as pioneers Luis Álvarez and Sonia Sotomayor artists Celia Cruz and Lin-Manuel Miranda activists César Chávez, Sylvia Rivera and Emma González and military veterans Olga E. Custodio and Macario García.

Watch the video: Explore Smithsonian: James Smithson - The Founder of the Smithsonian (May 2022).


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