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175 Years of Smithsonian Collecting

For the past 175 years, the Smithsonian has acquired collections that tell important stories, advance scientific and cultural research, and help us better understand ourselves, our country, and the world.

What does the Smithsonian collect?

The Smithsonian collects everything from aeronautics to zoology. Our broad range of collections include national icons, works of art, living plants and animals, and historical and scientific material vital to the study of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

Why does the Smithsonian collect?

Smithsonian collections are a vital resource for millions of visitors and researchers around the globe. Collections acquired a century or more ago document the past and enable researchers to address 21st-century challenges. Collections also define our national identity, documenting our history, diversity, ideals, and values.

How does the Smithsonian collect?

Since 1846, the Smithsonian has acquired items through donation, bequest, purchase, field collecting, and other methods. Standards of collections acquisition, care, and stewardship have evolved over time. Today, the Smithsonian follows rigorous collecting guidelines that are implemented by dedicated collections professionals.

Black and white image of Ling-Ling the Giant Panda in a wash tub at National Zoo, 1972
Giant Panda Ling-Ling in Tub at National Zoo, 1972
Smithsonian Institution Archives









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