Jeff Bezos gives Smithsonian its largest donation in 175 years

Marianne Wilson
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The Smithsonian Institution is set to receive its largest donation since its founding gift from James Smithson in 1846.

Jeff Bezos founder and executive chair of Amazon, and founder of aerospace and space flight company Blue Origin, is giving the Smithsonian $200 million. The donation comes less than a week before Bezos is due to blast off on the first crewed mission of his Blue Origin spaceship.

A $70 million portion of the Bezos donation will support the renovation of the National Air and Space Museum. And $130 million will launch a new education center — to be named the Bezos Learning Center —at the museum.

“The Smithsonian plays a vital role in igniting the imaginations of our future builders and dreamers,” Bezos said. “Every child is born with great potential, and it’s inspiration that unlocks that potential. My love affair with science, invention and space did that for me, and I hope this gift does that for others.”

The education center will be housed in a new facility to be constructed on the east side of the museum’s plaza at its flagship location on the National Mall. It will feature programs and activities that inspire students to pursue innovation and explore careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) fields, and it will help teachers better utilize the Smithsonian’s collections. 

The center will connect to all Smithsonian museums, coordinating STEAM-related collections and experts across the Institution and promoting inquiry-based learning in visitors of all ages, with a focus on under-resourced communities.

[Read More: Jeff Bezos to step down as CEO of Amazon]

Bezos has a long history of supporting the Smithsonian. He was a founding donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and has contributed to the National Air and Space Museum.  

“Almost 175 years ago, Mr. Smithson’s inaugural gift laid the groundwork for this innovative approach, bringing together private philanthropy and public funding,” said Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch. “Today, as we emerge from a pivotal moment in history, Jeff’s donation builds on that original tradition and will help us reimagine and transform the Smithsonian. This historic gift will help the Smithsonian achieve its goal of reaching every classroom in America by creating a world-class learning center with access and inspiration at its heart. We are grateful to Jeff for his generosity and for his passion and commitment to education, innovation and technology. This donation will fuel our nation’s future leaders and innovators.”