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We all know him as THE guy who proved that zinc carbonates are actually true carbonate minerals and not zinc oxides. Duh!

But 19th-century British scientist, traveler and all-around dandy James Smithson is also the guy behind America’s Smithsonian Institution, that bursting repository of knowledge that encompasses 19 museums, nine research centers and more than 140 affiliate museums worldwide.

In the end, Smithson left $508,318 in his will for the people of the U.S. to erect such an institution. Things sort of snowballed from there.

After a long and illustrious scientific career, Smithson left this earthly plane in 1829 in Genoa, Italy, at 64, according to the Smithsonian Web site.

He left the bulk of his family’s estate to his nephew, James Hungerford. But a stipulation dictated that if Hungerford died without children, "legitimate or illegitimate," according to the site, the estate would 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."

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