Established in 1846 "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge," is a group of museums and research centers administered by the United States government. Originally organized as the "United States National Museum," that name ceased to exist as an administrative entity in 1967. Termed "the nation's attic" for its eclectic holdings of 137 million items, the Institution's Washington, D.C. nucleus of nineteen museums, nine research centers, and zoo—many of them historical or architectural landmarks—is the largest such complex in the world. Additional facilities are located in Arizona, Maryland, New York City, Virginia, Panama and elsewhere, and 168 other museums are Smithsonian affiliates. The Institution's thirty million annual visitors are admitted without charge; funding comes from the Institution's own endowment, private and corporate contributions, membership dues, government support, and retail, concession and licensing revenues.
The Smithsonian Institution was created by Congress in 1846 as "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge."
Congress vested responsibility for the administration of the Smithsonian in a Board of Regents, consisting of the Chief Justice of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, three members of the United States Senate, three members of the United States House of Representatives, and nine citizens. The Board of Regents meets at least four times each year and typically convenes in the Regents Room, which is located above the south entrance of the Smithsonian Castle Building.