Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will donate $200 million to the Smithsonian Institution to renovate the National Air and Space Museum and open a new education center next door.
The massive donation from Mr. Bezos, announced late Wednesday, will constitute the largest gift the Smithsonian has ever received since the initial sum that led to its founding nearly 200 years ago.
Seventy million dollars will go toward updating the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, and the rest of the sum will be spent on the new “Bezos Learning Center,” the Smithsonian said.
“The Smithsonian plays a vital role in igniting the imaginations of our future builders and dreamers,” Mr. Bezos, the wealthiest person in the world, said in a statement released by the Smithsonian. “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 Smithsonian plays a vital role in igniting the imaginations of our future builders and dreamers,” Mr. Bezos, the wealthiest person in the world, said in a statement released by the Smithsonian. “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.”
In the 1820s, James Smithson, an English scientist, bequeathed his estate “to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”
More than $500,000 in gold belonging to Smithson was given to the U.S. government after he died in 1829 and the Smithsonian was soon established. Construction of its first museum was completed in 1881.
“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,” said Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch.
“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,” Mr. Bunch added. “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.
The Air and Space Museum was established in 1946 and opened its current building on the Mall in 1976. Historic aircraft and spacecraft from its collection are displayed there and at an annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
The Smithsonian said the “Bezos Center” will be housed in a new facility that will be constructed on the east side of the museum’s plaza on the Mall and will feature programs and activities geared toward students.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Air and Space Museum was among the most popular of some 21 different facilities currently operated by the Smithsonian, according to its website.
In 2019, for example, the Smithsonian said its museums were visited a total of 22.1 million times. That includes around 3.2 million visits logged by the Air and Space Museum and 1.3 million at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
Mr. Bezos, 57, founded Amazon in 1994 and served as CEO of the online retail giant until this month. Forbes has called him the “richest man in modern history.” He is reportedly worth roughly $200 billion.