The Smithsonian Institution was a product of philanthropy (a bequest from James Smithson), and about 30 percent of its budget continues to come from private donations (which play a particularly large role in expansions and new initiatives). A major refresh of its National Museum of Natural History began in the late 1990s, sparking the largest gift to the museum to that point from Ken Behring, who rose from harsh poverty to riches by selling cars and then developing real estate. He donated $20 million to spearhead a massive renovation of Natural History’s ground floor, resulting in, among other things, a new Hall of Mammals which opened in 2003. (Behring later donated $80 million to revitalize the National Museum of American History, making him the Smithsonian’s largest private donor.)
The Museum of Natural History continued its upgrade with a subsequent $15 million gift from philanthropist David Koch, creating the David Koch Hall of Human Origins. Then in 2012 Koch donated an additional $35 million which will be used to remake the museum’s dinosaur hall, its most visited area. One of the highest priorities of museum officials, the dinosaur-hall funding will provide fresh displays and specimens, and allow obsolete interpretations to be updated with the newest information from the fast-changing science of dinosaur paleontology.
- Smithsonian magazine, smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/New_Hall_on_the_Mall.html
- Interview with Ken Behring, philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/economic_opportunity/interview_with_ken_behring
- Washington Post article announcing Koch gift, washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/david-koch-donates-35-million-to-national-museum-of-natural-history-for-dinosaur-hall/2012/05/03/gIQAIjT3yT_story.html