Oprah Winfrey is now the biggest single donor to the forthcoming Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. On Tuesday she announced she is giving the museum $12 million, its largest gift thus far, on top of the $1 million she gave in 2007. (Read more: Oprah Winfrey donates $12 million to Smithsonian)
Who has given more to the Smithsonian? The multi-museum collection has been the beneficiary of several even more eye-popping gifts from some of our nation’s most noteworthy rich folk. An incomplete list of some of the biggest:
— $80 million: Developer Kenneth E. Behring’s 2000 gift to the National Museum of America History was the biggest ever from an individual in the Smithsonian’s history. A few years earlier, he gave $20 million to the National Museum of Natural History. That will be hard to top.
— $65 million: That’s how much aerospace entrepreneur Steven F. Udvar-Házy gave in 1999 for the Dulles annex to the National Air & Space Museum that now bears his name.
— $35 million: Conservative-libertarian businessman David Koch wrote that check last year to the Natural History museum for a new dinosaur hall. A few years earlier, he gave $15 million to the same museum for a exhibit hall devoted to human evolution.
— $15 million: Travis Engen — an aluminum company exec and son of Donald Engen, who was head of Air & Space when he died in a 1999 glider accident — and his wife Anne made the donation to the museum in 2008.
— $15 million: Peter Buck, the co-founder of Subway, made the donation to Natural History’s human origins program.
— $15 million: Power company executive Roger Sant and his wife Vicki gave this to Natural History’s oceans initiative in 2008, on top of a previous $10 million gift. They also gave another $10 million for an endowed chair.
— $10 million: Investor Michael Tennenbaum last fall contributed that sum for the study of coastal marine biodiversity.
And as for James Smithson, the scientist whose 1829 bequeath got the Smithsonian Institution started? His gift was a mere $515,169 — or a little over $10 million in today’s value.
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