October 4, 2023

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and a budding astronaut himself, is donating $ 200 million to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian said on Wednesday. The Smithsonian said the donation marked the largest philanthropic gift since the institution’s founding gift from James Smithson in 1846.

The Smithsonian said $ 70 million will help renovate the National Air and Space Museum and $ 130 million will go towards a new education center called the Bezos Learning Center. That will be built on the east side of Museum Square on the National Mall. Bezos was a previous donor to Smithsonian museums.

“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 in the heart,” said Lonnie G. Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian, in a published Declaration by the institution.

Bezos, the founder of Amazon, also started a rocket company, Blue Origin, more than two decades ago. He is slated to be on a trip on Blue Origin’s first manned spaceflight by the end of this month.

“Every child is born with great potential and it is inspiration that unlocks that potential,” Bezos said in the statement. “My love of science, invention, and space did that for me, and I hope this gift does that for others.”

The gift comes as the country’s museum sector has been hard hit by the pandemic, with closings and huge financial losses.

The Smithsonian’s museums were closed for several periods and lost self-generated income such as shops and cafes. Last year, the Smithsonian reported losses of $ 49 million and laid off more than 200 employees on these operations between March and September. It has since started hiring some of these jobs again as the museums started reopening. The National Air and Space Museum in the Mall is still closed and is slated to reopen on July 30th.

The Smithsonian receives federal funding that accounts for approximately two-thirds of its budget and benefits from large private donations and grants. It has suffered less than most other museums that are much more reliant on ticket revenue.

Past large philanthropic donations include $ 65 million to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an Air and Space Museum outpost near Dulles Airport. The Smithsonian also received $ 45 million for the Donald W. Reynolds Center, which houses its American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.