National Geographic : 1942 Mar
Washington-Storehouse of Knowledge BY ALBERT W. ATWOOD WASHINGTON is no longer merely the seat of the United States Government. It has become wartime nerve cen ter of national defense, mecca of industrial leaders, scientists, and technicians who con tribute to all-out emergency effort. In war as in peace it remains an enduring world repository of knowledge for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the average Ameri can citizen. Nowhere else on this continent can so many books be found in any one place, and nowhere else in the country is there concentrated such a vast body of working savants, of specialists, of authorities upon thousands of different subjects. It has long been said that Washington is the only city that belongs to the Nation, hous ing, as it does, the Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court. But Washington now belongs to the Nation in another sense. It is not only the political capital of the country; it is the chief store house, library, and distributing point of infor mation for the people, and a world center of science and research. The Government protects the food the peo ple eat and the clothes they wear, studies runs in their silk stockings, fights insect pests, sees that chemicals and explosives are shipped safely, studies the cause and cure of disease, prints books for the blind, improves the quality of building material, collects folk songs, sets the correct time and radio fre quencies, discovers new drugs, and performs thousands of other services useful in peace time as in war. No one pretends that Washington is, or ever will be, the actual scene of all scientific research, or that great resources in art and education do not exist elsewhere. But Wash ington more than ever is the focal point where all the threads of knowledge converge; to it come most of the inquiries and from it go most of the directions. Acres of Laboratories Washington is, in a sense, a city of almost endless laboratories. The National Bureau of Standards, the largest, consists of 71 scientific and technical sections and occupies 20 permanent buildings on a site like a university campus. The National Institute of Health in its new buildings is the greatest center of public health research in the world, with 250 separate proj- ects under way in its far-flung war upon dis ease. In its spacious grounds this organiza tion, too, looks like a college campus. The Beltsville Research Center, just outside the District of Columbia, in Maryland, is one of the world's largest agricultural experiment stations. It has 3,000 experimental farm ani mals, 15,600 experimental fowls, and 5,500 rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and white mice. Washington has nearly 300 separate libra ries, covering such diverse subjects as potash, medicine, geography, railroads, labor, farming, Latin-American affairs, Shakespeare, patent law, geology, and genealogy. The Library of Congress has the largest general, all-round collection of books, manuscripts, maps, prints, and music of any known library. Zoo Attracts Millions of Visitors By actual count 2,505,871 persons in a single year, or an average of nearly 7,000 a day, visit the museums and exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution, which are devoted to science and the arts. The National Zoological Park, a "museum of living animals," is visited by 2,430,300 in a single year, and the Library of Congress by 1,037,558. Nearly a thousand visitors a day are shown through the Washington Cathedral and about the same number through the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But most striking of all is the attendance at the newest of the city's numerous art gal leries-the National Gallery of Art, presented to the Government by the late Andrew W. Mellon.* In the first four months following its opening in March, 1941, a million visitors entered its doors, or an average of 8,000 a day, with 23,000 on Memorial Day. For Washington has become the outstand ing city of free exhibits. In almost bewilder ing variety but in graphic and vivid form the citizen may see portrayed the facts and events of history, patriotism, government, science, technology, religion, and the arts. Thus a pilgrimage to Washington has be come almost a required feature of American life. One of the sights of the city is the bus loads of visiting high school students, who come in incredible numbers, mostly in groups, from almost every State in the Union. Naturally, with the war, Washington is the magnet for the leaders of many nations; busi * See "Old Masters in a New National Gallery," by Ruth Q. McBride, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. July, 1940.