Jeff Bezos Gives $200 Million to Smithsonian Days Before Space Flight

Jeff Bezos will give $200 million to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, marking one of the largest donations by the world’s richest person -- days before he takes a trip to space.

The bulk of the gift -- $130 million -- will go to create the Bezos Learning Center and the rest will go to the museum’s renovation. The Smithsonian, based in Washington, said it was its largest single donation since the original founding gift from James Smithson in 1846.

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

Jeff Bezos Gives $200 Million to Smithsonian Days Before Space Flight

Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, his first significant non-Amazon venture. He’ll be on the company’s first crewed suborbital space flight next week, alongside his brother, Mark, an as-yet unnamed auction winner, and Wally Funk, an aviator who was among the women who went through the same type of astronaut training as the men ultimately selected for the first crewed NASA missions.

Bezos is worth $211 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He’s been a billionaire since the late 1990s, but his first public gift wasn’t until 2011.

Since then, more than $10 billion of the Amazon fortune has been given away, but the largest chunk has come from Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott. Since their divorce in 2019, Scott has become one of the most consequential philanthropists of her generation, giving away $2.7 billion last month, bringing her total giving to about $8.5 billion.

Scott’s quick deployment counters Bezos’s strategy of making large commitments to fulfill over time. In 2018, Bezos started the $2 billion Day One Fund, of which he’s given away about $300 million to the Families Fund to tackle family homelessness. The other side is the Academies Fund, which has created a network of Montessori schools of which there are six and growing. Bezos hasn’t said how much he’s spent on that part of the project.

In 2020 he started another mega commitment -- the Bezos Earth Fund. The $10 billion promise aims to fight climate change and so far Bezos has announced $791 million worth of grants spread across 16 organizations. Most of those recipients are traditional environmental charities such as the ClimateWorks Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Bezos’s giving could accelerate now that he’s stepped down from his chief executive officer role at Amazon, which he relinquished earlier this month. If it does, he’ll be following the model of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Bill Gates, all of whom got more serious about their giving only after they stepped back from their businesses.

He may also commit more time and money to his other passion projects, which to Bezos are quasi-philanthropic: his space company Blue Origin and The Washington Post, which he bought in 2013.

“I’m convinced that in many cases for-profit models improve the world more than philanthropy models if they can be made to work,” Bezos said in a 2010 interview.

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