This Day in History: April 24

The Library of Congress celebrates its 216th birthday today. On this day in 1800, President John Adams (1735-1826) approved legislation to appropriate $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress,” thereby establishing the Library of Congress. The first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801 and were housed in the U.S. Capitol, the library’s first home. The first library catalog, dated April 1802, listed 964 volumes and nine maps. Twelve years later, the British army invaded the city of Washington and burned the Capitol during the War of 1812, including the then 3,000-volume Library of Congress.

Former president Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who championed the expansion of the library during his two terms in office, responded by offering to sell his personal library, the largest of its kind in the country, to Congress. The purchase of Jefferson’s volumes -- numbering well over 6,000 -- was approved the following next year.. In 1851, a second major fire at the library destroyed about two-thirds of its 55,000 volumes, including two-thirds of the Thomas Jefferson library. Congress responded quickly, and within a few years a majority of the lost books would be replaced.

Following the Civil War, the collection was greatly expanded, and by the 20th century the Library of Congress had become the de facto national library of the United States and one of the biggest in the entire world. Today, the collection, housed in three huge buildings in Washington D.C., contains more than 162 million items, including close to 40 million books and other print materials, 70 million manuscripts, 14 million photographs, and more than 5 million maps.

It's hard to fathom three buildings housing over 160 million items! I visited the Library of Congress two years ago, and it is nothing short of majestic. From the striking architecture to the vast array of maps and books on display, this is one place everyone ought to have on their bucket list.

Have you ever been to the Library of Congress in person? If not, do you plan to visit in the near future?

No comments: