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Happy Birthday, Library of Congress: 222 Years and Still Growing

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We celebrate April 24 as the birthday of the Library of Congress. On April 24, 1800, President John Adams approved the appropriation of $5,000 for the purchase of “such books as may be necessary for the use of congress.” It would take a bit longer for the Library of Congress to have books, a home, and a librarian. The initial collection of 740 volumes and three maps was ordered from London, and arrived in 1801. They were stored in the U.S. Capitol, the Library’s home for nearly the first century of its existence. In early 1802, President Thomas Jefferson approved the first law defining the library’s functions and created the post of Librarian of Congress.

This architectural drawing of the U.S. Capitol from between 1808 and 1809 shows the location of the then Congressional Library, at upper right in the drawing and more visible in the detail below.

[United States Capitol, Washington, D.C. Plan of principal story and chambers] Drawing by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, between 1808 and 1809.
Detail of [United States Capitol, Washington, D.C. Plan of principal story and chambers] Drawing by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, between 1808 and 1809.
Take a look back at the Library of Congress during its years in the Capitol building before it finally had a home of its own in 1897 in the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Building. You can start to see how overcrowded the space became as the collections grew, necessitating the need to move to more spacious quarters!

[The Library of Congress in the U.S. Capitol Building] Photo of an engraving, circa 1853.
Congressional Library, (In U.S. Capitol). Photo by Bell & Bro., circa 1867.
Congressional Library in U. S. Capitol. Photo published by J. F. Jarvis, between 1870 and 1900.
[Library of Congress, showing three levels crowded with stacks of books and newspapers]. Photo, 1897.
Old Congressional Library. North wing. Photo by Jarvis E. Wilkins, no later than 1897.

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  1. Amazing! I remember the bicentennial milestone. Great story and images.

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