On November 1, 1897, the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress opened to the world. Today we mark its 125th birthday. This magnificent building was the Library of Congress’ first home away from the U.S. Capitol, where it had first been established in 1800.
This was a pivotal moment in the history of the Library as we moved to expand our mission. In addition to serving the U.S. Congress, we would establish ourselves as the national library of the United States. In 1870, U.S. Copyright law began to require that those claiming copyright on books, maps, visual materials such as engravings or photographs, dramatic and musical compositions and so on must send two copies to the Librarian of Congress. In the first 25 years of this law, vast quantities of books, maps, prints, photos, and more came to the Library in the U.S. Capitol.
Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford pushed for a separate building for the Library of Congress and saw his decades-long dream come to fruition in November 1897. The Prints & Photographs Division shares its birthday with the building, as we were established as the Department of Graphic Arts at that time. We became the Division of Prints in 1899. And here is the reading room as it looked in the early 1900s in the Jefferson Building:
As part of the lead-up to celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Jefferson Building, the Prints & Photographs Division scanned at high resolution nearly 1000 architectural drawings from the building’s design and construction. All are cataloged online and freely available to explore and download. Enjoy a few samples from the group:
- Join me for a more detailed exploration of the Jefferson Building through these drawings and other visual materials in a virtual presentation this Thursday, Nov. 3 at 3:00 pm EDT: Finding Pictures: The 125th Anniversary of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Register here for this free event.
- View the newly digitized drawings of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
- If you are in the Washington, D.C. area come to a Live at the Library! event celebrating the building’s anniversary this Thursday, Nov. 3 from 5:00-8:00 pm EDT. Timed entry passes are required for this free event.