Happy 125th Birthday to the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress, Washington. Photochrom print by Detroit Publishing Company, c1900. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/det.4a31954

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:

[Reading Room, Prints Division, Library of Congress] Photo by Levin C. Handy, ca. 1900. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a37604

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:

[Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.] [Plasterwork and stuccowork.] [Octagon. Reading room, dome, and lantern.] [Section] Drawing signed by Bernard R. Green, 1893. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.57438

[Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.] [Stone work.] [Exterior balustrade and architectural decorations at attic.] [Elevation and plan.] Drawing by Paul J. Pelz, May 1889. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.57388

[Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.] [Marble work.] [West Main, main stair hall, east corridor. Mosaic vaulting.] [Plans.] Drawing by Edward Pearce Casey, October 1895. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.67271

[Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.] [Ironwork.] [Dome and Lantern. Ornamental sheet copperwork with its supporting framework.] [Elevations, sections, plans, and details.] Drawing signed by Bernard R. Green, February 14, 1893. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.67514

[Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.] [Marblework.] [West Main. Tile and Mosaic floor, first story.] [Plans.] Drawing by Edward Pearce Casey, architect, August 13, 1895. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.67594

Learn More:

  • 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.

One Comment

  1. Christine List
    November 1, 2022 at 12:05 pm

    This is so VERY cool !!!!! I love learning about history in the daily emails I get from the Library of Congress.

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