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.

Revisiting Rights-Free: U.S. Civil War Images

The Prints & Photographs Division’s U.S. Civil War collections are impressive, spanning a number of collections. Our core bodies of material related to the Civil War are conveniently featured in one place in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. Probably the best known collection of Civil War material in the division consists of original glass […]

The Art of the Book

Join curators Adam Silvia and Sara Duke as they highlight photographically illustrated books as well as graphic illustrations for books in the Prints & Photographs Division collections in two upcoming virtual presentations. Read on for a preview of some of the images and volumes they will share. Photographically illustrated books, some dating all the way […]

Just About “Ready for Research” 

The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, Chief, and Aliza Leventhal, Head, Technical Services, both of the Prints & Photographs Division. So many exciting collections are in the pipeline for routine access that it’s time for a look ahead. The Prints & Photographs Division works on about 20 “processing” projects at a time […]

Celebrating the 110th Anniversary of the Cherry Blossom Gift and U.S.-Japan Friendship

The following is a guest post by Mari Nakahara, Curator of Architecture, Design, and Engineering, and Katherine Blood, Curator of Fine Prints, Prints & Photographs Division. The year 2022 marks the 110th anniversary of the gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C. in 1912, an enduring symbol of the […]

Women Architects and Designers in the HABS/HAER/HALS Collections

The following is a guest post by Ryan Brubacher, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division. Preparation for an upcoming virtual orientation (details below) led me to explore the HABS/HAER/HALS (HHH) Collection with an eye towards finding women in the role of architect or designer. The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), […]

New Research Guide: Cartoons and Caricatures

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new guide describing the Prints & Photographs Division’s large and varied collection of cartoon and caricature art. Martha H. Kennedy, now retired Curator of Popular & Applied Graphic Art and author of the guide, describes the appeal of this collection material: “The Library’s vast, diverse collections […]

New Year, New to See

The following is a guest post by Hanna Soltys, Reference Librarian, with contributions by Sara W. Duke, Curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Arts, and Micah Messenheimer, Curator of Photography, all of the Prints and Photographs Division. To kick off the New Year, the Prints & Photographs Virtual Orientations for January 2022 look at newly […]

Documenting Historic American Landscapes – Challenge Accepted!

The following is a guest post by Ryan Brubacher, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division.  In late November, the winners of the 2021 HALS Challenge were announced. The announcement offers a good opportunity to highlight the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) collection, including the historical reports found within this collection, as well as the National […]

Women at Work: Glimpses through Time

Recently, while preparing to present a virtual orientation offering a sampling of Prints & Photographs Division collections for representations of work, workers and labor themes, I found myself selecting image after image that showed women working in a variety of industrial and office settings (at the same time recognizing that for centuries women have also […]