Today In History: Library Of Congress Founded

Today In History |

April 24, 1800


Today in 1800, the Library of Congress was established. The Library of Congress is an extensive research library meant to be used by the United States Congress. It consists of three buildings in Washington, D.C.

The LOC claims that it is the world's largest library, carrying over 16 million books in over 450 languages, as well as about 12 million other media items. The original idea for a congressional library was likely first proposed by James Madison in 1783. President John Adams established the Library of Congress on April 24, 1800 as part of a piece of legislation that moved the seat of government to Washington, D.C. from Philadelphia. The legislation assigned $5,000 "for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress... and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them."

The original collection consisted of 740 books and 3 maps, imported from London. They were housed at the new Capitol in Washington. On January 26, 1802, Thomas Jefferson signed a bill giving the president authority to appoint a Librarian of Congress. He also established the Joint Committee on the Library, a regulatory body. The law also gave the President and Vice President license to check materials out of the library.


During the War of 1812, the British marched on Washington and burned the Library of Congress. At the time of its destruction in August of 1814, the Library had accrued over 3,000 books. Few of them survived the fire. Soon thereafter, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his personal library to the government as a replacement. Congress accepted, buying Jefferson's 6,487 books for $23,950. Significantly larger than the original endowment granted the Library upon its construction.

Jefferson's collection was wide-ranging in subject matter. He had books detailing the expected topics of history, philosophy. law, religion and natural science. He also possessed more obscure books, about subjects such as the construction of hot air balloons and even cookbooks. He commented on the collection, "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer."

Today, the Library of Congress is still open to the public. Its stated purpose is to perform research projects for members of Congress, as carried out by the Congressional Research Service.

If you visit the Library, don't expect to take any materials home with you. Check-out privileges are reserved for only the highest ranking government officials, and employees of the Library.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.