This Day in History: April 24
- Published: Apr 24, 2016, 4 AM
The oldest federal cultural institution in the United States also happens to be the largest library collection in the world.
The Library of Congress, the research library that officially serves the United States Congress, is the de facto national library of the United States.
Legislation signed by President John Adams on April 24, 1800, appropriated $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.”
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That phrase was tucked into a larger law providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington.
The Library would grow slowly, and focus on narrow topics to meet the needs of legislators. The British invasion in August 1814 (during the War of 1812) resulted in many volumes being destroyed by fire, prompting former President Thomas Jefferson to offer his personal library as a replacement.
Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating a wide variety of books, in several languages, on many subjects (philosophy, science, literature, architecture) and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library.
In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer, appropriating $23,950 to purchase his 6,487 books. Many of these would be destroyed in another fire, in 1851, but the library rebounded after the American Civil War.
Copyright provisions require new works be added to the Library, whose collections are universal, not limited by subject, format, or national boundary, and include research materials from all parts of the world and in more than 450 languages.
In 2000, the United States Mint issued its only ringed-bimetallic coin, a gold-and-platinum $10 coin marking the Library’s 200th anniversary.
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