Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
Yvonne French (202) 707-9191

Revised: March 20, 1997

"American Treasures of the Library of Congress" Exhibition To Open May 1, 1997

Friday April 25 - 11:00 a.m.
The Great Hall
Thomas Jefferson Building
10 First Street, S.E.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has announced May 1, 1997, as the opening date for "American Treasures of the Library of Congress," an unprecedented rotating exhibition of the rarest and most significant items from the Library's collections relating to America's past. It is the first time that the treasures, drawn from every corner of the world's largest library, have been assembled on such a grand scale.

A unique sampling of rare books, music, manuscripts, maps, photos, drawings, audio selections and video clips will give visitors a firsthand look at a cross section of the vast repository that has been called "America's Memory." Highlights of the exhibition include the first extant book printed in America, the earliest known baseball card, the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination, and a photograph of the Wright brothers' historic first flight taken at the instant of takeoff.

The permanent exhibition, made possible by a grant of $1.1 million from the Xerox Foundation, will be the centerpiece of a yearlong celebration marking the official reopening of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building during its 100th anniversary year. The Jefferson Building has been undergoing renovation since 1984 and will be seen in its fully restored state for the first time on May 1.

"The Library of Congress houses the largest and most diverse collection of recorded knowledge ever assembled on earth," Dr. Billington said. "For almost 200 years, this collection has informed legislators, impressed scholars, and inspired creators. Now, with the grand reopening of the Jefferson Building, we have an appropriate venue to delight and inform millions of visitors with this exhibition. We hope that all Americans will come here to see the cultural patrimony that the Library of Congress holds in trust for them. And for those who cannot visit Washington, selected items from 'American Treasures of the Library of Congress' will be available on-line as part of our continuing National Digital Library Program" at

Paul A. Allaire, chairman and chief executive officer of the Xerox Corporation, said: "As 'The Document Company,' Xerox is delighted to have a role in sharing and preserving the treasures of the Library of Congress with the rest of the world. This exhibition is a natural extension of the Xerox commitment to education and to learning about America's documentary heritage."

The Xerox Foundation is supporting the preservation of many of the items in the show, so that they may be displayed safely. In addition, the Foundation is underwriting the construction of a self-contained display case, with the most advanced environmental and security technology, for the Library's "top treasures." One such treasure, Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, in his own hand with revisions by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, will open the exhibition and be on display through July 31.

Because of preservation considerations, some of the more fragile documents will be displayed on a rotating basis. Although the objects will change from time to time, the Southwest Gallery and Pavilion will be permanently dedicated to the display of treasures from the Library's collections.

The exhibition will display more than 200 items arranged in the manner of Thomas Jefferson's own library, the seed from which the present collections grew. It was ordered: Memory (History); Reason (Philosophy, including Law, Science, and Geography); and Imagination (Fine Arts, including Architecture, Music, Literature and the Leisure Arts).

A list of objects to be displayed initially in "Treasures" follows:


  • A 1494 printed illustrated Christopher Columbus letter to the Spanish Court with news of his first voyage to the Indies;
  • A 1507 Cosmographiae introductio by Martin Waldseemuller using the name "America" for the first time;
  • The 1640 Bay Psalm Book, the first extant printed American work;
  • George Washington's letter to Moses Seixas in 1790 proclaiming freedom of worship and toleration of religious differences;
  • The contents of President Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination in 1865 and one of the newspapers announcing his death;
  • Walt Whitman's hand corrected copy of "O Captain! My Captain!";
  • Maps, photographs, and documents relating to the Civil War, including a letter from Mary Lincoln to Abraham Lincoln advising him to remove General McClellan;
  • General George Patton's World War II diary and personal photograph album;
  • Maya Lin's original drawing for the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


  • Book of the General Laws of the Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of New-Plimoth, 1685;
  • First slave narrative independently printed in the North American colonies recounting the adventures of Briton Hammon, 1760;
  • Thomas Jefferson's 1803 instructions to Lewis and Clark and maps relating to their expedition to the Pacific Northwest;
  • Susan B. Anthony's personal copy of her book about her arrest in 1872 and trial for voting illegally, one of nearly 400 items in her collection at the Library of Congress;
  • Samuel F.B. Morse's first telegraph message in 1844;
  • Early Edison camera tests in 1892-93, among the earliest extant motion pictures;
  • First field recording of Native American music containing Passamaquoddy songs and tales, recorded in 1890.


  • Pierre L'Enfant's 1791 plan for Washington, D.C.;
  • Thomas Jefferson's drawing of a "maccaroni" machine and instructions for making pasta;
  • Panoramic photograph by George Lawrence of San Francisco after the fire and earthquake in 1906 with Nellie Keohan's letter describing it;
  • First editions of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man;
  • Recordings by music greats Jelly Roll Morton and Bessie Smith;
  • Betty Crocker's Vitality Demands Energy; 109 Smart Ways to Serve Bread... and other cookbooks from the Library's special cookbook collection;
  • Baseball memorabilia, including the earliest known baseball card, plus cards of Chicago Cubs infielders Joe Tinker, John Evers and Frank Chance; and selections from Carl Sandburg's baseball collection;
  • Materials relating to "Appalachian Spring," a ballet with music by Aaron Copland and choreography by Martha Graham, including a recording of the composer describing the creative process. The work had its premiere at the Library of Congress in 1944 in the Coolidge Auditorium, now slated to reopen in October 1997.

Harry N. Abrams, Inc. is publishing a companion volume with an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills and a foreword by Dr. Billington. American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory/Reason/Imagination ($39.95) will be available in the Library sales shop and wherever books are sold.

Exhibition hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Thomas Jefferson Building is at 10 First Street S.E. Access for handicapped persons is on Second Street S.E.

Black-and-white photographs and color slides are available of many of the objects in this exhibition. Please contact the Public Affairs Office at (202) 707-9191 to request reproductions.

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PR 96-102
ISSN 0731-3527

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