Skip to main content

Timeline

A chronology of key events in the history of the Library of Congress.

  • 1800

    On April 24, President John Adams approves an act of Congress that moves the government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. Five thousand dollars is appropriated for the purchase of books to be housed in the Capitol.

  • 1802

    President Thomas Jefferson approves a compromise act of Congress on Jan. 26 which states that the President of the United States will appoint the Librarian of Congress.

  • 1812

    The first classified Library catalog is published. It lists 3,076 volumes, and 53 maps, charts, and plans. An adjustment in the Library’s rules exempts members of Congress from overdue fines.

  • 1814

    In retaliation for the capture of York and the burning of its parliamentary building by American forces, the British capture Washington on Aug. 24 and burn the Capitol, destroying the Library of Congress.

  • 1815

    On Jan. 26, the House of Representatives approves the purchase of Jefferson’s 6,487-volume personal library for $23,950 to replace the collection lost in the fire.

  • 1851

    An accidental fire in the Library on Christmas Eve destroys approximately 35,000 volumes, including nearly two-thirds of Jefferson’s library.

  • 1853

    Designed by Architect of the Capitol Thomas U. Walter, a newly remodeled fireproof iron room for the Library opens on Aug. 23 in the Capitol’s west front. It is widely admired and becomes a tourist attraction.

  • 1870

    On July 8, President Ulysses S. Grant approves an act of Congress that centralizes all U.S. copyright registration and deposit activities at the Library of Congress.

  • 1871

    Librarian Ainsworth Rand Spofford informs Congress on Dec. 1 that the rapid flow of copyright deposits into the Library’s rooms in the Capitol will soon necessitate a separate Library building.

  • 1897

    After years of overcrowding in the Capitol, the monumental new Library building—now known as the Thomas Jefferson Building—officially opens to the public on Nov. 1.

  • 1901

    On Oct. 28, the Library announces that its printed catalog cards are now available for sale to libraries around the world.

  • 1903

    President Theodore Roosevelt issues an executive order on March 9 directing the transfer of the records of the Continental Congress and the personal papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, James Monroe and Benjamin Franklin from the State Department to the Library. The Library is home to the papers of 23 U.S. presidents.

  • 1921

    President Warren G. Harding issues an executive order on Sept. 29 that transfers the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution to the Library for their safekeeping and display. The two documents are sent to their permanent home in the National Archives in 1952.

  • 1930

    On July 3, $1.5 million is appropriated for the purchase of the Vollbehr collection of incunabula, which includes the first Gutenberg Bible in the Western Hemisphere.

  • 1931

    The Pratt-Smoot Act, enacted on March 3, enables the Library to provide books for the use of adult blind readers of the United States and its territories. This act was the origin of the Library's National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

  • 1939

    A new Library Annex Building—later designated the John Adams Building—is opened to the general public on Jan. 3.

  • 1944

    The ballet "Appalachian Spring," commissioned by the Library, premiers in the Coolidge Auditorium on Oct. 30, with a performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company to the music of Aaron Copland.

  • 1946

    The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 is approved on Aug. 2, giving the Library’s Legislative Reference Service (LRS) permanent status as a separate Library department and providing for the hiring of nationally eminent specialists in 19 broad subject fields. The LRS was the precursor to today's Congressional Research Service at the Library.

  • 1950

    The Library celebrates its sesquicentennial on April 24.

  • 1954

    The Library receives the Brady-Handy photographic collection on Sept. 13, containing more than 3,000 negatives made by Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady and several thousand by his nephew Levin C. Handy.

  • 1958

    In January, Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford establishes an interdepartmental Committee on Mechanized Information Retrieval to study the “problem of applying machine methods to the control of the Library’s collections.”

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower approves an amendment to the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954 (popularly known as Public Law 480) on Sept. 6, which greatly strengthens the overseas acquisition program of the Library of Congress.

  • 1966

    The Library opens its first National Program for Acquisitions and Cataloging (NPAC) office in London in June. The first regional office opens in October in Rio de Janeiro.

  • 1969

    With the mailing of the first computer tapes containing cataloging data on March 27, the Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) Distribution Service is inaugurated.

  • 1980

    The third major Library building on Capitol Hill, the James Madison Memorial Building, opens to the public on May 28. Later that year, the original 1897 Library building is renamed the Thomas Jefferson Building and its second building, opened in 1939, is designated the John Adams Building.

  • 1981

    The Library stops filing cards into the its main card catalog, and begins online cataloging of its collections officially on Jan. 1.

  • 1994

    At the dawn of the Internet era, the Library launches its website at www.loc.gov along with its National Digital Library program aimed at digitizing primary sources related to the study of American history.

  • 1999

    Metromedia president John W. Kluge donates $60 million to establish the John W. Kluge Center for Scholars and Prize in the Human Sciences on Oct. 5. It is the largest private monetary gift in the Library’s history.

  • 2000

    The Library celebrates its bicentennial during the year, culminating in the actual anniversary date on April 24.

  • 2001

    The first National Book Festival, developed in cooperation with First Lady Laura Bush, takes place on Sept. 8.

  • 2007

    The new Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation located on a 45-acre site in Culpeper, Virginia, is transferred to the Library by the Packard Humanities Institute on July 26. The Institute provided $155 million for the design and construction of the four-building facility, the largest private gift ever made to the Library.

  • 2009

    In Paris, Librarian James H. Billington announces on April 21 the launch of the World Digital Library, an international collaborative project developed with UNESCO and other organizations.

  • 2016

    Carla D. Hayden is sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress on Sept. 14. At the time of her installation, the Library’s collection of more than 162 million items includes more than 38 million cataloged books and other print materials in more than 470 languages; more than 70 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collections of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music, and sound recordings. In fiscal year 2016, the Library employed 3,149 staff members and operated with a total 2016 appropriation of $642.04 million, including the authorization to spend $43.13 million in receipts.

More Information

 Back to top