The Library of Congress was established on this date in 1800. President John Adams signed legislation to move the United States capital from Philadelphia to Washington; included in that legislation was an order to establish a library that would contain “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress — and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein.” The first catalog listed 964 books and nine maps.
The library was originally housed in the Capitol Building, but was destroyed, along with the Capitol, by British soldiers in 1814. Former president Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his extensive and eclectic library to the government, and they took him up on it. They paid him about $24,000 for his collection of nearly 6,500 books, which he had been building for half a century: “putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science.”
In 1870, Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford established the copyright law, requiring that every copyright applicant send the library two copies of their work. It’s no wonder that the Library quickly outgrew its original home in the Capitol. In 1886, Congress approved the construction of a new building dedicated solely to housing the collection. The Main Building was joined by the Art Deco-style John Adams Building (1939), named to honor the president who established the library. Then came the James Madison Memorial Building in 1980; that same year, the Main Building was renamed the Thomas Jefferson Building.
The library receives about 15,000 new items every workday. Its collection includes 17 million books, and millions of maps, photographs, films, recordings, and drawings, in 470 languages. The Law Library alone — which supplies Congress with information on laws from all over the world — contains 2.8 million volumes.