The Library of Congress was established on April 24, 1800 by an act of Congress when President John Adams signed a bill that transferred the seat of government from Philadelphia to Washington D.C.. However, the 3,000-volume library burned to the ground in August of 1814 when British troops invaded the capitol.
As a solution, Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library, which contained over 6,000 books and had taken him 50 years to accumulate. Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer and paid him $23, 940 for the entire collection of works.
Some congressmen believed Jefferson’s collection to be too comprehensive, as it contained books on many different subjects including architecture, science, geography, and foreign languages. Jefferson addressed this concern by commenting that there was “no subject to which a member of Congress may not have the occasion to refer.” Thomas Jefferson’s concept of Universality, the belief that any and all subjects may be useful to a library for the American government, continues to guide the collecting policies for the Library of Congress today.
Originally created as a reference library for the United States Congress, the Library of Congress has evolved into a national institution garnering over 2 million visitors each year.