Thomas Jefferson Building Overview

The Library of Congress was begun in 1800 with a small appropriation to buy reference books. Unlike Philadelphia or New York where Congress had previously met, there were no libraries in the infant city of Washington so one was created out of necessity. To replenish the collection that was destroyed by the British during the War of 1812, Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson's 6,487 volume library. From that time the congressional library has steadily grown into what is today the largest in the world. Until 1897 the Library of Congress was housed in the Capitol's west center building. Despite enlargements and remodeling, there was never space enough to shelve the collections properly and it was decided in 1886 to move the library into its own building. The grand design of the library's Thomas Jefferson Building was based on the Paris Opera House and seemed to proclaim America's faith in learning and knowledge as vital strengths in upholding the republic. When it opened in 1897, the new library was considered the most beautiful, educational and interesting building in Washington.