The Library of Congress was established in 1800 to serve solely as a reference library for Congress. After the British set the Capital Building ablaze (August 1814)—thus destroying some 3,000 volumes—Thomas Jefferson offered his own, personal library as a replacement.
And oh, what a library it was . . . amassed over fifty years, it included 6,487 books covering all manner of topics, in a variety of languages. Jefferson believed some might take offense with a few of the titles. True enough. Seems there was a bit of a kerfuffle. Members of Congress argued amongst themselves (as members of Congress are wont to do) whether or not it was a good idea to purchase such a diverse collection.
Luckily, in January of 1815, the quest for knowledge won out.
Of course, we won’t talk about the second fire that destroyed nearly two-thirds of those books. That’s just depressing.
Instead we’ll celebrate the fact that Jefferson laid the foundation for the Library of Congress as it stands today—the world’s largest library, housing 36 million books and other print materials in 460 languages, 69 million+ manuscripts, the largest rare book collection in North America, and more. They’re just a few million reasons why the Library of Congress is a beautiful place to while away the hours . . .