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Library of Congress, Harper’s Weekly, February 27, 1897

This drawing was made shortly before the overcrowded library relocated from the Capitol to its spacious new home on First Street.

Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Library of Congress

A New Home for the Library

American creativity overflowed in the Capitol—literally. The Copyright Act of 1870 decreed that two copies of all protected works be deposited in the Library of Congress. The Library quickly was swamped with books, music, photographs, and other copyrighted material.

In 1886, Congress authorized a new Library facility. The Washington firm of Smithmeyer & Pelz designed a magnificent building, which opened in 1897. Its majestic scale, domed reading room, and vast galleries enriched with sculpture and murals instantly made it Washington’s most popular building.

At the Capitol, Congress decided in 1900 to rebuild the Library's former space, creating 20 new offices and committee rooms. Built of masonry vaults, like older parts of the building, they were decorated with murals designed by Elmer Garnsey of New York.