Since its establishment on April 24, 1800, the Library of Congress has grown to become the largest library in the world, with more than 155.3 million items in its holdings. The library is well known for housing rare documents that shaped the history of the nation and the world. Here’s a look at 10 of the most fascinating pieces.
If you want to learn more about the Library’s early days, we also have a companion story, “The two men who helped create the world’s greatest library.”
1. Madison’s copy of the proposed Bill of Rights
As the nation debated ratifying the Constitution, anti-Federalists, including some of the drafters of the original Constitution, pressed for adding a Bill of Rights that would ensure citizens’ most essential freedoms. James Madison was charged with drafting the proposed amendments, and 10 of the 12 he proposed were ratified in December 1791. (Image source
2. Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence
Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in June 1776. But before it was officially adopted, the document was reviewed by a committee including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, which prompted 47 changes, and by Congress, which made 39 more revisions. This rough draft reflects the many changes the document underwent. (Image source
3. Lewis and Clark map
This map is believed to have been carried by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their expedition exploring the American West. (Image source
4. The North Star
The Library of Congress has an entire collection about the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, including the North Star newspaper, which he founded in 1847. The paper’s slogan: “Right is of no Sex–Truth is of no Color–God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.” (Image source
5. Lincoln’s pocket contents
What was in Abraham Lincoln’s pockets when he was assassinated on April 14, 1865? The Library of Congress chose to display these mundane objects in 1976 in an effort to humanize the mythic icon of Lincoln. The contents include two pairs of spectacles and a lens polisher, a pocketknife, a watch fob, a linen handkerchief, and a brown leather wallet containing a five-dollar Confederate note and nine newspaper clippings, including several favorable to the president and his policies. (Image source
6. A sneeze caught on film
This print captures an employee of Thomas Edison sneezing–and reflects the motion-sequence experiments of Edison and others to do “for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” The image was recorded by the Edison Kinetoscope. (Image source
7. Wrights’ first flight
The flight of Wilbur and Orville Wright was captured on film on December 17, 1903, by John T. Daniels. The first flight lasted 12 seconds and 120 feet. (Image source
8. Uncle Sam poster
This poster was originally published as the cover for the July 6, 1916 issue of Leslie’s Weekly
by James Montgomery Flagg. It quickly became an icon; more than four million copies were printed between 1917 and 1918, and it was used in World War II and beyond. (Image source
9. Jackie Robinson comic book
Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in the 20th century, inspired millions of fans as he broke the color barrier–and led an impressive baseball career. (Image source
10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial proposal
The drawing of Maya Lin, originally part of a student project at Yale University’s School of Architecture, was chosen out of 1,421 submissions to become the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, now a compelling symbol of those who served in Vietnam and an iconic work of art and remembrance. (Image source
For more information, check out the Library of Congress’ American Treasures online exhibition.
Recent Constitution Daily History Stories
10 odd facts about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination
The forgotten man who almost became president after Lincoln
Can you pass a 10 question quiz about Thomas Jefferson?
Can you pass a basic 10-question quiz on the presidents?
- Library of Congress