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Thomas Jefferson Building

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thomas Jefferson Building
The Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress in 2011
Location within the District of Columbia
General information
Architectural styleBeaux-Arts
Town or cityWashington, D.C.
CountryUnited States
Construction started1890
Design and construction

The Thomas Jefferson Building is the oldest of the United States Library of Congress buildings. Built between 1890 and 1897, it was originally known as the Library of Congress Building. It is now named for Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father and the third U.S. president, whose own book collection became part of the library in 1815. The building is located on First Street, S.E. between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street in Washington, D.C. across from the U.S. Capitol. The library's John Adams Building is adjacent to it across 2nd Street, and the James Madison Memorial Building faces it across Independence Avenue.

The Beaux-Arts style building is known for its classicizing facade and elaborately decorated interior. The building's main architect was Paul J. Pelz, initially in partnership with John L. Smithmeyer, and succeeded by Edward Pearce Casey during the last few years of construction. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

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The Main Reading Room
View of approaches from the west façade of the Thomas Jefferson Building
The Great Hall, View of first and second floors, with Minerva mosaic in background

John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz won the competition for the architectural plans of the library in 1873. The start of the project was delayed by congressional debates until a vote in 1886. In 1888, Smithmeyer was dismissed and Pelz became the lead architect. Pelz was himself dismissed in 1892 and replaced by Edward Pearce Casey, the son of Brig. Gen. Thomas Lincoln Casey, Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who at the time was in charge of the building's construction.[1] While Smithmeyer was instrumental in securing the commission, Pelz appears to have been the main designer of the building and oversaw most of the exterior work. Bernard Green, the superintendent of construction, and Casey are credited for the completion of the interiors and the artistic supervision of the building's unique decorative program.[2][3] The Library opened to the public in 1897 and the finishing work was completed in 1898.

The Thomas Jefferson Building, containing some of the richest public interiors in the United States, is a compendium of the work of classically trained American sculptors and painters[4] of the "American Renaissance", in programs of symbolic content that exhibited the progress of civilization, personified in Great Men and culminating in the American official culture of the Gilded Age;[5] the programs were in many cases set out by the Librarian of Congress, Ainsworth Rand Spofford. The central block is broadly comparable to the Palais Garnier in Paris, a similarly ambitious expression of triumphant cultural nationalism in the Beaux-Arts style that had triumphed at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893. On the exterior, sculptured portrait heads that were considered typical of the world's races were installed as keystones on the main storey's window arches. The second-floor portico of the front entrance facing the U.S. Capitol features nine prominent busts of Great Men as selected by Ainsworth Rand Spofford in accordance with Gilded Age ideals. From left to right when one faces the building, they are Demosthenes (portico north side), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Babbington Macaulay, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sir Walter Scott and Dante Alighieri (portico south side). The sculptors were Herbert Adams, Jonathan Scott Hartley and Frederick W. Ruckstull. The Court of Neptune Fountain centered on the entrance front invites comparison with the Trevi Fountain; its sculptor was Roland Hinton Perry. The copper dome, originally gilded, was criticized at the structure's completion, as too competitive with the national Capitol Building. Originally, the dome over the Main Reading Room was intended to be less than 70 ft tall to avoid this critique, however Casey and Green increased the size of the dome to 195 ft and covered it with 23 carat gold leaf.[3]


Library of Congress building, c. 1902

Needing more room for its increasing collection, the Library of Congress under Librarian Ainsworth Rand Spofford suggested to the Congress that a new building be built specifically to serve as the American national library. Prior to this the Library existed in a wing of the Capitol Building. The new building was needed partly because of the growing Congress, but also partly because of the Copyright Law of 1870, which required all copyright applicants to send to the Library two copies of their work. This resulted in a flood of books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints and photographs. Spofford had been instrumental in the enactment of this law.

After Congress approved construction of the building in 1886, it took eleven years to complete. The building opened to the public on November 1, 1897, met with wide approval and was immediately seen as a national monument. The building name was changed on June 13, 1980, to honor former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, who had been a key figure in the establishment of the Library in 1800. Jefferson offered to sell his personal book collection to Congress in September 1814, one month after the British had burned the Capitol in the War of 1812.

Inside the book tunnel

Book Conveying Apparatus

Prior to the 2000s, the Jefferson Building was linked to the Capitol Building by a purpose built book tunnel.[6] This housed an electric "book conveying apparatus" that could transport volumes between the two buildings at 600 feet per minute.[7] A portion of the book tunnel was destroyed to make room for the underground Capitol Visitor Center, which opened in 2008.

Capitol Page School

Senate, House and Supreme Court pages formerly attended school together in the Capitol Page School located on the attic level above the Great Hall. Upon the separation of the programs (and the closure of the Supreme Court Page Program), the schools split. Senate Pages now attend school in the basement of their dormitory. The House Page Program was closed in August 2011. A small suite in the northwest corner of the attic level remains home to the official office of the Poet Laureate of the United States.

Coolidge Auditorium

The Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Auditorium, which opened in October 1925, has been home to more than 2,000 concerts, primarily of classical chamber music, but occasionally also of jazz, folk music, and special presentations.[8] Some performances make use of the Library's extensive collection of musical instruments and manuscripts. Most of the performances are free and open to the public.

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was a wealthy patron of the arts and was no relation to Calvin Coolidge, who, coincidentally, was President of the United States at the time the Coolidge auditorium was established.


According to the Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Bernard Green, who played an important role on the interior design of the building, viewed the interior art as necessary "to fully and consistency carry out the monumental design and purpose of the building".[3]

Art and sculptures can be found in and throughout the Jefferson Building. Representatives of the National Sculpture Society met with Casey and Green during the building's construction to select the sculptors for the Library's statues and figures. In 1894, 20 American sculptors were extended commissions and 19 accepted.[3] In total, more than fifty American painters and sculptors produced commissioned works of art.[9]

The Main Reading Room, circular in shape, is surrounded by eight giant marble columns that are each decoratively topped with a large statue of a female figure. The 8 statues each represent different aspects of knowledge and are symbols of civilization, including: Religion, Commerce, History, Art, Philosophy, Poetry, Law, and Science. Pendentives rest above each symbolic statue, with a quote from a notable author/work relating to each aspect.[10]

Additionally, there are 16 bronze statues on raised balustrades overlooking the floor of the Main Reading Room. These statues "pay homage to men whose lives symbolized the thought and activity represented by the plaster statues.".[10] The subjects were chosen by Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897.[11]

Details of each of the symbolic and portrait statues are included in the table below.

Statue Type Description Sculptor
Religion Symbolic The statue of Religion is holding a flower, which symbolizes "the lesson of God revealed in nature".[10] The pendentive resting above this statue is a quote from Micah 6:8 that reads "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?".[12] Theodore Baur
Moses, Hebrew Moshe Portrait


Moses was a Hebrew prophet and leader, responsible for leading the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and transcribing the Ten Commandments atop Mount Sinai. Charles Henry Niehaus
Saint Paul, the Apostle Portrait


Saint Paul the Apostle was an early Christian religious leader in the first century A.D., responsible for spreading the teachings of Jesus and forming early Christian communities. John Donoghue
Commerce Symbolic The statue of Commerce wears a wreathed crown of olive leaves and is holding a Yankee schooner and a miniature locomotive in her hands. The pendentive resting above this statue includes a quote from Dudley North that reads "We taste the spices of Arabia yet never feel the scorching sun which brings them forth.".[13] John Flanagan
Christopher Columbus Portrait


Columbus was a Genoese explorer and navigator whose travels across the Atlantic Ocean paved the way for the colonization of the Americas. Paul Wayland Bartlett
Robert Fulton Portrait


Fulton was an American engineer and inventor. He successfully commercialized the steamboat. Edward C. Potter
History Symbolic The pendentive resting above this statue includes a quote from Alfred Tennyson that reads "One God, one law, one element, and one far-off divine event, to which the whole creation moves.".[14] Daniel Chester French
Herodotus Portrait Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian and author of the first great narrative history produced in the ancient world, the History of the Greco-Persian Wars.[10] Daniel Chester French
Edward Gibbon Portrait Gibbon was an English historian and author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. [10] Charles Henry Niehaus
Art Symbolic The pendentive resting above this statue includes a quote from James Russell Lowell that reads "As one lamp lights another, nor grows less, so nobleness enkindleth nobleness.".[15] Franois M.L. Tonetti-Dozzi
Michelangelo Portrait Michelangelo was a Florentine sculptor, painter, architect, and poet during the Renaissance period. Paul Wayland Bartlett
Ludwig van Beethoven Portrait Beethoven was a German composer and pianist of classical music. Theodore Baur
Philosophy Symbolic The pendentive resting above this statue includes a quote from Francis Bacon that reads "The inquiry, knowledge, and belief of truth is the sovereign good of human nature.".[16] Bela Lyon Pratt
Plato Portrait Plato was an Athenian philosopher, founder of Platonism and the Academy. John J. Boyle
Francis Bacon Portrait Bacon was a philosopher during the Scientific Revolution, known for his study of natural philosophy and the scientific method. John J. Boyle
Poetry Symbolic The pendentive resting above this statue includes a quote from John Milton that reads "Hither, as to their fountain, other stars repairing, in their golden urns draw lights.".[17] John Quincy Adams Ward
Homer Portrait Homer is an ancient Greek poet who is attributed as the author of the Odyssey and the Iliad. Louis Saint-Gaudens
William Shakespeare Portrait Shakespeare was an English playwright, poet and author. Frederick MacMonnies
Law Symbolic The pendentive resting above this statue includes a quote from Richard Hooker that reads "Of Law there can be no less acknowledged than that her voice is the harmony of the world.".[18] Paul Wayland Bartlett
Solon Portrait Solon was an Athenian statesmen and lawmaker, credited with laying the foundation for Athenian democracy. Fredrick Wellington Ruckstull
James Kent Portrait Kent was an American jurist, New York legislator and legal scholar. George Bissell
Science Symbolic The pendentive resting above this statue includes a quote from Psalms 19:1 that reads " The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.".[19] John Donoghue
Sir Isaac Newton Portrait Newton was an English physicist and mathematician who formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation. Cyrus E. Dallin
Joseph Henry Portrait Henry was an American scientist and the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Herbert Adams

See also


  1. ^ Cronau, Rudolf (1916). German Achievements in America. New York: Rudolf Cronau. pp. 204–205. pelz.
  2. ^ Cole, John Y. (October 1972). "Smithmeyer & Pelz: Embattled Architects of the Library of Congress". The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress. 29 (4). JSTOR 29781519.
  3. ^ a b c d Cole, John Y. (1971). "A national monument for a national library: Ainsworth Rand Spofford and the new Library of Congress, 1871-1897". Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. 71–72: 468–507. JSTOR 40067786 – via JSTOR.
  4. ^ "On These Walls". Library of Congress. April 4, 2017. Retrieved January 12, 2018. Over forty artists were commissioned to produce sculpture, bas-relief panels, frescoes and empanelled canvases, and designs for mosaic.
  5. ^ According to a contemporary guidebook, "America is justly proud of this gorgeous and palatial monument to its National sympathy and appreciation of Literature, Science, and Art".
  6. ^ Carter, Elliot (26 August 2015). "There's a Hidden Conveyor Belt Under the Capitol That Was Just for Moving Books". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2016-06-12.
  7. ^ Logan, Mrs. John A. (1901). Thirty Years in Washington. Hartford, Connecticut: A. D. WORTHINGTON & CO. pp. 433–436. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  8. ^ "About the Coolidge Auditorium". Library of Congress. August 31, 2004. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  9. ^ "On These Walls". Library of Congress. April 4, 2017. Retrieved January 12, 2018. Over forty artists were commissioned to produce sculpture, bas-relief panels, frescoes and empanelled canvases, and designs for mosaic.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Main Reading Room | Thomas Jefferson Building | Virtual Views | Visiting the Library | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2022-11-24.
  11. ^ Cole, John Y. "The Thomas Jefferson Building: Part 1 (On These Walls: Inscriptions and Quotations in the Buildings of the Library of Congress, by John Y. Cole)". Retrieved 2022-11-24.
  12. ^ "[Main Reading Room. View of statue representing Religion, by Theodore Baur, on the column entablature between two alcoves. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2022-11-24.
  13. ^ "[Main Reading Room. View of statue representing Commerce, by John Flanagan, on the column entablature between two alcoves. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2022-11-24.
  14. ^ "[Main Reading Room. View of statue of History by Daniel Chester French on the column entablature between two alcoves. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2022-11-24.
  15. ^ "[Main Reading Room. View of statue of Art by Tonetti-Dozzi on the column entablature between two alcoves. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2022-11-24.
  16. ^ "[Main Reading Room. View of statue representing Philosophy, by Bela Lyon Pratt, on the column entablature between two alcoves. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2022-11-24.
  17. ^ "[Main Reading Room. View of statue representing Poetry,, by John Quincy Adams Ward, on the column entablature between two alcoves. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 2022-11-24.
  18. ^ "[Main Reading Room. View of statue representing Law by Paul Wayland Bartlett on the column entablature between two alcoves. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2022-11-24.
  19. ^ "[Main Reading Room. View of statue of Science by John Donoghue on the column entablature between two alcoves. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2022-11-24.


External links

38°53′19″N 77°00′17″W / 38.8887°N 77.0046°W / 38.8887; -77.0046

This page was last edited on 7 September 2023, at 23:39
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