Up until the early 18th century, books were almost exclusively owned by and available to clergy, universities, or wealthy people with private collections. In 1731, a group of some of Philadelphia’s most intellectually focused citizens, including Benjamin Franklin, decided to pool their resources and begin obtaining a large collection of books and other research materials that they all could use. Naming themselves the Library Company, this group would eventually house their collection in the original incarnation of Library Hall -- the first public library in America, and the predecessor of the Library of Congress.
Between the 1790s and the mid-19th century, the location of Library Hall would change several times due to the growth of the collections and financial troubles during the Great Depression. Its current home, a reproduction of its original Georgian-style building, was completed in 1966.
Now known formally as the American Philosophical Society Museum, Library Hall contains many historically significant volumes and documents, including the original journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition; a copy of the Declaration of Independence handwritten by Thomas Jefferson; and a first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The Hall also contains some of the world’s most sought-after collections of research materials on genetics, cultural anthropology and more.