Groundbreaking Ceremony, May 12, 1917 Floral Motif on Column

75th Anniversary Main Page

History Overview

In 2002, the Main Library Building of the Free Library of Philadelphia, now known as the Central Library, celebrates its 75th Anniversary. Information in the History portion of these pages documents the planning, design, construction, furnishing, operation, and use of the Central Library building as well as placing this important building in the context of the development of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway neighborhood. The pages are ordered chronologically.

First imagined in the mid-1890s, begun in earnest in 1910, and not completed for 17 years, the Central Library building is a triumph of civic architecture and library science as well as a monument to the fortitude, commitment, and aspirations of the librarians, trustees, local politicians, architects, and general public, who persevered during decades of tribulation including legal and political battles and a world war.

The building can also be understood as the product of intersecting historical forces that included the aesthetic ideals and increasing technological abilities of the architects and engineers, the aspirations of the Library's trustees and other civic boosters, the political wills of several contrasting mayoral administrations, and the conflicting interests affecting an industrial and commercial city at its zenith.

The History pages also explore how the building itself, like the books it housed, was intended to instruct and uplift the general public. Speaking to everyone who enters, the Main Library Building is designed to participate in the education of the general public, the fundamental tenet upon which the American public library movement was founded.

Floral Motif on Column
Floral Motif on Column
Floral Motif on Column Founding, 1889-1898 | Quest for a Home, 1894-1910 | Initial Plans, 1910-1912 | Delays, 1912-1919 | Construction, 1920-1926 |
Opening Day, June 2, 1927 | Central and Logan Circle
To the Free Library of Philadelphia Main Page History