History of the Library

Initiated by the efforts of Dr. William Pepper, the Free Library of Philadelphia was chartered in 1891 as "a general library which shall be free to all." Pepper received initial funding for the Library through a $225,000 bequest from his wealthy uncle, George S. Pepper. However, litigation arose as several existing libraries claimed the bequest. The Free Library finally opened in March of 1894 after the courts decided the money was intended to found a new public library.

The first location for the Library was three cramped rooms in City Hall. On February 11, 1895, the Library was moved to the old Concert Hall, 1217-1221 Chestnut Street. Library officials, however, criticized their new home as "an entirely unsuitable building, where its work is done in unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded quarters, temporary make-shifts." These unpopular quarters were occupied until December 1, 1910, when the Library was moved yet again, to the northeast corner of 13th and Locust Streets.

On June 2, 1927, the massive Central Library opened for service at its present location on Logan Square. The building had been in the planning stages since 1911; however, various obstacles, including World War I, halted progress on the building. It now serves as the main library and administrative headquarters for the Free Library of Philadelphia system.

Over the years, numerous neighborhood libraries have been added to the Free Library system, many of them funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who donated $1.5 million for neighborhood library construction in 1903. Today, the Free Library is composed of Parkway Central Library, three large regional libraries, 49 neighborhood libraries, community Hot Spots, the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the Regional Research and Operations Center, and the Rosenbach.

Learn More about Central Library

For an in-depth look at the Library's past, spend some time with our detailed account. You can also read about the architects who designed the structure. Or, if you believe pictures are truly worth a thousand words, check out our collection of more than 300 historical photographs. You can even follow the events on a timeline or experience a digitized version of our 75th Anniversary Exhibit.