May 23

This Day in History

General Interest

May 23, 1911:

New York Public Library dedicated

In a ceremony presided over by President William Howard Taft, the New York Public Library, the largest marble structure ever constructed in the United States, is dedicated in New York City. Occupying a two-block section of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets, the monumental beaux-arts structure took 14 years to complete at a cost of $9 million. The day after its dedication, the library opened its doors to the public, and some 40,000 citizens passed through to make use of a collection that already consisted of more than a million books.

In the late 19th century, New York had surpassed Paris in population and was quickly catching up with London, then the world's most populous city. Unlike these cities, however, it lacked a public library large enough to serve its many citizens. In 1886, former New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden died, bequeathing to the city $2.4 million to "establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York." The gift remained unspent until May 23, 1895, when New York's two largest libraries--the Astor and Lenox libraries--agreed to combine with the Tilden Trust to form a new entity that would be known as The New York Public Library. Sixteen years later to the day, the main branch of the library was dedicated in midtown Manhattan.

During the next few decades, thanks in large part to a $5.2 million gift from steel baron Andrew Carnegie, a system of branch libraries opened throughout New York City. Today, the New York Public Library is visited and used annually by more than 10 million people, and there are currently well over two million cardholders, more than for any other library system in the nation.

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