Lobby Exhibition, 1947 Floral Motif on Column


75th Anniversary Main Page

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Founding the Free Library of Philadelphia






Marble bust of Dr. William Pepper

1876 Philadelphia hosts hundreds of U.S. librarians who establish the American Library Association. Our city contains numerous private libraries and subscription libraries that require payment for use - but, unlike many other American cities, we have no free public library.

Dr. William Pepper, 1925 1887 Dr. William Pepper - a physician, educator, and provost of the University of Pennsylvania - launches efforts to establish a free library.




George S. Pepper, 1925 1889 George S. Pepper, William's uncle, bequeaths $225,000 to establish a governing structure for a free library, later known as the Free Library Foundation, to raise an endowment for building and maintaining a library system.


Charter of the Free Library, granted in 1891 1891 Organized by Dr. William Pepper, a group of prominent Philadelphians charters an institution "for the use of the People of Philadelphia, a general library which shall be free to all." But even before the charter is granted, three private libraries file a law suit disputing the will.

Rules and Regulations of the Philadelphia Public Library 1892 In spite of pending litigation, William Pepper persuades the City to establish a library system with public funds. Directed by the Board of Education, the Philadelphia Public Library opens its first branch at the Wagner Free Institute of Science.

Librarian John Thomson 1894 Courts rule in favor of the Free Library in its battle over the Pepper will. In March, Head Librarian John Thomson opens the Free Library's first branch at City Hall.

Seal of the Free Library of Philadelphia The City Councils consolidate the Philadelphia Public Library into the Free Library of Philadelphia under a new Board of Trustees. The Free Library boasts 160 employees, fourteen branches, and 250,000 volumes. Its circulation hits 1,778,387 for the year, the world's largest.

This is the People's Library, absolutely free to all.

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