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