Most Americans are very familiar with the Library of Congress and its massive collection of millions of books, documents, recordings, photographs, sheet music, and manuscripts. But few know how Thomas Jefferson is connected to the library.

On April 24, 1800, Congress approved moving the federal government to Washington DC and granted resources for a congressional library:

That for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress at the said city of Washington, and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them and for placing them therein, the sum of five thousand dollars shall be, and hereby is appropriated.

The books purchased for that library were originally kept in the Capitol building. But when the British invaded and set fire to the Capitol during the War of 1812, this collection was destroyed. This is where Jefferson comes in.

He offered to sell his collection of books (nearly 6,500) to Congress to replace the books that had been burned. His offer was accepted and nearly $24,000 (over $300,000 in today’s money) was set aside to purchase his books.

Unfortunately, almost two-thirds of his collection was destroyed in another fire in 1851, but Jefferson’s library was a springboard from which the Library of Congress would continue to grow. Next time you visit the Library of Congress, remember one of the reasons this collection is so impressive is due to Thomas Jefferson’s influence.