In 1800, when President Adams moved the national capital from Philadelphia to DC, he also approved a $5,000 budget for books. The intention was rather pragmatic: give Congress a quiet place to research.
Unfortunately, British soldiers torched the young library during the War of 1812. To replace it, Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson’s personal library of 6,487 books for $23,950. In 1850, however, an accidental fire destroyed two-thirds of the growing collection.
Thankfully, Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford grew a steady collection from 1864-1897, and the Library of Congress now holds over 167 million items.