Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center is a program of the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation promoting understanding and appreciation of the history of libraries and librarianship in Wisconsin.


Wisconsin Library History Timeline


The Library Company of Philadelphia is founded by Benjamin Franklin. It is the first lending library in America.


The Library of Congress is founded.


The Peterboro (NH)Town Library is founded. It is the first tax supported free public library in the world.


The first session of the Wisconsin territorial legislature takes place in Belmont, WI. The legislature authorizes $5,000 to purchase books for a library. This was the start of the Wisconsin State Library, Wisconsin’s first library. It later becomes the Wisconsin State Law Library.


Governor Doty makes his personal library which contained about 500 volumes available for loan to the public in Madison. 


A library is established at the Platteville Academy in Platteville, WI.


The State Historical Society of Wisconsin is established.


The Young Men's Association Library is founded in Milwaukee.  It is the predecessor of the Milwaukee Public Library.


The Wisconsin Constitution provides for the allocation of school funds for library purposes.


The Beloit College Library is established.


The University of Wisconsin Library in Madison is established.

The Lawrence University Library in Appleton is founded.


The Carroll College Library is founded in Waukesha.


The Boston Public Library is founded. It is the first large public library and the model for public libraries that follow.


Membership libraries are established in Madison and Cassville.  In Madison the library is the Madison Institute, the predecessor of the Madison Public Library.  In Cassville it is the Ladies Library Association. 


The State Normal School at Platteville is founded. The library of the Platteville Academy is given to the library of the Normal School.


Wisconsin's law authorizing the establishment of free public libraries is enacted.  It is based on a similar law passed in the same year in Illinois.

Wisconsin’s first public library is established under the new act in Black River Falls.


The Sparta Public Library is established.


Public libraries are established in Madison and Eau Claire.


The American Library Association is founded. 

The Fond du Lac Public Library is established.


The Milwaukee Public Library is founded.


The Janesville Public Library is officially established.


The American Library Association meets in Milwaukee.


Columbia College School of Library Economy, the nation's first library school, is opened under the direction of Melvil Dewey. 


The Wisconsin Library Association is founded.

The new Williams Free Library in Beaver Dam is dedicated. It claims to be the first library in America to have open shelves.


The Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC) is founded. Lutie Stearns is the Commission's first Secretary.

Summer training sessions for librarians are initiated under the auspices of the WFLC. These training sessions are the precursors of what is to be the the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Senator James H. Stout, Menomonie, purchased 500 “wholesome, popular books” and began a traveling library system in Dunn County, with 16 boxes of books.


The new building housing the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Library of the University of Wisconsin is dedicated.  Reuben G. Thwaites, the Secretary of the Society, serves as President of the American Library Association.  


The American Library Association meets in Waukesha. 

The Legislative Reference Library is established as a part of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. Charles McCarthy is its first librarian. McCarthy was a leader in the Progressive Movement and is the author of the “Wisconsin Idea”. The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library served as a prototype of such libraries in other states and also was the model for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. 

Seven communities in Wisconsin receive grants from Andrew Carnegie for public library buildings.  Eventually 60 communities in Wisconsin will receive funding for 63 public library buildings from Carnegie. Two colleges also receive grants from Carnegie for library buildings.  


The first public library building in Wisconsin funded with a Carnegie grant is completed in Superior. 


The State Capitol in Madison burns. The State Law Library collection is saved with the help of University of Wisconsin students. The collections of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission are heavily damaged, however.


A library school is established as a part of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. It later becomes the School of Library Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.


The Postmaster General shifts library books to fourth class parcel post mail making the postal rates much more affordable for libraries. Matthew Dudgeon, Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, working in cooperation with the major libraries in Madison, establishes a books-by-mail program which provides the resources of these libraries to the rural residents of the state.


The United States enters the war with Germany. The American Library Association takes a leadership role in providing library service to soldiers and sailors at home and abroad. Matthew Dudgeon, Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, takes a leave of absence to join ALA’s War Service Library. Libraries throughout Wisconsin join in the national effort to raise funds for books and library service for the armed forces.


With the active support of the Wisconsin Library Association, the Wisconsin legislature passes the first public librarian certification law in the nation.


Wisconsin’s first bookmobile begins operation in Grant, Iowa, Crawford and Rock counties. It was furnished by the federal Works Project Administration (WPA) and operated through contributions from 26 American Legion posts. It only served children, and was administered by the Wisconsin Free Library Commission in Madison.


The legislature enacts funding over the Governor’s veto for a three-year regional library demonstration in Door and Kewaunee counties.


The federal Library Services Act (LSA) is passed. 

The American Library Association (ALA) publishes Public Library Service: A Guide to Evaluation With Mininimum Standards. This document introduces the “library system” concept, and sets forth guiding principles and minimum national standards for measuring public library service. 


S. Janice Kee, previously Director of the Public Library Association of ALA, becomes Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. 


Wisconsin’s State Plan for LSA funding is approved.


Several county and multi-county public library demonstrations are funded by the Free Library Commission with Library Services Act funds.  These are the predecessors of Wisconsin's public library systems.


The Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA), an expansion of LSA to include urban libraries, is enacted by Congress.


The Wisconsin Free Library Commission is incorporated into the Department of Public Instruction as the Division for Library Services. S. Janice Kee resigns from the Free Library Commission.  Lyle Eberhart becomes the Assistant State Superintendent in charge of the new Division for Library Services.


Wisconsin’s public library system law is enacted.


The first four public library systems are established under the new law.


The Council on Library and Network Development is established with the responsibility to advise the State Superintendent of Public Instruction on library development and cooperation and public librarian certification.


The Kenosha County Library System and the Waukesha County Library System are the last of seventeen federated public library systems to be established.


Florence County becomes the last county in the state to become part of a public library system. 


Popular Tags

28 14 Library people Evansville Wisconsin WLA 125 Soughton Public Library Wisconsin Free Library Commission Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library Black River Falls WLA 125 Peter G. Hamon 21 Cooperative Children's Book Center Zona Gale National Library Week Wayne A. Wiegand Dianne McAfee Hopkins Public library systems Lutie Stearns DeForest Area Public Library background Bernard Schwab John Miller Chancellor Library People Milwaukee Art Museum Ruth Ann Montgomery National Bookmobile Day Frank Avery Hutchins White House Conference on Library and Information Services Inform Wisconsin WHCLIS Dorothea M. Krause Library e Hall of Fame 2015 Gilbert H. Doane Milwaukee Public Library Lutie Eugenia Stearns Beaver Dam Public Library People Delia Ovitz Campaign American Library Association School of Library and Information Studies Public libraries bookworm State Law Library caly film Superior Carnegie Libraries Milwaukee Public Library Hall of Fame 2013 state historical society Uncategorized Wisconsin Library Heritage Center Campaing for Wisconsin Libraries Marjorie Sornson Malmberg Public libraries Clinton Public Library membership libraries campa hall of Richard E. Krug UW-Milwaukee Libraries S. Janice Kee Nolan I. Neds 22 Eratus Swift Wilcox Amer Portage Public Library ca Beloit Public Library campaign 24 Klaus Linderfelt J. D. Witter Rusk County Community Library Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services Events & Meetings Digital Collections caly film Postcards Pewaukee Public Library Cam buil caly film library legislation I Love Libraries Jerome P. Daniels 11 Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Library History 10 Irene W. Newman Parcel post Wisconsin Library Association Association of Library Trustees Advocates and Friends Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries cam Hall of Fame 2010 William J. Wilson Brown County Library Hall Ripon Public Library presentations Edward Asahel Birge Bookmobiles Campaign COLAND Eager Free Public Library Wilbur Lyle Eberhart Special libraries Library people Postcards archives Gerald A. Somers WWI Library War Service Academic Libraries Larry T. Nix Library celebrations Brown Deer Public Library Hall of Fame 2012 Hall of Fame 2014 campaign Library Systems Events Tower Hill Wisconsin Wisconsin Free Library Commission T. B. Scott Free Public Library books-by-mail Gertrude Thurow Library Buildings Oshkosh Public Library library education Hall fo Fame 2012 Wisconsin Library Bulletin anniversaries Hall of Fame 2008 Cornelia Marving Pierce Hall of Fame 2016 Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Hall of Fame 2011 Academic Librarians Library Trustees Publications Wisconsin Literary Travel Guide Carnegie libraries 27 James Duane Doty Centennial Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Charles Bunge CCBC Brown Deer Public Library UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies Hall of Fame 2012 Orrilla Blackshear Anniversaries American Library Association Library War Service Black River Falls Public Library Hall of Fame 2015 Ice Storm WLA 125 Manitowoc Public Library Middleton Public Library Wisconsin State Law Library Exhibits Postcards Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends Wisconsin Rapids traveling libraries trav McMillan Memorial Library Appleton Public Library School libraries Katharine MacDonald Jones Increase A. Lapham Hartford Public Library Capitol Fire 1904 bed and breakfast campaign 23 Suring Area Public Library Woman's Congress Jane K. Billings Marketing-Publicity WLA 125 Matthew S. Dudgeon Hall of Fame 2012 WAAL Buttons Hall of Fame 2015 Sarah Janice Kee Elroy Public Library Historical Register Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Pinback buttons Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians library memorabilia Anniversaries Meter mail slogans Hall of Fame 2015 Campaign Postcards Events & Meetings James Huff Stout World War I Wisconsin Historical Society Clarence Brown Lester Hall of Fame 2015 Library Artifacts Carl Spitzweg Library Buidlings UW-Madison school of library and information studies Wisconsin State Normal School-Milwaukee Council on Library and Network Development Hall of Fame 2009 Madison Public Library 20 library exhibit

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo