The Fascinating History of Bookmobiles (15 Photos)

 

 

We love our libraries and the librarians that run them!  We have fond memories of the bookmobile coming down the street in the 1950s, and we got curious about their history.  The idea dates back to Ms. Mary Lemist Titcomb, a librarian in Maryland who stated in 1905:  "Would not a Library Wagon, the outward and visible signs of the service for which the Library stood, do much more in cementing friendship?"  

This initial idea spread rapidly as automobiles became more available in the the 1910s and 1920s, and libraries throughout the country came up with all sorts of interesting designs for their bookmobiles!  We've put together some of our favorite photos that show the history of evolution of bookmobiles in the years that followed.

This photo shows Ms. Titcomb's first bookmobile.  She noted in her book on the matter:  "The first wagon, when finished with shelves on the outside and a place for storage of cases in the center resembled somewhat a cross between a grocer's delivery wagon and the tin peddlers cart of by gone New England days. Filled with an attractive collection of books and drawn by two horses, with Mr. Thomas the janitor both holding the reins and dispensing the books, it started on its travels in April 1905."  Credit:  Western Maryland Historical Library

This 1912 photo from the Washington County, Maryland Library shows what may be the first motorized library.  Prior to this, the library had used an old wagon to reach rural parts of the county, but this vehicle let them reach nearly every section of the county, adding 342 new families to their earlier routes.  The library notes that the most-requested books were of a practical nature - farming science, gardening, cooking - but many also delighted in works of fiction and having their children read and read to them.  

 

Most early bookmobiles were established to serve rural populations, and nearly all programs reported demand that always out-stripped supply.  For many communities, the arrival of the bookmobile marked the highlight of the week, as is seen here in this 1926 photo from Davenport, Iowa.  

 

This amazing photo from 1918 shows the "book bus" of Hibbing, Minnesota.  It even had its own stove for long winter trips.  

 

Not all bookmobiles had to travel very far, though, as seen in this remarkable photo from downtown Dayton, Ohio in 1924

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Cincinnati, Ohio had one of the most remarkable libraries and library systems in the country.  Here's a view of their early 1920's bookmobile.  It was quite beautiful!

In many school districts, the bookmobile would help provide additional materials for the students, as seen in this 1927 photo from Multnomah County, Oregon.

 

It's hard not to love this picture from the Nebraska Public Library Commission in the early 1930s.  Times were hard then as the Depression was in full-swing, and you can imagine how much hope and education was provided by services like this.

This is one of our favorite photos from the collection.  It shows the bookmobile in Rockingham County, North Carolina.  You can read more about the bookmobile here

Another happy photo from the Cincinnati bookmobile around 1940.  These kids were about to get some reading on!

 

Another great photo, this one from Staten Island in the early 1920s. 

 

Some industrious people aimed to go for the mega-bookmobile, as seen here in this 1925 model!  We love it!

As news of success of bookmobile programs, many of them became funded by the WPA, which was part of Roosevelt's New Deal Plan.  This photo is from Fairfield Montana in the mid 1930s. 

Here's a similar program in New Mexico in the late 1930s.  

 

The New York Public Library also went to great lengths to reach areas all over New York.  This photo captures an all-out clamor for books in the Bronx in the 1930s. 

Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania in 1924.  

 

Touching photo from Evanston, Illinois in the early 1920s. 

 

In the 1940s, bookmobiles ended up getting way more sophisticated, as seen in this photo from the Milwaukee Public Library.  Look at all the happy kids!  We're certainly thankful for all the libraries and librarians around the country.  They helped us all out so much and continue to do so!

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