Fun Facts about the Library

The New York Public Library’s flagship building, now known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, was built on the site of the City’s Croton Reservoir at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. 


The immense project of building the Library began in 1899 and lasted 12 years.


The Library used 530,000 cubic feet of marble, including exterior marble that is 12 inches thick.


Seven and a half tons: The weight of the building’s cornerstone, laid November 10, 1902. It contains a relic box with newspapers, photos, official letters, and other ephemera related to the building’s creation.


At the time it opened in 1911, the Library was the largest marble building ever built in the United States.


Fifty thousand: The number of Library visitors on opening day in 1911 


The first book delivered from the main stacks, a speedy seven minutes after the call slip was deposited, was Nravstvennye idealy nashego vremeni (Ethical Ideals of Our Time: Friedrich Nietzsche and Leo Tolstoy) by Nikolai I. Grot.


The building was originally heated by more than 20 tons of coal a day; the coal ash was carted away daily.


Books were originally delivered by horse-drawn carts via the covered driveway from 40th Street.


In 1950, after the central fountain was demolished due to chronic citywide water shortages, the courtyard was converted to a parking lot.


John Fedeler, the first superintendent of the Library, lived in an eight-room apartment on the mezzanine floor from 1911 to 1941 where he raised two children.


The marble floors of the Library were deemed so hard that in 1911 all employees were supplied with rubber-soled shoes, a fact the manufacturer of the shoes quickly used in its advertising.


Maps reveal that the site where the Library now stands was also the location of a battle that George Washington and his troops fought against the British during the Revolutionary War.


For more than 50 years, Norbert Pearlroth, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! researcher, found all the information for the newspaper feature using the huge collection in the Library’s Main Reading Room.


In 1926, the Library boasted six former Olympic athletes on its staff — a hurdler, three high jumpers, one broad jumper, a mountain climber, an oarsman/canoeist, and a discus thrower.


The winter following the stock market crash of 1929 was the most active period in the Library’s history. It was not uncommon for there to be 800 to 1,000 people in the Main Reading Room, a standing room only capacity.


After Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, 12,000 items from the collection were temporarily moved to an undisclosed location 250 miles away.


Among the Library’s many notable users have been Bob Dylan, Jacqueline Onassis, Norman Mailer, E. L. Doctorow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Grace Kelly, Lillian Gish, Marlene Dietrich, Estelle Parsons, Harold Prince, Alfred Kazin, Jonathan Safran Foer, Tom Wolfe, Danzy Senna, and Colson Whitehead.


A recently immigrated Frank McCourt was sent to the Library by an Irish bartender, and later credited the institution in his memoir, ‘Tis, for an informal education.


Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in the Library’s Frederick Lewis Allen Memorial Room.


Film director Francis Ford Coppola shot You’re a Big Boy, Now at the Library, which perpetuated the myth that Library workers wear roller skates to get around in the stacks.


Writers for the cable series Mad Men use the Library’s Ask NYPL service to research period details.


Edward Land developed the Polaroid Land Camera and Chester Carlson invented the photocopier through research conducted at the Library.


DeWitt Wallace read and condensed articles at the Library that he republished in his magazine Reader’s Digest.


The Deborah, Jonathan F. P., Samuel Priest, and Adam Raphael Rose Main Reading Room is 297 feet long, approximately the length of a football field; 78 feet wide; and 51 feet, two inches high.


The stacks contain 125 miles of shelving — 88 miles in the seven stack floors of the original building and 37 miles in the two-level stack extension under Bryant Park.


The Honus Wagner baseball card was pulled out of circulation at Wagner’s request, because he didn’t want children to buy tobacco in order to get his card.


In the collections: A 1493 unique copy of Columbus’s letter announcing his discovery of the New World


In the collections: Charles Dickens’s favorite letter-opener. The shaft is ivory, but the handle is the embalmed paw of his beloved cat, Bob, toenails and all.


In the collections: Approximately 40,000 restaurant menus, from the 1850s to the present


In the collections: Jack Kerouac’s crutches


In the collections: Truman Capote’s cigarette case


The Sun by Harry Crosby is one of the smallest books in the collections, measuring one inch tall by three quarters of an inch wide.


The Birds of America by John James Audubon is one of the largest books in the collections, measuring 39 inches tall by 26 inches wide.


The Library Lions are larger than life, each stretching more than 11 feet (not counting the tail), about three feet longer than their wild prototypes.


The first known cartoon to feature the Library Lions appeared in the Sunday New York Times on October 16, 1910, before the Library had even opened.


Mayor Fiorello La Guardia nicknamed the Library Lions Patience and Fortitude in the 1930s because he felt New Yorkers needed to possess these qualities in order to survive the Depression.


During the Subway Series of 2000, the southerly Lion sported a New York Yankees baseball cap. Ensuring impartiality, his uptown brother wore a Mets cap.


Along with the iconic Lions, the building’s ornamentation also includes dolphins, turtles, birds, bees, catfish, dogs, roosters, eagles, rams, swans, snakes, and oxen.


During World War II, Allied military intelligence used the Map Division to research and prepare battle plans.


Susan Sarandon and Tim McGraw used The Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy to research their families’ histories on the NBC program Who Do You Think You Are?


A first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, signed by author J. K. Rowling, was given to the Library and the city to honor its tenacity since the September 11 terrorist attacks.


In his final public appearance, Norman Mailer was joined by Günter Grass for a LIVE from the NYPL program.


Since 1987, the original Winnie–the-Pooh and his friends — Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Tigger — have been living at the Library.


Reflecting the collecting practices of earlier generations, the Library holds locks of hair from the heads of Charlotte Brontë, Walt Whitman, Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Wild Bill Hickok, among many other notables.


The Library’s landmark building was named the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building for the Library Trustee in 2008 after his historic $100 million donation.


In 2011, the Library completed a three-year, $50 million restoration and preservation of its landmark building’s marble facade.


646,680 total square feet: the size of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building!



Children gathering around the original Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animals, treasures of the Children's Center at 42nd Street. Photo: Marc Bryan-Brown Photography

Cross-sectional view of the stacks, from the cover of Scientific American, May 27, 1911.

Jack Kerouac's crutches, used by the proto-Beat after he was injured playing football for Columbia University in 1940.

Dashing by the recently opened New York Public Library, a poster by Edward Penfield for Hart, Schaffner & Marx, 1911.

A lock of Walt Whitman's hair, with the poet's autograph, dated "America—Oct. 29 1891."

Bucrane (a sculptured ox skull) and ox hooves ornament the base of an Astor Hall torchère.

A bronze lion mask, a detail of the second-floor gallery's drinking fountain.

Luncheon menu for Schrafft's, at 13 East 42nd Street, only a short walk away from "New York's monumental Public Library."