St. Louis Mercantile Library

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St. Louis Mercantile Library
St Louis Mercantile Library.jpg
Current home of the library on the UMSL Campus
Country United States of America
Established 1846
Location Thomas Jefferson Library 1 University Blvd. • St. Louis, MO 63121
Branch of Thomas Jefferson Library
Other information
Director John Hoover
Phone number 314-516-7240

The St. Louis Mercantile Library, founded in 1846 in St. Louis, Missouri, was originally established as a subscription library, and is the oldest extant library west of the Mississippi River.[1] Since 1998 the library has been housed at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. It has 600 feet (180 m) of papers, ledgers, and printed materials currently in 26 departmental or other record groups[2] In 1986 the library received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities because of the collection's cultural importance.[3]


In December 1845 a group of merchants established the library "where young men could pass their evenings agreeably and profitably, and thus be protected from the temptations to folly that ever beset unguarded youth in large towns."

On April 19, 1846 it opened at Pine and Main Streets in what is now occupied by the Jefferson Expansion National Memorial. James E. Yeatman was the first president. Yeatman would go on to be one of the founders of the Mercantile Bank as well as Washington University in St. Louis. By 1847 it had 1,600 volumes and 283 subscribing members. In 1851 it merged with the St. Louis Lyceum.[4]

Mercantile Library Hall, ca. 1870

In 1854 it moved to a new building at 510 Locust Street on the corner of Broadway and Locust streets. The structure included the 2,000 seat Grand Hall, the largest auditorium in the city at the time. The first session of the Missouri Constitutional Convention in 1861 met in the library voting to stay in the Union at the beginning of the American Civil War. Another constitutional convention in 1865 abolished slavery.

The St. Louis Symphony played its first concerts there. A series of lectures were held in the auditorium, with noted speakers including Mark Twain, Carl Schurz, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oscar Wilde.

In 1884 Robert S. Brookings began a campaign to build a new fireproof building. The older building was demolished in 1887 and a new cornerstone was laid by Henry Shaw (botanist). In 1889 the new six story structure was dedicated on the same site. The new structure had no lecture hall, but did include an elevator.

The Mercantile Library was heavily used as a research library by the faculty and students of Washington University in St. Louis during that institution's early years.[5]

With the opening of the free St. Louis Public Library in 1893, the Mercantile Library's mission changed to focus on its major historic collections of books, papers, and art works.[1]

In 1998 it moved to the current location in the Thomas Jefferson Library building on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.[6] The library still maintains its subscription model, but its collections are generally open to the public.

The library offers free art and history exhibits of materials from its collections.


Statue of Beatrice Cenci (1857)

Among the collections:


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 38°42′37″N 90°18′40″W / 38.710200°N 90.311055°W / 38.710200; -90.311055