The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library’s history began long before its completion in 2004. More than a century earlier, in 1889, the Illinois General Assembly established the Illinois State Historical Library as a repository for materials on the state’s political, social, and religious history. The Historical Library was renamed the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library to reflect its essential role—along with the adjacent Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum—in telling the story of Abraham Lincoln’s life.
An impressive collection of Lincoln materials amassed by Illinois governor Henry Horner and willed to the library upon his death in 1940 is the bedrock of the library’s renowned Lincoln Collection. Subsequent additions included the 1943 acquisition of an original copy of the Gettysburg Address purchased in part with the pennies of schoolchildren, a treasure trove of Lincoln family letters, and in recent years Barry and Louise Taper’s prized collection of Lincolniana and assassination materials.
Although the library is famous for its materials on its namesake, it holds the premier collection of materials on Illinois' history, including eight miles of below-ground stacks that preserve myriad books, original maps, and thousands of boxes of personal papers and other records relating to Illinois' political, business, and cultural leaders.
The Library is administered jointly with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, located across the street, and the two facilities share programming and staff resources. Items from the Library’s unparalleled Lincoln Collection are rotated for exhibit at the Museum, and Library historians are key participants in the development and execution of Museum exhibits and public programming. And because places that preserve history have histories of their own, the Library maintains print, visual, and audio records of the Library and Museum’s construction, dedication, and operations.
The Library also stages exhibits that showcase its impressive historical holdings relating to all aspects of Illinois history, including an extensive Civil War collection and strong offerings on slavery and abolition, early settlement, church and community histories, and Illinois coal mining.