Chicago Public Library Archives

CPL's Digital Collections document life in Chicago through archival images, documents and artifacts.

Book room in the Old Water Tank, ca. 1873


On January 1, 1873 the Chicago Public Library opened its doors in a water tank that had survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. These photographs trace our history from that small structure to the development of neighborhood libraries across the city.

Explore CPL through those years, from that circular water tank, to delivery stations in the late 19th century, to bookmobiles in the mid-20th century to Hild Regional Library in the 1970s.

The Chicago Public Library Archives are housed in the Special Collections and Preservation Division at Harold Washington Library Center.

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Acknowledgment of Harmful Materials

Chicago Public Library collects images, documents and other archival materials from different communities and time periods to preserve and make available the cultural and historical record. As historical objects, some of these materials contain harmful or disturbing content. CPL presents these artifacts as an unfiltered social record and does not endorse the views expressed therein.

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