In the mid-nineteenth century, the city of New York had a population larger than that of Paris and was approaching in size the population of London, the most populous city of the world at that time. Great leaders of the city visualized that to become a world-class city, something more than having a large population had to be done. One of the important elements missing from New York City was a proper library.
By the year 1886, there were two small private libraries, one of which was the Astor Library. John Jacob Astor, German immigrant considered the richest man in the US at that time, very generously raised this library. The other private library that existed was the Lenox Library, founded by James Lenox. His private collection of books and manuscripts were available on the property today known as “The Frick Collection.”
However, it was the former Governor of the State, Samuel J. Tilden who had the vision of establishing a public library with reading rooms for the city of New York. Fulfilling his desire, upon his death, he destined a large part of his fortune for such purposes. We are talking about $ 2.4 million dollars.
In 1892, both the Astor Library and the Lenox Library faced financial difficulties in the absence of economic endorsements and growth in the collections to be maintained. The lawyer John Bigelow, as executor of the will and the Tilden Foundation managed to unite both libraries for a new entity to be known as “The New York Public Library”. Sixteen years later, a large part of these collections are moved to inaugurate on May 23, 1911 the newly constructed building that would serve as the headquarters of the Public Library System of the city of New York. Located on 5th Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets, the Beaux-Arts-style building has been named Stephen A. Schwarzman Building since 2008 in recognition of a very generous donation of $ 100 million from this American philanthropist.
Today, the Library System has more than 90 branches throughout the city. The idea of the branches was of Andrew Carnegie who offered $ 5.2 million for the construction of 39 additional branches for the Bronx, Staten Island and New York (today Manhattan) itself.
Always vigilant are two lions at the entrance to the New York Public Library. Originally they carried the nicknames; Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, in honor of the founders of the library. During the 1930s, during the time of the Great Depression, the Mayor of New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia, re-baptized them with two very unique names. From that moment, the lions bear the names of Patience and Fortitude. Names that reflect the qualities that all New Yorkers must have to survive the Great Depression.