The Washington State Library, located at 6880 Capitol Boulevard in Tumwater, contains many fascinating and historically important books and documents. The Library is an excellent place to learn about all aspects of Washington history, culture and society. For over 160 years, since the earliest Territorial days, it has served the people of the region. The origins and long history of the Washington State Library are reflected in the story of two globes purchased by the first Territorial governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818-1862).
Appointed governor of newly created Washington Territory by President Franklin Pierce in 1853, Stevens was young, highly intelligent, very ambitious, and at times ruthless. Many of his actions proved to be controversial even during his own time, including various treaties with Native Americans. One of Stevens’ earliest responsibilities was to establish a Territorial Library, as part of the Organic Act (passed March 2, 1853) that carved Washington Territory out of the much larger Oregon Territory (which included modern day Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming). The Act provided $5,000 to establish a library.
Stevens and his staff were directed to purchase over 2,000 books to form the first part of the collection. He also requested documents and published archival materials from all existing states and territories. Law textbooks and law reports formed the bulk of the collection, in addition to a large number of scientific books and a few novels.
In addition to buying the books, “A pair of globes, and five mounted maps, have also been purchased for the library and are in the library room,” as Stevens reported to the first annual session of the Washington Territorial Legislative Assembly on February 28, 1854. This pair of globes has remained part of the State Library collection ever since then. Indeed, they are still on display and silently greet people who enter the Library’s public area on the second floor of its current building on Capitol Boulevard.
A matching pair, one globe is celestial (showing the night sky) and the other terrestrial (depicting the earth). The celestial globe is entitled, “Malby’s Celestial globes: exhibiting the whole of the stars contained in the catalogues of Piazzi, Bradley, Hevelius, Mayer, la Caille and Johnson…reduced to the year 1850.” The terrestrial globe is labeled “Malby’s terrestrial globe: compiled from the latest and most authentic sources, including all the recent geographical discoveries.”
Both globes were manufactured in London by Malby & Son Company. Founded by Thomas Malby in 1810, this business produced globes and maps, proudly proclaiming on the terrestrial globe that they were “the engravers for the [British] Admiralty.” The company continues to operate, renamed the London Name Plate Manufacturing Company Ltd., no producing high quality industrial and consumer name plates and labels. Information for the globes at the Washington State Library was originally provided by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Founded in 1826, the group’s mission was to provide affordable access to scientific and other educational works to readers. The Society folded in 1846, but clearly, their information remained available at the time of the globes’ creation.
The globes at the Library reflect the world in the mid-19th century. The celestial one shows the night sky as it looked in 1850. The terrestrial globe features the international political borders of the 1850s. Alaska belongs to Russia and Hawaii is an independent kingdom. The British Empire spans the globe, along with the Austrian, Russian and Chinese empires. The interior of Africa is largely blank, known obviously to its inhabitants but not to Western map-makers.
These globes remained part of the Library as it moved over the decades. Most of the original books (and likely the globes) were shipped around Cape Horn—although some trekked across pre-canal Panama, most freight came the long way by sea. Required by law to remain at the “seat of government,” the globes followed the library. The collection was temporarily stored at an Olympia warehouse upon its arrival, later moved to a building on what is now Olympia and State Avenues, the space rented from Father Pascal Richard of the local Catholic mission.
Later the Library (and globes) moved to current 4th Avenue and Capitol Way in 1854, then to the separate territorial Capitol where it remained until 1891. That year the Library went to the McKenney Building (4th and Capitol). In 1901, the Library moved to the Old State Capitol near Sylvester Park (now headquarters of the Superintendent of Public Instruction). In 1917 it was transferred to the basement of the Temple of Justice on the State Capital Campus. In 1959 the institution moved into its own building (later named after Joel M. Pritchard) on the Campus, where it remained until 2001. At that time it came to Point Plaza on Capitol Boulevard in Tumwater.
Throughout time, the basic mission of the Washington State Library has stayed the same—to collect, preserve and make available to the public documents and books of value to Washington. In addition, it serves the public through its libraries in prisons and for the blind, among other activities. The territorial globes remain a silent witness to this tradition, now over 160 years old but still going strong.
Note: The author would like to thank the staff of the Washington State Library for their support for this and all her other articles.