Herbert Hall grew up in Maine, went into business, and eventually built in Kansas City, Missouri, the largest grain-exporting company in the U.S. He and his wife Linda Hall had no children, so before they died they decided that their wealth should be used to “build up an important cultural agency as a contribution to the city in which they made their home.” So Herbert, who passed away three years after his wife, left the family estate, on 20 acres in the heart of Kansas City, plus a $6 million endowment (worth $82 million in 2017 dollars) to create a “free library” named after his wife, with the type of library to be determined by his trustees.
Hall’s trusted associates decided a library of science, technology, and engineering might be the best contribution to the economic prosperity and culture of Kansas City, so the home was converted into reading rooms, and they went book-buying. Their first acquisition was an historic one: the American Academy of Arts and Sciences transferred its entire library (which had been begun by John Adams before he became U.S. President). In 1985, the Franklin Institute likewise consolidated all of its books and journals at the Linda Hall Library. In 1995, the Engineering Societies Library was a third huge acquisition.
Today, the Linda Hall Library contains more than 2 million items, including vast collections of journals and standard reference works, technical reports, patent information, rare science volumes dating back to the 1400s, and one of the world’s most comprehensive history of science collections. It is the world’s largest privately endowed library of science, and sits amidst a 14-acre arboretum open to the Kansas City public.
- Linda Hall Library, lindahall.org/about/