The Library of Congress has one of the largest collections of books in human history — and that includes comic books. With more than 12,000 titles stretching across 140,000 issues in its collection, the library holds the largest public collection of comic books in the United States. There’s a little bit of everything — Golden Age superheroes like Superman and Captain America, translated reissues of Japanese manga, foreign translations of American comics, underground comics from the ’70s and ’80s, bande dessinées (French comics) from the ’60s, and much more. The library also has many older comics available on microfiche, including the always-elusive Action Comics #1 (the first appearance of Superman), and it regularly adds comics electronically as they become available.
Of course, this isn’t a collection you can simply peruse at your leisure. Due to the fragility of the comics (the oldest issue is nearly 90 years old, after all), these specimens are only available to “researchers under special conditions” — but that includes people such as scriptwriters, pop culture historians, avid collectors, and graphic artists. The Library of Congress has also put on several public comic-centric exhibitions to showcase some of the most intriguing artifacts in its collection.
In 1897, the Library of Congress moved out of the Capitol building and into new digs across the street. Congressmen grumbled at having to cross the street to get books, so the Army Corps of Engineers created a tunnel between the two buildings, and Boston’s Miles Pneumatic Tube Company designed a “book conveying apparatus.” Requests for books came to the library via pneumatic tube, after which the requested edition was whisked away in a tray that rode the rails at a speed of about 10 feet per second. Once at the Capitol, the book would travel up three stories until it arrived near the House floor. The whole trip took about a quarter-mile, and lasted only five minutes. The library built updated conveying systems in the following years to connect annex buildings constructed in 1939 and 1980, but the original tunnel conveyor system was dismantled in the 2000s to make way for a subterranean visitor center, and the other belts have since been abandoned due to high repair costs. Today, though most senators and representatives just use the internet to get the books they need, a Library of Congress staffer can still sometimes be seen hand-delivering books to the Capitol.