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  Origin of the Bookmobile in the U.S.
The Original Outreach Service
© by Paul Golaszewski

The first book wagon in the United States went on the road in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1904 as a service of the Washington County Free Library. It was librarian Mary Titcomb's vision to bring the magic of books to rural residents.

Books were changed regularly at 30 rural deposit stations by the library's janitor, Joshua Thomas, who drove a horse-drawn Concord wagon. He later used a book wagon that was a cross between a grocer's delivery wagon and an undertaker's black hearse. It held 250 books and often was called the "book contraption" or "dead wagon." He covered 16 routes in a 500-square-mile territory, taking four days to make the round trip.

The book wagon was initially viewed as a radical departure in library service by the largely conservative rural population, but Thomas, an intelligent, likable man and Civil War veteran, soon won over the populace and created much goodwill for the library.

In 1910 the book wagon was destroyed by a freight train, though Thomas and the horses escaped injury. Service was suspended until 1912 when the library board's treasurer, William Kealhofer, donated $2,500 for the purchase of a motorized car with specially-equipped carriage -- the first true bookmobile.

Source: Bookmobiles and Bookmobile Service by Eleanor Frances Brown, The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1967.