Skip to main content

The First Bookmobile - Washington County Free Library, MD

Collage of First Book Wagon with Mary Titcomb and book stop circa 1905

The first bookmobile in the United States was introduced in Washington County, Maryland in 1905. Mary Titcomb, the first librarian of Washington County Free Library, Maryland, considered seriously the need for the library to become a County Library. Her task was to get books in homes throughout the county, not just in Hagerstown, the county seat. The first step was to send boxes of books on the Library Wagon to the general store or the post office in small towns and villages throughout the county. By 1904 boxes with 30 volumes each were sent to 66 deposit stations, to extend the reach of the library and manage the practical distribution to the books.

Map of Washington County Maryland, 1910


But Miss Titcomb was not satisfied. As she wrote in The Story of the Washington County Free Library

The wagon, driven by Joshua Thomas, covered many miles over the county roads delivering books to remote houses. There was some initial resistance. Miss Titcomb reported:

In August 1910 the original book wagon was destroyed. While crossing the Norfolk and Western Railroad track at St. James a freight train ran into it leaving literally nothing but fragments. In 1912 a motorized book wagon was introduced, the first of a long fleet of vehicles, taking books to the men, women and children of Washington County, Maryland, not just those in the rural areas, but those in senior citizen homes, head start programs, schools and many other county residences.

As Miss Titcomb noted: "Any account of this first Book Wagon work, the first in the United States would be incomplete without the statement that this method of rural library extension has been adopted in many states in the Union, and that new book wagons are being put in operation each year." Indeed bookmobiles are now found as part of many library systems around the world, utilizing vans and buses, but also boats, camels and even donkeys. From the first "perambulating library" in Warrington, England in 1858 to the first 20th century book wagon in the United States in 1905, to the more modern book and media delivery systems, libraries are still taking their wares to an appreciative public.

This collection includes photographs of the first book wagon and bookmobiles over the years, traveling throughout Washington County, Maryland. There are also photographs of the deposit stations, the precursor to the Branch Libraries, and the early story times, both still an integral part of the Washington County Free Library.

The photographs are from an album and a collection that the library owns, and a photograph album belonging to Miss Chrissinger, the librarian who was in charge of the book wagon and later bookmobiles. The Chrissinger collection was recently donated to the library by Rosalie Layman of Hagerstown. The captions are those found in the photograph albums. Any assistance in identifying individuals and locations would be appreciated.