Some children are disappointed when they tear into a Christmas package and discover a book instead of the latest electronic gadget. But books were exactly what the Library of Congress needed after losing nearly two-thirds of its holdings in the Christmas Eve fire of 1851.
After Congress created the library in 1800, its collection inhabited various locations in the Capitol before settling in a 90- by 30-foot (27.4- by 9.1-meter) room in the center of the west front of the building. It was there that an unattended candle nearly torched the place in 1825, but the flames were contained before any serious damage could occur. That might have been a good time for the government to consider fireproofing the place, but, in an epic example of shortsightedness, they decided it was too expensive [source: Library of Congress, the Buildings].
Fast-forward to Christmas Eve 1851. A faulty chimney flue lit the library ablaze, and this time there was no saving it. Thirty-five thousand of the 55,000 books went up in smoke. Among the ashes was two-thirds of Thomas Jefferson's 6,487-volume collection, which, unfortunately, was intended to replace books lost the last time the library burned: in August 1814, during the War of 1812 [source: Library of Congress, Jefferson]. The Library of Congress reopened in 1853 in a repaired and enlarged room, this time constructed of fireproof materials [source: Library of Congress, the Buildings].