107 NE Monroe Peoria, Illinois 61602-1070

Innovation in Peoria: Public Libraries

By Chris Farris

From the past to the present, the Peoria area has a history of being innovative. Home to the fathers of the first successful gasoline-powered automobile in the U.S., the Duryea brothers. The first to discover how to mass produce penicillin, saving untold numbers of soldiers during World War II. Even today, Peoria ranks among the most innovative cities in the country based on the number of patents issued per capita.

On Nov. 4, the hope for more innovation to come was announced at the corner of Adams and Fulton streets: Peoria’s forthcoming Innovation Hub.

Peoria’s hub will be part of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), a statewide initiative led by the University of Illinois system to seed breakthroughs in research discovery and job creation.

Perhaps by chance, its location has a historical connection with both innovation and the Peoria Public Library.

The innovation comes in the form of the law permitting the establishment of tax funded public libraries, which was passed in 1872 by the Illinois Legislature. This was the first comprehensive library law in the United States and was eventually copied by 47 other states.

The provisions of the law were written by Peorian E.S. Willcox. Willcox (shown in the accompanying photo) stated that the law he had authored, “was the first broadly planned, comprehensive and complete Free Public Library Law placed on the statute of books of any state in the Union.” Willcox further went on to proclaim that Illinois had, “placed herself at the head of her sister states in encouraging the spread of general intelligence.” E.S. Willcox later went on to become the head librarian of the Peoria Public Library.

Eight years after the law was passed, the first Peoria Public Library was established at the corner of Adams and Fulton on the exact spot of the new Peoria Innovation Hub. The original building that housed the first Peoria Public Library was replaced in 1954 by the building that now stands on the same corner.

When you pass Peoria’s new Innovation Hub, imagine the thousands of citizens of this city and the countless millions of this nation who have benefited from the establishment of free public libraries in the United States.

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