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October2006
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A-B-C . . . Easy As One, Two, Three

On Oct. 16, 1758, Noah Webster, the “Father of American Scholarship and Education” was born. As a young, rural Connecticut teacher, he used his own money to publish his first speller in 1783. Reissued throughout the 19th century, the 1829 “Blue Back Speller” is second only to the Bible in copies sold. Unfortunately, Webster never reaped the financial rewards during his lifetime. After his death in 1843, the rights to his dictionary were sold to George and Charles Merriam, whose company is now known as Merriam-Webster Inc. Found in the Library’s “American Treasures” exhibition is a page from Webster’s “Elementary Spelling Book.”

Webster, Noah, 1758-1843 Oval medallion portraits of George Washington and (below, left to right) Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams are framed against a curtain of drapery and furs surmounted by a star. Washington's portrait is wreathed with oak and laurel, and decorated with flags, one bearing the seal of the United States, and another a wreath

American Treasures” is a permanent exhibition that features some of the most interesting or significant items relating to America's past drawn from the Library’s very own collections. Of the approximately 250 items on display, rare and remarkable items include a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated, an entry from Alexander Graham Bell’s notebook describing the first successful attempt with the telephone and Charles Dickens’ walking stick.

An active federalist, Webster became a pamphleteer for centralized government and was critical of the politics of self-aggrandizement. Clearly setting himself with the nation’s founders, he believed that if a man was dependent financially on someone, he could not serve the public good, but would only be concerned about his dependent relationship. A politician had to be independent – owning his own land and not directly involved in the marketplace. To Webster, George Washington was the epitome of this disinterested leader. You can find several letters written between the two in the online collection of the Library’s collection of the George Washington Papers. His support of the founding fathers led him to maintain correspondence with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, both of whose papers are also held at the Library.

Webster was also an advocate for copyright laws and traveled widely to further legislation, including the Copyright Act of 1831. The Library is the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, where you can find information on how to register a work, learn about copyright law and search copyright records.


A. Noah Webster, 1758-1843. 1867. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-78299 (b&w film copy neg). Call No.: BIOG FILE - Webster, Noah, 1758-1843 [item] [P&P]

B. American star / Design'd, engraved & [Published?] by Thos. Gimbrede, Jany. 30th. 1812. SUMMARY: Oval medallion portraits of George Washington and (below, left to right) Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams are framed against a curtain of drapery and furs surmounted by a star. Washington's portrait is wreathed with oak and laurel, and decorated with flags, one bearing the seal of the United States, and another a wreath. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-90742 (b&w film copy neg). Call No.: PGA - Gimbrede--American star (A size) [P&P]