St. Louis Mercantile Library

History and Mission



Founded in 1846, and chartered by the State of Missouri in that year, the St. Louis Mercantile Library is the oldest general library in continuous existence West of the Mississippi River.  Established by civic leaders and philanthropists wishing the citizens of frontier St. Louis to have a fine library even in the city's earliest days, the Mercantile, as it has now been known by generations of Missourians, exists today as a vibrant, active community asset, celebrating its heritage while making great collections accessible to new scholars. 

The Mercantile Library has been from its inception a membership library, with members today having access to millions of books in the University of Missouri's database.  Mercantile Library members are also entitled to other benifits, including special lectures, openings of special exhibitions of the collections, receptions, informal talks and discounts on library services and publications.

The Mercantile Library continues to build collections that concentrate on Westward Expansion, American rail and river transportation history as well as the history, development, and growth of the St. Louis region, and broadly developed subjects related to the humanities, with a core collection numbering over 250,000 books.  The special collections of the library consist of over 400 individual collections with archival materials numbering in the millions, including  over 100 historic newspaper titles, presidential letters, early travel diaries and civil war era letters, fur trade records and the newspaper and printing morgue of the St. Louis Globe Democrat.  The Mercantile Library Art Museum contains works by important American artists including George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Hart Benton, Oscar Berninghaus, Charles Deas and Harriet Hosmer, with an emphasis on 19th and 20th century regional artists. As a research library, our mission is to make these book, manuscript and art collections available to the widest number of local and national users through physical and online opportunities.