Offered in the Library’ Bureau’s 1885 catalog is one of the most used items in an archivist and librarian’s arsenal, the L.B. Book Truck, or today what we call a “cart.” The cart goes by many names: book truck, library truck, and trolley. Not a day goes by when someone in the Archives Center doesn’t need one and we never seem to have enough. Tucked in stack areas, storage rooms, and offices, they await their next transport task.
The L.B. Book Truck was described in the 1885 Library Bureau Catalog as “the most useful single device ever made for an active library.” The book truck's inventor, bicycle dealer and mechanical expert David Edgar Hunter (1861-1935), immigrated to the United States in 1881 from Prince Edward Island, Canada. He worked in Massachusetts for the Library Bureau and later in Michigan for the Shaw-Walker Company. He received US Patent 623,157 in 1899 for a “Base for Traveling Bookcases,” which was sold by the Library Bureau. The patent points out that "the rattling of the wheels and casters which support the truck . . . produces frequent complaints both from the library authorities and from the readers in such libraries," but Hunter asserted that with his "improved base . . . these portable bookcases are rendered absolutely noiseless." The quiet motion of the cart was such an important selling point that the Library Bureau catalog stressed that “the entire load may be moved with the greatest ease and noiselessly,” thanks to the strong, rubber-covered wheels. In 1885, the book truck sold for $25 with a lower grade model with smaller wheels—which was not entirely noiseless—selling for $15.
I’d like to find a cart with noiseless wheels.
The Library Bureau was founded in 1876 by Melvil Dewey (1851-1931), a librarian and secretary of the American Library Association, as a corporation that sought standardization and sale of library supplies. Although it was the oldest manufacturer of business record and filing systems. the Library Bureau was not alone in the sale of library and office equipment and supplies that helped organizations stay organized. Companies including the Globe Company, Yawman & Erbe Manufacturing Company, and Art Metal Construction Company were also active, as was Hunter's one-time employer, the Shaw-Walker Company, a manufacturer of office equipment in Muskegon, Michigan. Founded in 1899 by A.W. Shaw and L.C. Walker, the partners focused on index card systems, cabinets, and other equipment designed to better organize American businesses. This was a growth industry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when many American businesses were seeking systems and equipment for better organization and information retrieval.
Hunter patented over 80 inventions for libraries and offices, the bulk of which were assigned to the Library Bureau (from 1900 to 1914) and the Shaw-Walker Company (1914-1937). They included adjustable shelving, lock rods for cards, filing systems, expandable drawers, metal desk construction, and shelf support. Card catalogs have long been replaced by online systems, but the humble book cart is still truckin’ along.
To learn more about library and office equipment, visit the Archives Center’s Warshaw Collection of Business Americana and the Smithsonian Institution Trade Literature Collection.
- Flanzraich, Gerri. “The Library Bureaus and Office Technology,” Libraries and Culture, Volume 28, Number 4, (Fall 1993): 403-429.
- The Story of the Library Bureau, Boston: University Press, 1909.
- Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911.