Question: Where is the oldest continuously operating chess club in the United States?

Question: Which local organization held 31 industrial fairs between 1857 and 1899 promoting industry and agriculture in California?

Question: What is the oldest existing library in California (and perhaps on the West Coast) designed to serve the public?

Question: What organization did John Muir, Domingo Ghirardelli, Gertrude Stein, Levi Strauss, Andrew Hallidie (father of the cable car) and James Lick have in common?

Question: Which San Francisco institution holds over 100 programs/year, has 140,000 print and electronic materials in its library, and trains a myriad of world-ranked chess champions?

Answer: If you guessed the Mechanics’ Institute of San Francisco, you are correct on all counts.

The Mechanics’ Institute (MI) joined USC, the University of California and SF-MOMA in receiving a Preservation Assistance Grant for Smaller Institutions from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our application was considered carefully during the NEH review process, which includes peer review along with deliberation by the National Council on the Humanities and the Office of the Chairman.

Preservation Assistance Grants help small and mid-sized institutions improve their ability to preserve and care for their significant humanities collections. Our archival collections include:

  • MI Chess Club Records, Photographs, Tournaments, 1883-present
  • MI History: By-Laws, Historic Minutes, Historic Membership Records, Building Records, Photographs, 1857-present
  • MI Industrial Exhibitions, 1857-1899

In addition to our archival holdings the Mechanics’ has several special collections that need preservation:

  • Industrial Expositions and World’s Fairs, 1894-1962
  • Californiana, 1840-present
  • Western Americana, early 1800s-present
  • Chess Books and Journals, late 1700s-present (largest chess collection west of the Mississippi)

This grant is just the beginning of making our archives and special collections safe, accessible and digitally available. 
If you have not visited the Mechanics’ Institute, come in and say hello. While we are a membership library, we are open to all (just $95/year), which includes lightning- speed, secure Internet access, an amazing lending library of both print and electronic materials and databases, over 100 programs a year and chess classes. Come by anytime or come to our weekly Wednesday noontime tour. If you cannot come at noon, our next evening tour is Monday, February 22, at 6 p.m.

Submitted by Deb Hunt of The Mechanic’s Institute