San Francisco Mechanics' Institute

Last updated
Mechanics' Institute Library and Chess Room San Francisco Mechanics' Institute-0672.jpg
Mechanics' Institute Library and Chess Room

The Mechanics' Institute Library and Chess Room is a historic membership library, cultural event center, and chess club in the Financial District of San Francisco, in the U.S. state of California at 57 Post Street. Founded in 1854 [1] to serve the vocational needs of out-of-work gold miners, the institute today serves readers, writers, downtown employees, students, film lovers, chess players, and others.



Though initially a library dedicated to the mechanical arts, in 1906, the institution merged with the Mercantile Library Association, and dropped its technical focus. Its collection today covers all subjects, with special strengths in literature, arts, history, philosophy, business, finance, and hard-to-find periodicals. The Mechanics' Institute also has a rapidly growing audio-book, e-book, and music collection.

The Institute encourages members to recommend materials for purchase, attend workshops, and participate in literature and film discussions groups. Currently, five book discussion groups talk about a variety of genres, and three writers’ groups offer peer-to-peer support and advice.


The Mechanics' Institute Events department presents over fifty author events a year. These offer a broad spectrum of authors and themes, including fiction and non-fiction, with an emphasis on American and world history, arts and architecture, biography, science and technology, social trends, economy, and culinary arts. Special Programs, such as the San Francisco Noir Literary Night, World Poetry Reading, Bloomsday, and a Bastille Day celebration are popular annual events.

The CinemaLit Film Series presents 35 films a year, featuring classic American, retro and foreign films. The evening begins with introductions by prominent film critics, writers, and reviewers, with a discussion after each film. CinemaLit draws an eclectic, diverse audience with many film buffs dedicated to the Friday night film salon.

Author events, CinemaLit and Special Programs are open to members and the public. Free attendance at most events and CinemaLit are a benefit of membership.


The Mechanics' Institute building houses the oldest continuously operating chess club in the United States. Many world champions have visited the chess room, from Emanuel Lasker in 1902 to Boris Spassky in 2006. In 2009 one of the chess club's young students, 12-year-old Daniel Naroditsky, won the World Championship for his age group. The chess club offers tournaments and other activities for all player levels.


Membership in the Mechanics' Institute is open to the public. Each membership offers the full services of the library and chess room, and free admittance or discounts to special events, lectures, book discussion groups, classes, and other activities.


In 1848, the discovery of gold lured people from all over the world to California. By 1853 most surface gold was mined out, pushing the town of San Francisco into economic decline. A flood of former miners had no jobs, skills, or prospects. The Mechanics' Institute began in 1854, with four books, a chess room, and a mission to start a vocational school. At this time, California had no colleges or universities, and no public libraries. (The San Francisco Public Library did not open until 1879.) Within a few years, the Mechanics' Institute offered classes in such subjects as woodworking, mechanical drawing, industrial design, electrical science, applied mathematics, and ironwork. The institute's importance in California technical education reached a pinnacle in 1868, when the California legislature granted a charter for the establishment of the University of California. The institute participated in the fledgling university's first years, hosting technical classes and presenting lectures on many topics. It helped develop the curriculum, and had a seat on the Board of Regents until 1974.

Aside from educational endeavors, the institute also promoted industry in the San Francisco Bay Area. Beginning in 1857, on land donated by land baron James Lick, the institute hosted industrial fairs that displayed inventions, art, and products of all kinds to thousands of visitors. Awards were presented to winning exhibitors—many of whom are still in business, including Levi Strauss, Singer Sewing Machines, Goodyear Tire, Boudin Bakery, Heald Business College, Gump's, and Ghirardelli Chocolate. [2] [3]

See also

Related Research Articles

San Francisco State University university in San Francisco, California

San Francisco State University is a public university in San Francisco. As part of the 23-campus California State University system, the university offers 118 different bachelor's degrees, 94 master's degrees, and 5 doctoral degrees along with 26 teaching credentials among six academic colleges.

Mechanics institutes educational establishment

Mechanics' institutes are educational establishments, originally formed to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects, to working men. Similar organisation are sometimes simply called "institutes". As such, they were often funded by local industrialists on the grounds that they would ultimately benefit from having more knowledgeable and skilled employees. The mechanics' institutes were used as "libraries" for the adult working class, and provided them with an alternative pastime to gambling and drinking in pubs.

Bohemian Club private gentlemens club in California

The Bohemian Club is a private club with two locations: a city clubhouse in the Union Square district of San Francisco, California and the Bohemian Grove, a retreat north of the city in Sonoma County. Founded in 1872 from a regular meeting of journalists, artists, and musicians, it soon began to accept businessmen and entrepreneurs as permanent members, as well as offering temporary membership to university presidents and military commanders who were serving in the San Francisco Bay Area. Today, the club has a membership of many local and global leaders, ranging from artists and musicians to businessmen.

Don Bosco Technical Institute Private secondary, all-male school in Rosemead, , California, United States

Don Bosco Technical Institute is an all-male, private, Catholic high school in Rosemead, California, combining college-preparatory academic courses and technological education. The academic curriculum allows students to meet or go beyond the admission requirements of the Universities of California, the California State Universities and most other four-year colleges and universities throughout the country.

The Mechanics' Institute Chess Club in San Francisco is the oldest chess club in the United States. The first meeting of the Mechanics' Institute was held on December 11, 1854, and it was incorporated on April 24, 1855. At the time, San Francisco was a frontier city that had grown from the California Gold Rush.

Social club group of people or place where they meet

A social club may be a group of people or the place where they meet, generally formed around a common interest, occupation, or activity. Examples include: anime clubs, book discussion clubs, charity work, chess clubs, country clubs, criminal headquarters, final club, fishing club, gaming club, gentlemen's clubs, hunting clubs, military officers' clubs, politics clubs, science clubs, university clubs, Christian Fellowships. This article covers only three distinct types of social clubs: the historic gentlemen's clubs, the modern activities clubs, and an introduction to fraternities and sororities. This article does not cover a variety of other types of clubs having some social characteristics.

Melbourne Athenaeum theatre in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

The Athenaeum or Melbourne Athenaeum is one of the oldest public institutions in Victoria, Australia, founded in 1839. Its building in Collins Street in the Melbourne City Centre consists of a main theatre hosting theatre, comedy and music performances, a small studio theatre, and a subscription library. The building was added to the National Trust's Register of Historic Buildings in 1981 and is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. The theatre is part of Melbourne's East End Theatre District. Melbourne Athenaeum is not related to the nearby Athenaeum Club.

South San Francisco High School Public high school in South San Francisco, California, United States

South San Francisco High School is a 9-12 public high school in South San Francisco, California, United States and is part of the South San Francisco Unified School District (SSFUSD).

Palos Verdes Library District library

The Palos Verdes Library District (PVLD) is an independent special-purpose library district serving the 69,843 residents of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California. PVLD is governed by an elected Board of Library Trustees that consists of five members who voluntarily serve without monetary compensation. PVLD's three libraries - Peninsula Center Library, Malaga Cove Library, and Miraleste Library - serve the cities of Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estates, and Rolling Hills, California.

Subscription library library that requires payment to become a member

A subscription library is a library that is financed by private funds either from membership fees or endowments. Unlike a public library, access is often restricted to members, but access rights can also be given to non-members, such as students.

College of Alameda Community College in California

College of Alameda is a public community college in Alameda, California. It is part of the Peralta Community College District and was opened in 1968. Since 1970 the college has held classes on a 62-acre campus at the intersection of Webster Street and Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway in Alameda.

Frameline Film Festival annual film festival held in the San Francisco Bay Area, USA

The Frameline Film Festival began as a storefront event in 1976. The first film festival, named the Gay Film Festival of Super-8 Films, was held in 1977. The festival is organized by Frameline, a nonprofit media arts organization whose mission statement is "to change the world through the power of queer cinema". It is the oldest LGBTQ+ film festival in the world.

Selim Franklin, Esquire (1814–1885) was an American pioneer, auctioneer, real estate agent, chess master, and Canadian legislator. Selim is listed in the Pioneer Club of San Francisco and The Society of California Pioneers. Franklin Street in San Francisco is most likely named for him.

The Museum of Performance + Design, formerly the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum, is located in the Bayview District of San Francisco, California at 2200 Jerrold Avenue, Ste. T. The Museum collects and makes accessible materials about the performing arts, with a special emphasis on documenting and preserving the San Francisco Bay Area’s rich and diverse performing arts heritage from the Gold Rush to the present. The museum produces public and educational programs, provides library services to researchers, and conservation and archival services to performing arts institutions. The Museum's collection includes personal papers of prominent artists, original costumes and design renderings, audio-visual recordings of live performances, original artwork, other artifacts, and ephemera. The Museum also serves as the official archives for many local performing arts organizations including the San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Opera, Stern Grove Festival, and the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.

Bradford Mechanics Institute Library library

The Bradford Mechanics' Institute Library was established in 1832 helped by James Hanson and for over 70 years played a leading role in adult education.

The Sesquicentennial of Japanese Embassy to the United States in 2010 marked the 150th anniversary of the first Japanese diplomatic mission to the United States in 1860. The purpose of the 1860 Japanese diplomatic mission was to ratify the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, which had been signed several years earlier.

Matthew Kennedy is an American writer, film historian, and anthropologist.

Atwater Library building in Quebec, Canada

The Atwater Library and Computer Centre is an independent community library in Westmount, Quebec, Canada, operating the oldest subscription library service in the country. It is located at 1200 Atwater Avenue. It is a privately-operated, non-government, nonprofit organization, and a registered charity. It was founded in 1828.

The following is a timeline of the history of the city of San Francisco, California, United States.


  1. a short history of the Mechanics' Institute of San Francisco by Taryn Edwards
  2. Reinhardt, Richard. Four books, 300 dollars and a dream: an illustrated history of the first 150 years of the Mechanics' Institute of San Francisco : how a pioneer reading room for the education of craftsmen became a major library, research facility and social center in the heart of a busy city, San Francisco : The Institute, c2005 OCLC   76791892
  3. Mechanics' Institute Library and Chess Room | Atlas Obscura

Further reading

Coordinates: 37°47′20″N122°24′11″W / 37.788844°N 122.403042°W / 37.788844; -122.403042