Free Admission Tuesday at The New York Public Library - see INFO below. The origins of this remarkable institution date back to the time when New York was emerging as one of the world's most important cities. By the second half of the 19th century, New York had already surpassed Paris in population and was quickly catching up with London, then the world's most populous city. Fortunately, this burgeoning and somewhat brash metropolis counted among its citizens men who foresaw that if New York was indeed to become one of the world's great centers of urban culture, it must also have a great library. Prominent among them was one-time governor Samuel J. Tilden (1814-1886), who upon his death bequeathed the bulk of his fortune about 2.4 million to establish and maintainAt the time of Tilden's death, New York already had two libraries of considerable importance the Astor and Lenox libraries but neither could be termed a truly public institution in the sense that Tilden seems to have envisioned. The Astor Library was created through the generosity of John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), a German immigrant who at his death was the wealthiest man in America. In his will he pledged 400,000 for the establishment of a reference library in New York. The Astor Library opened its doors in 1849, in the building which is now the home of The New York Shakespeare Festival's Joseph Papp Public Theater. Although the books did not circulate and hours were limited, it was a major resource for reference and research. a free library and reading room in the city of New York. More Info below.