The Library of the History of Human Imagination

Behold the most unique and amazing 3600 square feet on this planet, the Library of the History of Human Imagination created by Jay Walker.

From the Walker Digital Website:

Jay Walker, one of America’s best-known business inventors and entrepreneurs, has founded multiple successful startup companies that today serve more than 75 million customers in 15 different industries.

Mr. Walker is chairman of Walker Digital, a privately-held R&D lab founded in 1994 and based in Stamford, Connecticut. Walker Digital has invented hundreds of solutions for a wide variety of business problems. Since its founding, the company has funded an R&D budget well in excess of $100 million. The company has specialized in creating innovative applications that work with large-scale networks such as cell phones and the Internet.

Mr. Walker is best known as the founder of Priceline.com, which brought a new level of value to the travel industry. Today, Priceline is a highly profitable, billion-dollar public company with tens of millions of active customers. The business processes that guide Priceline’s success were created in the invention lab of Walker Digital…

The Walker Library of the History of Human Imagination celebrates humanity’s intellectual and emotional adventure of discovery, learning, and creativity by showcasing thousands of rare books, artworks, maps and manuscripts as well as museum-quality artifacts both modern and ancient.

Constructed in 2002, the 3,600 sq. ft. facility features multilevel tiers, “floating” platforms, connecting stairways, glass-paneled bridges, dynamic lighting and music, and specially commissioned artworks that celebrate major achievements in the history of human invention.
Invited guests to the Walker Library range from schoolchildren to business leaders, government officials and scholars, as well as librarians from around the world.

Just a few of the many remarkable artifacts in the Walker Library include:

  • An original 1957 Russian Sputnik, the world’s first space satellite (one of several backups built by the USSR) and the U.S. response, a Vanguard satellite made from surviving parts of the actual American satellite that blew up on the launch pad.
  • One of two known Anastatic Facsimiles of the original 1776 Declaration of Independence (made directly from the original using a wet-copy process).
  • A 1699 atlas containing the first maps to show the sun, not the earth, as the center of the known universe. (“This map, by far the most important map in history, divides the Age of Faith from the Age of Reason,” says Jay.)

When confronted with something this overwhelming, the first question might be, “Why?”  From a Wired.com interview with Mr. Walker:

“I started an R&D lab and have been an entrepreneur. So I have a big affinity for the human imagination,” he says. “About a dozen years ago, my collection got so big that I said, ‘It’s time to build a room, a library, that would be about human imagination.'”

Walker’s house was constructed specifically to accommodate his massive library. To create the space, which was constructed in 2002, Walker and architect Mark Finlay first built a 7-foot-long model. Then they used miniature cameras to help visualize what it would be like to move around inside. In a conscious nod to M. C. Escher (whose graphics are echoed in the wood tiling), the labyrinthine platforms seem to float in space, an illusion amplified by the glass-paneled bridges connecting the platforms. Walker commissioned decorative etched glass, dynamic lighting, and even a custom soundtrack that sets the tone for the cerebral adventures hidden in this cabinet of curiosities. “I said to the architect, ‘Think of it as a theater, from a lighting and engineering standpoint,'” Walker says. “But it’s not a performance space. It’s an engagement space.”

Walker shuns the sort of bibliomania that covets first editions for their own sake—many of the volumes that decorate the library’s walls are leather-bound Franklin Press reprints. What gets him excited are things that changed the way people think, like Robert Hooke’s Micrographia. Published in 1665, it was the first book to contain illustrations made possible by the microscope. He’s also drawn to objects that embody a revelatory (or just plain weird) train of thought. “I get offered things that collectors don’t,” he says. “Nobody else would want a book on dwarfs, with pages beautifully hand-painted in silver and gold, but for me that makes perfect sense.”

What excites him even more is using his treasures to make mind-expanding connections. He loves juxtapositions, like placing a 16th-century map that combines experience and guesswork—”the first one showing North and South America,” he says—next to a modern map carried by astronauts to the moon. “If this is what can happen in 500 years, nothing is impossible.”

Dr. Gene Ovstrovski of MedGadget.com recently had the chance to tour the Library and filed this report, which contains several fantastic photographs of the non-collection. (Hat tip to MedGadget, by the way…)

I’m hoping someday to tour the Library myself, should my fame ever reach the notice of Mr. Walker.  I wonder if he has any slide rules in the Library…

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