bookmobile noun earlier than 1924

Travelling branches of public libraries have existed since at least 1905, when Mary Titcomb, a Maryland librarian, used a horse-drawn wagon as a library on wheels. The coinage of the word bookmobile to refer to these mobile libraries, however, is a later development. OED editors are in the process of revising the dictionary’s entry for bookmobile. The earliest evidence found so far indicates that the word was first used in Oregon in the early 1920s:

1924 Bakersfield Californian 5 July 6/7 A smaller book wagon has served the county [sc. Multnoma County, Oregon] for several years… Miss Mulheron expresses herself as being greatly pleased with the appearance and performance of the new Graham Brothers ‘Bookmobile’.


Antique bookmobile from New Bedford, MA by Muffet, on Flickr

Was the word bookmobile coined in Oregon, or was it used earlier by libraries elsewhere? Local library records might hold evidence that could uncover the full story of the word’s origins.

Posted by OED_Editor on 23 January 2013 15.36
Comments: 6

  • hb1616

    A possible forerunner. It looks as if this is a 1919 publication, but that needs verifying:
    Report of the Commissioner of EducationUnited States. Office of Education – 1916 The Plainfield (Ind.) Public Library has prepared a “book automobile,” to be used for all its rural service.

    • Bryn_OED

      Following on from hb1616’s observation about “book automobile”, as a potential forerunner; this [Feb 1924] newspaper article, also, discusses the replacement of the widely-used term “book wagon”, by “book automobile”:,961626&dq=library+book-automobile&hl=en

      • hugo_oed

        Good find, and from Kansas. 

        Following on, a planned “book wagon” can be found in 1904 Wisconsin, before Mary Titcomb’s 1905 Maryland horse-drawn library on wheels.Plans Library On Wheels, Davenport Daily Republican – Jun 1, 1904:

        A book wagon, tho first public oratory on wheels to be sent out the United Stales, is planned by the Wisconsin Free Library commission. 

  • I have been looking into the origin of “bookmobile” for some time and the earliest reference I have found using that specific term is indeed Multnomah County, Oregon, 1924. I know that the library was proactive in advertising this service and sent press releases using the word “bookmobile” to several newspapers, including the Bakersfield Californian.

  • I have evidence which I believe demonstrates how “bookmobile” become the term of choice in the library world. If this is of interest to you, please contact me.

  • I found this at the Western Maryland Historical Library