Who We Are | Mechanics' Institute

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Who We Are

Founded in 1854, the Mechanics’ Institute is one of the oldest institutions on the West Coast of the United States. Its mission is to provide a center for intellectual and cultural advancement. Located in the financial district of San Francisco, it serves individuals and families throughout the Bay Area offering a vibrant library with full-time professional staff, expert instruction and competition in chess, and a full calendar of engaging cultural events, programs, and classes. Anyone can join the Institute for a small annual fee. Many of its activities and services for members are also open to non-members.

... a vibrant cultural oasis

Porter Shreve, San Francisco Chronicle

The Mechanics' Institute is the first chamber in the beating heart of San Francisco's literary scene. Filled with books, history, rich programming and writers and readers of all walks, you'll be bathed in inspiration here, as I was on the many days I spent composing chapters of The Orphan Master's Son, in the Institute's comfy, leather chairs.

Adam Johnson, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author

... an egalitarian oasis in fast-changing S.F.

Sam McManis, The Sacramento Bee

Photograph of the second floor libraryLibrary

The Library prides itself on personal service and its dedication to the intellectual and creative growth of its members. It maintains a rich collection of materials in all subjects including the latest best-sellers, films, audio and ebooks, and a diverse selection of databases. The Institute’s fast and secure wifi make the Library a favorite workspace for nomadic workers and writers.

Events, Programs, and Classes

The Mechanics’ Institute hosts a diverse range of events including author readings, writers’ workshops, technology classes, civic discussions, book groups, film screenings, and community gatherings.

Photograph of the chess roomChess Club

The Mechanics' Institute building houses the oldest continuously operating chess club in the United States. The Chess Club offers a variety of activities for players of all abilities including tournaments, lectures, lessons, and casual play. It also provides free chess classes to hundreds of San Francisco public school students each week.


The Institute has a long history, beautiful building, and many exciting services. Find out more on a free tour of the Institute. Tours take place every Wednesday at noon or quarterly in the evening.


Membership in the Mechanics’ Institute is open to the public. Membership offers the full services of the Library and Chess Room, along with free admittance or special member rates to special events, lectures, book discussion groups, classes, and other activities.


Click to learn why we are called the Mechanics' Institute
Click to learn about our over 150 year history
Click to learn about our historic home on Post Street