Wow–what a year! Our editorial panel tried to limit this list to ten, but eventually we gave up and picked 14 instead. (For more great National Archives moments, check on out the Top 10 Innovative Moments of 2013.)
We also want to send a big thank you to the staff members of the National Archives across the nation, who worked so hard to make these moments possible. And a huge thank you to our partners, sponsors, researchers, visitors, and social media followers who share in our love of history. We are grateful to be able to make your history accessible to you in so many ways in 2013!
40th Anniversary of the Fire in the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis
If you have served in the U.S. military, your file is part of the holdings in the National Archives in St. Louis. Each year, staff respond to one million requests for direct military benefits and entitlements from veterans and their next of kin. In the Research Room, staff pulled more than 41,000 military personnel records.
And Preservation Programs in St. Louis responded to more than 200 daily requests for burned Army and Air Force records. The fire that swept through the sixth floor of the National Personnel Records Center on July 12, 1973, damaged and destroyed millions of documents. Each record is treated with care as staff find the information needed for veterans and their families. It is a long, arduous process, but the work is meaningful for the archivists, archives technicians, and preservationists who still work on these documents forty years after the disastrous fire.
Washington’s Personal Copy of the Acts of the First Congress
During George Washington’s first year in office, Congress ordered 600 copies of the Acts of Congress to be printed and distributed to Federal and state government officials. The book compiled the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other legislation passed by the first session of Congress. Washington’s personal copy contains his handwritten notes in the margins.
Only three copies of this book are known to have survived. After his two terms in office, Washington brought the book home to Mount Vernon. It stayed in the Washington family until 1876. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association secured the book at an auction, bringing it back to Washington’s home.
Completing the Nixon White House Tapes
On August 21, 2013, the Nixon Presidential Library opened the final installment of 94 Nixon White House tapes, covering the period from April 9 to July 12, 1973. The tapes cover discussions ranging from implementation of the Vietnam peace settlement and the return of prisoners of war to wage and price controls, campaign finance reform, and Watergate.
Researchers and the general public can now access this information online and at the Nixon Presidential Library. Sample clips are available on the Nixon Library’s YouTube Channel. The Tapes Team looks forward to digital preservation, re-review of withheld material, and enhanced digital access to the tapes and their finding aids in the future.
50th Anniversary of the March of Washington
On August 10, 1963, Hearst Metrotone News was tasked with filming the upcoming “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” for USIA. Over the course of three days, James Blue and his team shot more than 11 hours of material, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The footage was eventually edited down to 33 minutes.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights march, staff in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab completed a full digital restoration of the film. This digital version was screened for audiences in the William G. McGowan Theater, and was posted to YouTube.
Director Steven Spielberg at the National Archives
In November, the Foundation for the National Archives presented director Steven Spielberg with its 2013 Records of Achievement Award for bringing our nation’s story to life on the big screen. Ken Burns spoke with Steven Spielberg onstage about history, storytelling, and the National Archives. “I am deeply honored,” Spielberg said, “to have been selected to receive this great recognition from the institution that preserves American history, which is a subject near and dear to my heart.”
Look closely at Spielberg and you’ll see that he’s wearing the little orange National Archives visitor tag clipped to his tux!
The best part of the night? When Spielberg mentioned our very own archivist Kate Mollan, who worked on research for Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln. She’s even listed in the movie credits!
Virtual Genealogy Fair
The annual Genealogy Fair draws thousands of visitors to the National Archives for two days of genealogy-focused lectures, vendors, and research opportunities. But when sequestration meant the Fair had to be cancelled, National Archives staff looked for an easy and cost-effective way to bring the Fair to the genealogists. They held a successful virtual Fair on Ustream instead.
Fiftieth Anniversary of President Kennedy’s Assassination
This somber anniversary was marked by the exhibit “A Nation Remembers” at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, as well as a new web site anidealiveson.org, where citizens can share how President Kennedy inspired them. To allow anyone in the world to join in a ceremony of remembrance, the Library hosted a special live webcast of a musical tribute in honor of the memory of President Kennedy. There was no physical audience, just the backdrop of the sea that the President loved so much.
The Iraqi Jewish Archive
In June of 2003, the National Archives Preservation Programs received a call for help from Iraq. And so Doris Hamburg and Mary-Lynn Ritzenthaler boarded a C-130 cargo plane and flew to Baghdad. American soldiers had found tens of thousands of Jewish documents and books while searching in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters. The historic material was soaking wet. Over the next several years, the documents would be cleaned, rehoused in custom-built boxes, stabilized, cataloged, and digitized. Experts in Jewish history, Iraqi and Jewish history, the Iraqi Jewish community, and Jewish rare books lent their skills and knowledge.
The exhibit “Discovery and Recovery: The Iraqi Jewish Archive” will be on display until January 5, 2014. You can also see the digitized documents online in a new, permanent website.
150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation
For three days, hundreds of people waited outside in a long line for their chance to see this fragile document, which was on display from December 30, 2012, to January 1, 2013. At midnight on December 31, 2012, inside the Rotunda of the National Archives, the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was celebrated with ceremony, joy, and song. You can read reactions from the public in this Storify post.
The Re-Dedication of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library
In 1939, President Roosevelt donated his personal and Presidential papers to the Federal Government, marking the beginning of the modern Presidential Library system that is part of the National Archives. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, was the first Presidential library built in the United States. Roosevelt led its conception and building, and he is the only President to have used his library while in office. The official FDR Library dedication was a small, quiet affair, with close friends and family attending the ceremony.
Exactly 72 years after President Roosevelt first dedicated the library, any interested person could attend the re-dedication in June of 2013 by watching the ceremony live online.
What’s the newly renovated Library like? Read the New York Times review of the exhibits.
Independence Day 2013
Each Fourth of July, come rain or shine or humidity, the National Archives throws a party on the front steps of the National Archives Building to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The highlight for many of our new and returning guests is the chance to boo and huzzah in response to the dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence by re-enactors. Music was provided this year by the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and the United States Air Force Band, and the Continental Color Guard Team of the 3rd United States Old Guard presented the colors.
Fourth of July at the National Archives is presented in partnership with the Foundation for the National Archives and is made possible in part by the generous support of lead sponsor John Hancock Financial and Dykema.
Founding Fathers Are Now Online
For the past 50 years, teams of editors have been copying documents from historical collections scattered around the world that serve as a record of the Founding Era. They have transcribed hundreds of thousands of documents—letters, diaries, ledgers, and the first drafts of history—and have researched and provided annotation and context to deepen our understanding of these documents. Founders Online is a new website at the National Archives that will allow people to search these documents, and read just what the Founders wrote and discussed during the first draft of the American democracy.
This revolutionary new site was created through a partnership between the University of Virginia Press and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (the grantmaking arm of the National Archives). The Founding Fathers included in this project are John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.
Opening of the George W. Bush Library
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum holds more than 70 million pages of textual records, 43,000 artifacts, 200 million emails (totaling roughly 1 billion pages), and 4 million digital photographs (the largest holding of electronic records of any of our Presidential libraries). For National Archives staff, the task of collecting this material, cataloging and processing it, and making it available to the public began on January 20, 2009, four years before the official opening. You can read more about how it all came together in this blog post.
The Opening of the new Orientation Plaza and the David M. Rubenstein Gallery
And finally, our top moment of 2013! The new visitor orientation plaza and the David M. Rubenstein Gallery gallery opened to the public on December 11.The gallery and exhibit were made possible by a $13.5 million gift from David M. Rubenstein to the Foundation for the National Archives, as well as funding from Congress. The opening represents the culmination of years of work of many of our National Archives staff from many different departments: exhibits, events, facilities, security, communications, legal, facilities, preservation, digitization labs, Research Service archivists, and more.
The new plaza features new and better signage, a renovated gift shop, a new movie introducing the archives, and a tromp l’oeil mural in the ceiling to prompt visitors to go upstairs to the Rotunda to see the Constitution.
But the most eye-catching part might be the new permanent exhibit “Records of Rights.” From inside the darkened doorway, the 1297 Magna Carta beckons visitors to come inside and explore the original and facsimile documents—and even an innovative 17-foot interactive table—to discover how Americans throughout our history have debated issues such as citizenship, free speech, voting rights, and equal opportunity.
America’s founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—are icons of human liberty. But the ideals enshrined in those documents did not initially apply to all Americans. They were, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” The new “Records of Rights” exhibit allows visitors to explore how generations of Americans have sought to ensure this promise is kept.