Laying the cornerstone for the FDR Library

On November 19, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY—the first Presidential library within the National Archives.

FDR Library Cornerstone Ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

FDR Library cornerstone ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

In front of an estimated 1,000 onlookers, Roosevelt placed inside the cornerstone a metal box containing several items including the Articles of Incorporation of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Inc.; several congressional resolutions, reports, and hearings related to the library; copies of deeds related to the property; Archivist of the United States R.D.W. Connor’s 1939 Society of American Archivist address on the Roosevelt Library; and copies of New York daily newspapers from November 19, 1939.

During his Presidency, Roosevelt contemplated what to do with his papers. After careful consideration, he devised a plan to preserve, intact, all his correspondence, public papers, pamphlets, books, private papers, and other valuable source material into an archive to be housed on his family estate at Hyde Park. However, he did not intend for the collection to be privately owned—Roosevelt wanted the Federal Government to own the material and for it to be open to the public.

In July 1939, Congress approved the establishment and maintenance of the library, authorizing the Archivist of the United States to accept land in Hyde Park, NY, and permit a nonprofit to construct the library. Once complete, FDR would donate material for the library’s collection, and the National Archives would manage it.

During the cornerstone laying ceremony, with R.D.W. Connor in attendance, FDR remarked, “This wholly adequate building will be turned over, as you know, to the Government of the United States next summer without any cost whatsoever to the taxpayers of the country. During the following year the manuscripts, the letters, the books, the pictures and the models will be placed in their appropriate settings, and the collections will be ready for public inspection and use, we hope, by the spring of 1941.”

Roosevelt’s comment about the library opening in 1941 caused immediate speculation that he would not run for a third term (as we know he ran for a third . . . and fourth term). The museum opened to the public on June 30, 1941, but the research room did not open until a year after Roosevelt’s death.

FDR Library Cornerstone Ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

FDR Library cornerstone ceremony, November 19, 1939. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

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