Illuminating the National Archives

This photo from August 29, 1954, shows the National Archives Building lit up for the very first time, its beautiful columns and attic story glowing while onlookers gather to witness the occasion.

Photograph of the National Archives Building Lit Up at Night, 08/29/1954. (National Archives Identifier 7873481)

Photograph of the National Archives Building lit up at night, 08/29/1954. (National Archives Identifier 7873481)

Surprisingly, while other Washington, DC, landmarks were illuminated, the National Archives stood dark every night for the first 19 years it was open. Although John Russell Pope, the building’s architect, had made plans for exterior lighting, a lack of funds prevented the Archives from being lit. It was not until 1954 that funds became available to turn on the 280 exterior built-in light bulbs to illuminate the structure.

The first-ever illumination of the National Archives coincided with the American Legion National Convention in Washington, DC, in August of 1954. On the night of August 29, a ceremony was held to celebrate the first illumination of the National Archives, kicking off the convention’s four days of festivities.

Archivist of the United States Wayne C. Grover presided over the ceremony, and National Commander Arthur J. Connell of the American Legion, a patriotic veterans’ organization, gave remarks and flipped the switch to light the structure. General Services Administrator Edmund Mansure commented that illuminating the National Archives for the first time was “a fitting symbol of patriotism” with which to begin the American Legion National Convention.

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