Temple of Our History

On February 20, 1933, President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover left the White House by car just before 2:30 p.m. with an escort of nine motorcycle policemen. Their destination was the corner of 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, to lay the cornerstone of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. The event had not been widely advertised, and the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue went largely unnoticed.

The ceremony was attended by a small group of officials including Secretary of Treasury Ogden Mills, whose department was overseeing the construction project.

The cornerstone laying ceremony at the National Archives, February 20, 1933. (Records of the Public Building Service, National Archives)

The cornerstone laying ceremony at the National Archives, February 20, 1933. (Records of the Public Building Service, National Archives)

During the ceremony, the President dedicated the building in the name of the people of the United States. He proclaimed, “The building which is rising here will house the name and record of every patriot who bore arms for our country in the Revolutionary War, as well as those of all later wars. Further, there will be aggregated here the most sacred documents of our history, the originals of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution of the United States. Here will be preserved all the other records that bind State to State and the hearts of all our people in an indissoluble union.”

Hoover continued, “The romance of our history will have living habitation here in the writings of statesmen, soldiers, and all the others, both men and women, who have builded the great structure of our national life. This temple of our history will appropriately be one of the most beautiful buildings in America, an expression of the American soul. It will be one of the most durable, an expression of the American character.”

In the cornerstone, Hoover placed several items, including a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a copy of the Constitution, an American flag, and copies of the Washington daily newspapers.

President Herbert Hoover laying the cornerstone of the National Archives Building, February 20, 1933. (Records of the National Archives)

President Herbert Hoover laying the cornerstone of the National Archives Building, February 20, 1933. (Records of the National Archives)

The ceremonies closed with the Marine Band playing the National Anthem and a blessing by the Bishop John McNamara of Baltimore. The President and his party then returned to the White House as an honor guard from the United States Coast Guard stood at attention.

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