An Archivist for the Ages: Wayne C. Grover

The National Archives was created on June 19, 1934. During the month of June, the National Archives History Office is sharing stories about the former Archivists of the United States. Today’s post is from Sarah Basilion. 

Archivist Portraits

Portrait of Third Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover which hangs in the National Archives Building. (Records of the National Archives)

President Harry S. Truman selected Wayne C. Grover as the third Archivist of the United States.

Born in Utah in 1906, Grover moved to the east coast in 1933 after completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Utah. He began his career at the National Archives in 1935 while he continued his graduate studies at American University.

In 1937 Grover was promoted to the position of archivist in the Division of War Department Archives, rising to assistant chief of the division in 1941. He subsequently worked as a technical assistant with the Office of the Coordinator of Information.

World War II broke out in 1941, and in 1943 Grover joined the Army and used his archival skills to serve his country. As a captain with the Army’s records administration program, Grover helped the Army to properly manage the vast amount of records they were creating during the war.

Grover rose to the position of lieutenant colonel and became chief of the Records Management Branch, Records Division, in the Office of the Adjutant General. He left active military service in 1946 and applied the skills he had developed in the Army to his graduate studies, writing his Ph.D. dissertation on “The Records Administration Program of the Department of War.”

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Wayne Grover, May 20, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167363)

In 1947 Grover returned to the National Archives as the Assistant Archivist. The following year as the second Archivist of the United States, Solon J. Buck, was ready to retire, Buck suggested Grover be his successor.

Upon his appointment, Grover faced many challenges that the war created for the National Archives. While Buck had done his best to manage records created by the war, the agency was overwhelmed by the sheer mass of records being sent to them. Grover led the agency through accessioning and storing the records at a time when the number of staff had decreased significantly due to the war.

Perhaps one of his biggest challenges as Archivist, however, was the placement of the National Archives into the General Services Administration, stripping the agency of its independence.

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Wayne Grover. (National Archives Identifier 3493213)

In 1949 the General Services Administration (GSA) was created as a way to keep all “housekeeping activities” of the government within one department. The work of the National Archives was deemed one such “housekeeping activity” and was folded into GSA in 1949, despite Grover’s protests. The agency was subsequently renamed the National Archives and Records Services.

During this period, Grover identified records mismanagement problems at many Federal agencies and fought to obtain funding that would allow the National Archives to help Federal agencies manage their records.

Grover was instrumental in developing the Federal Records Act of 1950, which was the first charter for a government-wide program of records management. The Federal Records Act helped to improve records storage across the Federal government. It made GSA responsible for improving records management procedures and authorized GSA to “inspect agency records management programs and prices.”

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The Declaration of Independence and Constitution arrive at the National Archives, December 13, 1952. (National Archives Identifier 12167986)

The head of GSA deferred responsibility to Grover, who was able to use the act to help other Federal agencies with their records management.

Further, Grover devoted his time to making government records more widely accessible, both to other government agencies and the public. Perhaps his biggest achievement in this regard was in bringing all three Charters of Freedom—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—together for permanent exhibit.

During his tenure, Grover also ensured that Presidential materials would be preserved and available to the public through his support of the Presidential Libraries Act.

Rediscovery #: 13161Job A1 09-101 Presidential Libraries and Records

Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, August 12, 1955. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

The act, which was passed by Congress in 1955, “encouraged other Presidents to donate their historical materials to the government and ensured the preservation of Presidential papers and their availability to the American people.”

Grover was also a member of the National Historical Publications Commission, and a founding member of the Society for American Archivists, for which he served as President from 1953 to 1954. He was also the Western Hemisphere vice president for the International Council on Archives.

Wayne C. Grover was the longest-serving Archivist of the United States in National Archives history. His 17-year tenure stretched over some of the most important events in the agency’s history from World War II, losing agency independence, gaining the Charters of Freedom, and establishing Presidential libraries. He led the agency to become one of the most advanced archival institution in the world.

Grover died in his home in Silver Spring, MD, in 1970.

For more information about Wayne C. Grover’s career, read Greg Bradsher’s 2009 Prologue article or view his biography on the National Archives History Office website.

To learn more the Charters coming to the National Archives, read the 2014 blog “Carting the Carters.

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National Historical Publications Commission, Conference of Editors, June 17, 1958. (National Archives Identifier 12169325)

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