Today’s post comes from Andrew Grafton in the National Archives History Office.
A man deeply devoted to preserving United States history, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made contributions to the National Archives that have proven invaluable.
Not only did he sign the law creating the National Archives, appoint the first Archivist of the United States, and oversee the building’s opening, FDR expanded the reach of federal recordkeeping by founding the first Presidential library under the administration of the National Archives.
The National Archives History Office has produced a new online exhibit on the FDR Library and the founding of the Presidential Library System, which is available though Google Cultural Institute.
Though his primary career was in politics, FDR was something of a closet archivist. His fascination with, and devotion to, federal recordkeeping was readily apparent while he occupied the West Wing.
As an extension of his interest, FDR was determined to collect all of his papers in “one definite locality” for future storage and use by researchers.
Previous Presidents had donated, destroyed, or otherwise scattered their records among various relatives and friends upon leaving office. As a consequence, in-depth research on one President or era in American executive history was exceedingly difficult.
By establishing the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, FDR hoped that his papers would not cause similar issues. He began planning during his second term in office and made a formal announcement of his intentions on December 10, 1938.
FDR Library cornerstone ceremony, November 19, 1939. (FDR Library, National Archives)
In his announcement, President Roosevelt explained that instead of spreading his papers out to various claimants, “it is, therefore, my thought that funds can be raised for the erection of a separate, modern, fireproof building to be built near my family’s house at Hyde Park.” Congress approved the project on July 18, 1939, and construction began.
The library was of keen interest to FDR, who made frequent trips to check on its progress.
The building was completed in 1941. The public opening of the library was commemorated with a dedication ceremony on June 30, 1941.
In the early years of the library’s existence, the building went through significant expansion and renovation.
On March 17, 1950, five years after FDR’s death, his papers were opened for public research, thus completing President Roosevelt’s vision.
FDR’s dedication to preserving his Presidential papers transformed the way in which these types of records were kept. Each subsequent President (as well as former President Herbert Hoover, who preceded FDR) has dedicated his own Presidential Library, and these institutions have become vital research repositories within the National Archives.
Most recently, starting in 2010, the FDR Library went through extensive renovations.
Completed in two phases, the project updated the building’s infrastructure and exhibit spaces. The building was rededicated on June 30, 2013. These updates ensured that future generations of visitors would continue to enjoy the advantages of FDR’s vision for Presidential recordkeeping.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is located in Hyde Park, New York, and is open year-round. The library celebrated its 75th anniversary on June 30, 2016.
To read more about the library and its history, or to view photos of the 75th anniversary celebration, visit their website.
To learn more about the history of the FDR Library and the Presidential Library System, visit our new exhibit on the FDR Library.