Celebrating JFK

May 29, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s birth. Visit our JFK Centennial web page to celebrate the life and legacy of the 35th President of the United States.

The John F. Kennedy Library didn’t open for more than 15 years after the President’s death. It was originally supposed to have been built near Harvard University in Cambridge, but after years of delays, the location moved to Columbia Point in South Boston. Ground was broken on June 12, 1977, and the building was officially dedicated on October 20, 1979.

But long before the library opened to the public, an exhibit of its future holdings went on a worldwide tour.

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John F. Kennedy Library Exhibit, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 17616812)

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Memo concerning John F. Kennedy Library traveling exhibit, March 6, 1964. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

In 1964, the library’s Board of Trustees sponsored a traveling exhibit of JFK’s papers, photographs, and personal items.

While the exhibit had several goals—to expose people to recent history; impart Kennedy’s spirit, personality, and accomplishments; and give people a taste of the forthcoming Kennedy Library—it also served a chance to raise funds to support the library.

Ivan Chermayeff designed the exhibit. He originally wanted to transport it in the Caroline, the airplane JFK named after his daughter, but it wouldn’t fit.

Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was heavily involved with selecting the items to be exhibited.  

Along with several photographs, the displayed items included a model of the Patrol Torpedo boat on which JFK served in World War II (PT-109), his wooden rocking chair, drafts of speeches, and a favorite—pages with JFK’s “doodles” he made after becoming President.

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JFK “doodle” annotated with the words Missiles, Missiles, Missiles, 10/25/1962. (National Archives Identifier 595725)

The exhibit opened in New York City in May 1964. Over the course of the next year, it traveled to 22 cities throughout the United States and 15 cities in Europe, including London, Paris, Dublin, and Vienna.

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At the opening ceremony for the Kennedy Library exhibit in Washington, DC, Senator Edward Kennedy and David Powers stand before a photograph of the late President, 3/31/1965. (National Archives Identifier 17616780)

Each city grew large crowds, and visitors often had to wait in long lines. Hundreds of thousands of people viewed the exhibit—in Boston alone an estimated 45,000 visitors came in a single day.

The exhibit ended its run at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

The opening ceremony was held on March 31, 1965. Senator Edward Kennedy attended and spoke of how the exhibit would give visitors a feeling for “the hopes and the aspirations and the dreams of President Kennedy.”

The Voice of America broadcast from the ceremony, and the Kennedy Library has made that recording available online. 

Dave Powers, John F. Kennedy’s special assistant, also attended. Powers had accompanied the exhibit around the world and later served as curator at John F. Kennedy Library until his retirement in May 1994.

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Dave Powers and Robert Christian, the 500,000th visitor to the John F. Kennedy Library exhibit at the National Archives, 6/11/1965. (National Archives Identifier 17616904)

Powers spoke of his campaign for the library, the worldwide tour, and his recollections of the late President and his family.

The exhibit was on display in the National Archives Constitution Avenue foyer from March 31 through June 1965.  

After the exhibit closed, its contents, along the other JFK material destined for the library, moved to the National Archives Federal Records Center in Waltham, MA. Staff assembled and organized the Kennedy collection there until the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library opened in 1979.

To celebrate JFK’s Centennial, “Advancing Peace and Understanding: Creating the Peace Corps” will be on display in the Public Vaults gallery of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, from April 28 through October 11, 2017.

Learn more about President John F. Kennedy and his 100th birthday celebration from the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

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Senator Edward Kennedy’s wife, Joan Kennedy, views a photograph of the late President on exhibit at the National Archives, 5/5/1965. (National Archives Identifier 17616848)

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