Facial Hair Friday: Archivist of the United States Bert Rhoads

Archivist Portraits
Portrait of Fifth Archivist of the United States James “Bert” Rhoads, which hangs in the National Archives Building. (Records of the National Archives)

Fifth Archivist of the United States James Berton “Bert” Rhoads (Archivist: 1968–1979) had many distinctions. He was the youngest person to become Archivist; he started the National Archives annual Fourth of July celebrations; and he presided over the Archives during the largest influx of genealogy researchers during the Roots era.

He also sported a nice mustache.

Rhoads became Archivist of the United States in 1968 when he was only 40 years old. He served as Archivist through an era of expansion for the National Archives—during his 11 years. the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Libraries were constructed; Watergate resulted in the passages of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act and Presidential Records Act; and the Regional Archives system was created.

Rhoads retired from the National Archives in 1979 at age 51. He went on to teach at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA.

The National Archives has a tradition of commissioning of a portrait of each Archivist of the United States after he leaves office. Rhoads was no different. In 1985 the James B. Rhoads Portrait Committee raised more than $13,000 from 250 individual donors for a portrait.

The committee commissioned painter Elizabeth Smily. Originally from London, Smily moved to Canada and became a fairly well known portrait painter. Smily lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, only a short distance from Bellingham, Washington, where Rhoads was living at that time. Smily completed the portrait in March 1986, and it arrived at the National Archives the following month.

Rhoads’s portrait was unveiled in a ceremony on June 6, 1986. It is one of two portraits of former Archivists with mustaches—the other is Second Archivist of the United States, Solon Buck.

Read Rhoads’ biography on the National Archives History Office website. 

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