Facial Hair Friday: Meyer Fishbein

Fifty years ago, the National Archives accessioned its first electronic record. This happened in large part due to the work of longtime staff member Meyer Fishbein. Fishbein worked at the National Archives for nearly 40 years, often sporting a mustache or a beard. 

Meyer Fishbein was born May 6, 1916, in New York City. After graduating high school, Fishbein worked for a commercial laundry as he took courses at City College. After moving to Washington, DC, he received a bachelor’s and eventually a master’s degree from American University. 

Meyer Fishbein’s National Archives ID card, 2/3/1941. (National Archives Identifier 12091163)

Fishbein first came to the National Archives in 1940. During World War II, he joined the Army and was stationed in Great Britain and France. After the war, he returned to the National Archives, where he worked until his retirement in 1980. 

Fishbein was one of the first staff members to realize the value of electronic records. In 1962, while in the Office of Records Appraisal, Fishbein was working on a plan for Census Bureau records. While surveying the records, he found a tape library with data from censuses and surveys from the 1950s. Upon asking what happens to the tapes, the bureau said they were erased and reused because they were non-record material. 

This prompted Fishbein to research the issue of machine-readable medium and eventually classify the Census Bureau’s tape collection. He then spent the next decade advocating to save machine-readable records, what we now call electronic records. The National Archives accessioned its first electronic record in 1970. 

Fishbein retired from the National Archives in 1980 as the Director of Military Archives. In 2013, the National Archives Assembly, an employee group, honored Fishbein with a special public program, “Meyer Fishbein Remembers.” The program is available on the National Archives YouTube Channel.

Meyer Fishbein Remembers flyer, 2013. (National Archives History Office)

Meyer Fishbein passed away on January 31, 2017. He was 100 years old.

To learn more about Meyer Fishbein read the blog post “A Pioneer in Electronic Records,” and read his 2009 oral history interview.

2 thoughts on “Facial Hair Friday: Meyer Fishbein

  1. Way back in the fall of 1971, my first NARA rotation was with Meyer Fishbein, then in the Appraisal Division. His enthusiasm for electronic records must have rubbed off. I spent that next 22 + records with electronic records. (First called “machine readable.” ) The first seven + years were spent going from agency to agency trying to convince folks that these were indeed records. I also participated in writing the initial version of GRS-20 which codified the permanence of these records for the first time.

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