Congress passed and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the National Archives Act on June 19, 1934. Not only did the legislation create the National Archives as an agency to oversee all federal recordkeeping, it established the position of Archivist of the United States. The Archivist, who was to make $10,000 annually, was to be appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
After heavy lobbying by James Franklin Jameson and the American Historical Association, on October 10, 1934, FDR nominated Robert Diggs Wimberly Connor to be the first Archivist of the United States.
Connor was a historian, a professor of history, and the head of the history and government department at the University of North Carolina. He played a key role in the founding and development of the North Carolina state archives, which gave him an archival background. He also had the reputation of being able to work with politicians, which gave him the much-needed political skills to negotiate with Congress and the administration.
The Senate wasn’t in session when FDR made the nomination, so as a recess appointment Connor started working immediately, including laying the groundwork for the new agency, hiring staff, and ensuring that the National Archives Building construction was completed.
The Senate didn’t consider Connor’s nomination until it was back in session the following year, and when they did, it was fairly straightforward. On January 10, 1935, FDR re-nominated Connor to be Archivist of the United States; the Senate referred the nomination to Committee on the Library. There was a slight delay because the committee chair, Senator Alben Barkley (D-KY), insisted on meeting Connor before he approved the appointment. But after the two men had lunch, the committee reported favorably on March 18 without even holding a hearing on the nomination. On March 20, 1935, the Senate, by unanimous consent, confirmed R.D.W. Connor as Archivist of the United States.
The next two Archivists of the United States were also appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate: Solon J. Buck by FDR in 1941, and Wayne Grover by President Harry S. Truman in 1948 (both breezed through the Senate and were confirmed with unanimous consent as well).
After Congress passed legislation establishing the General Services Administration (GSA) in 1949, and put the National Archives under it, Archivists of the United States were appointed by the Administrator of GSA. It wasn’t until the National Archives became an independent agency again in 1985 that the position of Archivist of the United States became a Presidential appointment once again. All subsequent Archivists of the United States to this day were appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
This month the Tenth Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, is retiring. Thank you, Archivist Ferriero, for all of your years of service to the National Archives and the American people. Good luck with your retirement!