Hoover’s role in creation of NARA by Tim Walch · Op-Ed · June 24, 2009
Editor’s note: Tim Walch, director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum, delivered the following remarks June 17 to Hoover Park staff at a picnic to mark the 75th anniversary of the creation of the National Archives and Records Administration.
We are here today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the National Archives of the United States and to salute Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the two presidents who were central to the establishment of what is now the National Archives and Records Administration.
On Feb. 20, 1933, President Herbert Hoover stood at a podium at the corner of Seventh and Pennsylvania avenues in Washington D.C. He was there to lay the cornerstone for a new federal building, something of a stimulus project in a bleak economy.
But this building also had a noble purpose: to house the documentary heritage of a great nation. On that occasion, this is what Herbert Hoover had to say.
My fellow citizens:
“There is an especial significance in this ceremony, coming within two days of the celebration of George Washington’s birthday. The soil on which we are standing is part of the original tract acquired by President Washington for the Nation’s Capital. The building which is rising here will house the name and record of every patriot who bore arms for our country in the Revolutionary War, as well as those of all later wars. Further, there will be aggregated here the most sacred documents of our history, the originals of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution of the United States. Here will be preserved all the other records that bind State to State and the hearts of all our people in an indissoluble union. The romance of our history will have living habitation here in the writings of statesmen, soldiers, and all the others, both men and women, who have builded the great structure of our national life. This temple of our history will approximately be one of the most beautiful buildings in America, an expression of the American soul. It will be one of the most durable, an expression of the American character. Devoutly the Nation will pray that it may endure forever, the repository of records of yet more glorious progress in the life of our beloved country. I now lay the cornerstone of the Archives Building and dedicate it in the name of the people of the United States.”
Fast forward 16 months to June 19, 1934. This was an especially busy day for Franklin Roosevelt:
He gave his 131st press conference from behind his desk of the Oval Office, but made little news, except to pass on the latest report on the drought in the Southwest. Then he held a cabinet meeting, met with a number of individual lawmakers, and left just before midnight for an overnight trip to New Haven, Conn., where the next day he would give the commencement address at Yale University.
Congress had adjourned the day before and left him with many bills to sign, and he signed a number of them this day. One of them created the Federal Communications Commission. Another was an emergency appropriations bill. Yet another one dealt with how the post office should deal with letters with no or insufficient postage.
Sometime during that day, he also signed legislation creating the National Archives. Its massive headquarters in downtown Washington had been authorized and dedicated by his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, and was already rising along Pennsylvania Avenue, in what was to become known as the Federal Triangle.
The idea of a national archives, a repository of the most important records of our nation, already more than a century and a half old, had lost many of its early records to fires, mishandling, improper storage and other natural and man-made means.
Roosevelt would soon come to play an important role in nurturing the agency in its early years. He set it on the course that has led it to its role today not only as the nation’s record-keeper. Roosevelt, however, would not recognize today’s National Archives and Records Administration with its leadership role in federal records management, in the classification and declassification of documents, and in finding ways to preserve the electronic records of the future will be preserved and made accessible for generations to come.
Today, the role of NARA continues to evolve. It remains a must-stop for visitors to Washington who want to see America’s founding documents, but it has also expanded into a state-of-the-art museum that brings the history of America alive through documents and artifacts in its holdings.
It is the first place many people come to learn their family history and an essential resource for genealogists everywhere.
Its holdings of records of government agencies, federal court cases, and presidential administrations make it an essential stop for journalists, lawyers and historians.
Its commitment to helping the public understand the importance of its holdings have made it the nations’ civic educator through its widespread education programs.
And its system of presidential libraries, region archives and federal records centers have given the National Archives a deep reach into America, with 34 locations in 18 states and the District of Columbia, from Atlanta to Anchorage and Boston to Southern California.
So today, here in West Branch, we salute two presidents and their commitment to the preservation of this nations’ documentary legacy. Thank you.