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New Web Exhibit on the Freedom Train

A souvenir postcard from the Freedom Train. (National Archives Identifier 18520032)

A souvenir postcard from the Freedom Train. (National Archives Identifier 18520032)

For 18 months in the late 1940s, some of the nation’s most important historical documents toured the country in a traveling museum called the Freedom Train.

The National Archives History Office has produced a new online exhibit on the Freedom Train, which is available in the Google Cultural Institute.

Viewed by more than 3.5 million Americans, the Freedom Train stopped in cities in each of the 48 states (Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states at this time).

The Freedom Train was intended to increase awareness of the need to preserve important documents as well as to allow Americans throughout the country to see these documents.

Photograph of visitors looking at the Bill of Rights in the Freedom Train Exhibit, October 20, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167308)

Photograph of visitors looking at the Bill of Rights in the Freedom Train Exhibit, October 20, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167308)

The American Heritage Foundation was created to design, protect, and operate the train and its contents.

A committee containing members from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and other government agencies planned and designed the exhibit.

A group of 27 Marines was hand selected to protect the Freedom Train on its tour, and a coalition of railroad companies ensured that the Freedom Train would travel across America as efficiently as possible.

Photograph of visitors looking at the Bill of Rights in the Freedom Train Exhibit, October 20, 1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167308)

Photograph of visitors looking at the Bill of Rights in the Freedom Train Exhibit,

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Annual Birthday Party for the Declaration of Independence

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Brenner, an intern in the History Office at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

The Fife and Drum Corps perform at the National Archives on July 4, 12013. (Photo by Jules Clifford)

The Fife and Drum Corps perform at the National Archives on July 4, 12013. (Photo by Jules Clifford)

For almost a half-century, the National Archives has held an annual birthday party on July 4, at the document’s home at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

This timeline marks the significant milestones in Archives Fourth of July celebrations:

  • 1776: Representatives to the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was printed on July 4, and John Carlisle, a friend of George Washington’s and successful merchant, read it aloud on the streets of Philadelphia.
  • 1952: The Library of Congress, which  held the Declaration from 1924 through 1952, transferred the document to the National Archives. The first Independence Day it was on display at the Archives was July 4, 1953.
  • 1969: The National Archives Fourth of July became more extensive. A special exhibit opened to the public. In the early afternoon, the U.S. Army Band played a concert on the Constitution Avenue side of the Archives.
  • 1970: Visitors listened to the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence in the Rotunda.
  • 1976: Celebrations reached new levels when the Declaration turned 200 years old and the Archives established its annual July 4th event. On July 2,
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On Exhibit: The American Debate about Alcohol Consumption During World War II

Today’s post comes from Emily Niekrasz, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

In March 2015 the National Archives opened “Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History,” a new exhibit that explores the complex love-hate relationship between America and alcohol.

The exhibit’s curator, Bruce Bustard, has written, “These two different views of alcoholic beverages run throughout American history. Sometimes they have existed in relative peace; at other times they have been at war.”

Some of the documents not only represent the war of opposing views regarding Prohibition, but they also highlight the debate over alcohol consumption within an even larger conflict—World War II.

On December 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the repeal of the 18th Amendment, ending the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the United States. Although the American government concluded its legal war on alcohol, the American people remained divided.  This friction—documented in the exhibit—continued throughout World War II.

"Alcohol—Hitler’s Best Friend, America’s Worst Enemy." Petition to Congress, 1943. (National Archives Identifier 16764619)

“Alcohol—Hitler’s Best Friend, America’s Worst Enemy.” Petition to Congress, 1943. (National Archives Identifier 16764619)

One such document is a 1943 petition to Congress for the return to Prohibition, titled “Alcohol—Hitler’s Best Friend, America’s Worst Enemy.” By associating alcohol with Hitler—at the height of World War II—it is evident that the 19 petitioners, both men and women, considered alcohol an evil.

Within the opening of their appeal, the authors … [ Read all ]

The Great Seal: Celebrating 233 Years of a National Emblem

Today’s post comes from Meagan T. Frenzer, graduate research intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On June 20, 1782, the Confederation Congress approved and finalized the first Great Seal of the United States.

The First Continental Congress in 1776 originally commissioned Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams to create a national seal. As members of the First Great Seal Committee, these Founding Fathers intended to design a national emblem that reflected the independence and aspirations of the new nation.

This was no easy task. It took more than three committees and six years of congressional debate to complete the Great Seal.

It was Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thomson, who submitted the final design for the Great Seal 233 years ago. Thomson’s design combined elements of submissions presented to the prior committees. His uncluttered, symbolic design fulfilled Congress’s expectations.

The face side of Thomson’s seal, also known as the “observe” side, displays a bald eagle with wings spread. The eagle clutches a bundle of 13 arrows (representing the 13 colonies) in its left talon and an olive branch in its right talon. Together, the items in the eagle’s talons stand for war and peace.

Charles Thompson's First Design, 1782. (National Archives Identifier 595257)

Charles Thompson’s first design for the Great Seal (obverse side), 1782. (National Archives Identifier 595257)

The eagle’s beak holds a banner that reads E pluribus unum. The Latin … [ Read all ]

The American Flag

Today’s post, in honor of Flag Day, comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office.

Cartoonist Clifford Berryman highlights the annual Flag Day with an American flag waving among the light and dark clouds caused by the gunfire of battles. (National Archives Identifier 6011429)

Cartoonist Clifford Berryman highlighted the annual Flag Day with an American flag waving among the light and dark clouds caused by the gunfire of battles, June 14, 1918. (National Archives Identifier 6011429)

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress officially adopted the Stars and Stripes as the National Flag of the United States of America. Through its many changes and iterations, the American flag has come to represent the physical geography of the nation by including as many stars as states, as well as a remembrance of the nation’s origins as seen in the 13 red and white stripes.

The American flag also serves as a reminder of what America and her citizens represent: liberty, equality, and justice.

Designed by Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the flag was originally intended to be used as a naval sign. However, growing nationalism around the world during the 18th century led many countries to establish a national flag, the United States included. It is unclear how or why Congress selected Hopkinson’s design for this honor.

The involvement of Betsy Ross in the design and creation of the first American flag is largely fictitious. It is likely that her grandson, William J. … [ Read all ]