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Happy 80th Birthday National Archives

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives. June 19 marks the 80th Anniversary of the establishment of the National Archives. 

Eighty years ago on June 19, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation creating the National Archives. It was the culmination of a 25-year campaign by the historical community to create a National Archives building to house the national government’s records.

At that time, Federal records were scattered around the Washington area in inadequate and unsuitable storage facilities. They were neither organized nor accessible for public use.

War Department Records housed in the Naval Torpedo Station in Alexandria Virginia before being transferred to the National Archives, September 1935 Records of the National Archives National Archives, Washington, DC

War Department Records housed in the Naval Torpedo Station in Alexandria Virginia before being transferred to the National Archives, September 1935, Records of the National Archives
National Archives, Washington, DC

Supporters of a National Archives argued that those records—the written evidence of our national life and achievements—must be preserved for future generations.

In 1926, Congress took the first major step in creating a home for the nation’s records by authorizing construction of an Archives building. It was part of a massive public buildings project to provide office space for government agencies in the Federal Triangle area of downtown Washington, DC.

The Archives building was well under way before Congress created the agency that would occupy it.

View of the construction of the National Archives Building, November 2, 1933 Records of the Public Building Service National Archives, Washington, DC

View of the construction of the National Archives Building, November 2, 1933
Records of the Public Building Service
National

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The Father of Flag Day

Today’s post comes from Emma Rothberg, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. June 14 marks the annual celebration known as Flag Day. 

On June 14, 1885, Bernard J. Cigrand placed a 10-inch, 38-star flag in a bottle on his desk at the Stony Hill School in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. The 19-year-old teacher then asked his students to write essays on the flag and its significance to them. This small observance marked the beginning of a long and devoted campaign by Cigrand to bring about national recognition for Flag Day.

In this June 14, 1904, cartoon, Uncle Sam gives a lesson to schoolchildren on the meaning of Flag Day. Holding the American flag in one hand, Uncle Sam explains that the flag has great importance, unlike the Vice Presidency, which he ridicules in a kindly manner. (National Archives Identifier 6010464)

In this June 14, 1904, cartoon, Uncle Sam gives a lesson to schoolchildren on the meaning of Flag Day. Holding the American flag in one hand, Uncle Sam explains that the flag has great importance, unlike the Vice Presidency, which he ridicules in a kindly manner. (National Archives Identifier 6010464)

While many communities celebrated June 14 as Flag Day in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the day was not nationally recognized until 1916. In that year, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for the first nationwide observance of Flag Day.

Later, in 1949, President Harry Truman signed an act of Congress designating June 14 as National Flag Day. The act also requested that the President issue an annual proclamation calling for its observance and for the display of … [ Read all ]

What did Ike say to launch the D-Day invasion?

Today’s blog post comes from James Worsham, Editor of Publications at the National Archives, and Tim Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower talks with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division in Newbury, England, on June 5, 1944, prior to their departure for their role in the D-day invasion, dropping behind enemy lines.  The soldier with a “23” tag was a fellow Kansan, Lt. Wallace C. Strobel.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower talks with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division in Newbury, England, on June 5, 1944, prior to their departure for their role in the D-day invasion, dropping behind enemy lines. The soldier with a “23” tag was a fellow Kansan, Lt. Wallace C. Strobel. (National Archives Identifier 531217)

The Supreme Allied Commander listened to his weather officer’s forecast,  then observed as his commanders struggled to make sense of the report.

Finally, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, having ordered the biggest invasion force in history to a state of readiness, spoke:  “The question is just how long can you keep this operation on the end of a limb and let it hang there.”

The next morning, Eisenhower arose at 3:30 and met with his staff again.  He asked each one what he thought about launching the invasion of Western Europe the next day, June 6, 1944. They all said yes.

Then Eisenhower got up, paced around the room, pondering what was riding on this decision — the fate of millions.

Then he stopped pacing, looked at his commanders, and gave the go-ahead for the D-day invasion of Western Europe by the allies to bring down Hitler’s Third … [ Read all ]

A scrap of silk tells an airman’s story

In honor of Memorial Day, today’s blog post comes from  Sara Holmes, supervisory preservation specialist, and Michael Pierce, preservation technician, both at the National Archives at St. Louis.

The piece of silk lay in the folder as if it were just another page in the military personnel record—with holes punched through to be held by the fasteners, just another page to be cleaned of mold and soot from the burned files from the disastrous 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center.

But this piece of cloth with its colorful silkscreen of a Chinese flag was clearly something different from everything else treated by the Paper Lab. Accompanying documents in the file explained how very special it was. The long journey taken by this small silken scrap, called a “blood chit,” to the National Archives began when it fell from the sky.

Preservation staff found this "blood chit" in the Official Military Personnel File of John Vurgaropulos.

Preservation staff found this “blood chit” in the Official Military Personnel File of James Vurgaropulos.

On June 29, 1944, 16 American planes were flying a mission against the Japanese along the Laodoho River in the Hunan Province in China. After several followed a road away from the river, one of the planes crashed into a building and then skidded across the rice fields, breaking apart and burning.

Over a year later, the Changsha Search Team reported finding the grave of an unidentified pilot. … [ Read all ]

Death register returns to Mauthausen, Austria

Today’s post comes from exhibits conservator Terry Boone and senior registrar James Zeender.

May marks the surrender of the Nazi forces to the Allies—and the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945.

Last year in April, we traveled to the Mauthausen National Memorial, about 100 miles west of Vienna, with one of the original death registers created at the Mauthausen concentration camp. This camp was a part of the Nazi killing machine responsible for 6 million deaths—almost 100,000 at Mauthausen alone.

The register would be part of a new exhibition, “The Concentration Camp Mauthausen 1938–1945,” on display in the infirmary building where the registers were originally kept. The infirmary is within walking distance of the quarry where thousands of prisoners were worked to death, deaths that would be recorded for history by the prison clerks. Prisoners carried stones weighing 50 pounds or more up hundreds of steps eight or more times a day. The exhibition marks the first time that a piece of original Holocaust evidence from the National Archives had returned to its place of origin for public display.

 The front cover of the first volume of the Mauthausen death books. National Archives.

The front cover of the first volume of the Mauthausen death register. National Archives Collection of World War II War Crimes Records, RG 238).

In Austria, our first stop was the Interior Ministry in downtown Vienna, where we met Mauthausen Memorial Archive Director … [ Read all ]