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Archive for 'News and Events'

Sinking of the RMS Lusitania

Today’s post comes from Zach Kopin, an intern in the National Archives History Office.

Last month I wrote a blog post on the sketch of the RMS Lusitania’s lifeboat launch system, which is on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The National Archives, however, holds another document related to the famous sinking of the Lusitania: the log book of U-20, the submarine that fired the torpedo that sunk the ship.

Cover page from the U-20’s log book, in the original German, 1915. (Archives Identifier 785591)

Cover page from the U-20’s log book, in the original German, 1915. (Archives Identifier 785591)

The onset of the First World War saw the widespread use of weapons that had seen only limited combat in previous conflicts. In addition to machine guns and airplanes, gas and tanks, World War I was the first major conflict that saw the widespread use of submarines. The Germans, especially, relied upon a large fleet of Unterseeboats to harass British shipping.

In November 1914 the British blockaded the North Sea, restricting all shipping, including food and medical shipments. In retaliation the German High Command contemplated something unthinkable in the past: sinking all enemy ships regardless of military status. Imperial Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare on November 4, 1914.

Concerned over the international response to this declaration, the German Embassy in Washington, hoping to avoid controversy, published notices specifically warning American passengers not to travel aboard the Lusitania and … [ Read all ]

National Archives commemorates Memorial Day with video

To commemorate Memorial Day, the National Archives has released a short video about the importance of the holiday.

Timed for the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death and the upcoming sesquicentennial of the 1866 founding of the Grand Army of the Republic (the fraternal organization of Union Civil War veterans), the National Archives created the video “Memorial Day 2015: Why it Matters.”

The video features Rodney Ross, an archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC, with an introduction by Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.

Ross demonstrates the importance of National Archives records to everyday Americans through the prism of a single National Archives document—a page from the muster roll of a Civil War soldier from his hometown of Batavia, Illinois.

Oscar F. Cooley's Compiled Military Service Record. (Records of the Adjutant General's Office, National Archives)

Oscar F. Cooley’s Compiled Military Service Record. (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives)

The soldier, Union Pvt. Oscar F. Cooley, was killed in action during the siege at Vicksburg on June 8, 1863.

In the video Ross recounts his Memorial Day memories as a child growing up in Batavia, and shares an image of a statue from Batavia’s West Side Cemetery inscribed with the names of Batavians, primarily those with the 124th Illinois Volunteer Regiment, who fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Ross speaks at the Grand Army of the Republic Monument on Pennsylvania … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: sketch of the RMS Lusitania’s lifeboat storage mechanism

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

To honor the pivotal role its sinking played in turning U.S. popular opinion against Germany during World War I, a sketch of the RMS Lusitania’s lifeboat storage mechanism is now on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Sketch Showing Lifeboats Stowed and Secured on Board the RMS. Lusitania, 12/6/1917. National Archives Identifier 17369675

Sketch showing lifeboats stowed and secured on board the RMS Lusitania, 12/6/1917. (National Archives Identifier 17369675)

Built in England, the RMS Lusitania was the pride of the Cunard Line’s fleet. Lusitania completed 201 Atlantic ocean crossings between her maiden voyage in September 1907 and May 1915, holding the record for the fastest time between 1907 and 1909.

The Lusitania left New York for the final time on May 1, 1915, under good weather, but that did not mean she was entering calm waters.

Although technically still neutral in 1915, the United States continued to conduct commerce with the Great Britain, a practice that put the Lusitania at risk. Fearing passenger boats would be used to ship war material, the German government approved unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1915.

After sighting her on May 7, 1915, off the coast of Ireland, the German submarine U-20 fired a single torpedo at the ship at 3:10 p.m. It was a direct hit.

A secondary explosion rocked the Lusitania shortly after … [ Read all ]

Remembering James Berton “Bert” Rhoads, Fifth Archivist of the United States (1968-1979)

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

On April 7, 2015, former Archivist of the United States James “Bert” Rhoads passed away at the age of 86.

Portrait of James B. Rhoads, Fifth Archivist of the United States, ca. 1968. (National Archives Identifier 7368465)

Portrait of James B. Rhoads, Fifth Archivist of the United States, ca. 1968. (National Archives Identifier 7368465)

James Berton Rhoads was born on September 17, 1928, in Sioux City, Iowa. He graduated with a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1950 and earned an M.A. from the institution in 1952. He later earned his Ph.D. from American University in Washington, DC.

Rhoads joined the National Archives in 1952 as a microfilm operator, but soon headed down the professional track. In 1966 he was appointed Deputy Archivist under Dr. Robert Bahmer. He replaced Bahmer as Archivist of the United States on May 2, 1968, after having served as Acting Archivist for nearly two months.

Rhoads’s tenure as Archivist saw massive changes within the National Archives, many of which increased the accessibility of the National Archives and its holdings. He started the quarterly magazine Prologue, which saw its first issue published in Spring 1969. He also expanded the regional archives system to solve the two-fold problem of needing more records storage space and increasing the public’s access to records.

Though known as a shy man, Rhoads was an outspoken … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: “Lady Hooch Hunter”

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

A new exhibit on America’s connection to alcohol is now on display at the National Archives. “Spirited Republic: Alcohol and American History” is about the United States’ love-hate relationship with the “demon rum.”

Daisy Simpson's Prohibition Unit ID, September 6, 1921. (National Archives Identifier 6238194)

Daisy Simpson’s Prohibition Unit ID, September 6, 1921. (National Archives Identifier 6238194)

Bruce Bustard, the exhibit’s curator, says the exhibit demonstrates the “changing attitudes of the American people about alcohol, and also looks at that through the records of the National Archives and Presidential Libraries.”

One of the most interesting people featured in the exhibit is Daisy Simpson. Simpson was one of the Treasury Department’s most famous Prohibition officers (called “prohis”).

Known as the “Lady Hooch Hunter,” Simpson quickly attracted attention—and press—with her spectacular busts of Volstead Act violators.

Passed on October 28, 1919, the Volstead Act implemented the 18th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which established prohibition in the U.S.

The act empowered Federal, as well as state and local governments, to enforce Prohibition by limiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcohol.

The U.S. Government turned to the Treasury Department to play the part of the act’s enforcer, a role in which women were integral.

While women gained the equal right to vote 1920, gender-based assignment of tasks endured. Women worked in the … [ Read all ]