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Archive for 'Rare Photos'

Hit the Road, Jack!

Today’s post is by Miriam Kleiman, public relations specialist at the National Archives.

Jack Kerouac—American counterculture hero, king of the Beats, and author of On the Road—was a Navy military recruit who failed boot camp.

Navy doctors found Kerouac delusional, grandiose, and promiscuous, and questioned his strange writing obsession.

I learned this in 2005, right before the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis announced the opening of more than 3,000 military personnel files—including those of some famous folks.

Working in public affairs at the National Archives is a challenge. We’re always trying to make what’s old seem new. Just yesterday someone asked, “What’s new at the National Archives?” I responded “Absolutely nothing, but I can tell you some neat new things about what’s old.”

The St. Louis records release gave us a chance to share some unknown gems about some very well-known people including Elvis, Clark Cable, and Jackie Robinson. Our colleagues in St. Louis sent us files to see what might interest the media, but most of the material didn’t qualify as newsworthy. It’s vision and dental records, physical exam notes, letters of recommendation, or names and addresses of next of kin.

Then, I found Jack Kerouac’s file. Thicker than the rest, it details his 10 days in basic training—and 67 under psychiatric evaluation. This, I thought, is NEWS! This is EXCITING! I started making calls, … [ Read all ]

Aunt Jemima, what took you so long?

Today’s guest post for “What’s Cooking Wednesdays” comes from Acting Director Patrick Connelly with Education Specialist Christopher Zarr of the National Archives at New York City.

Sometimes walking down the stacks of the National Archives can be like walking down the aisles of your local supermarket. Names like Heinz, Anheuser-Busch, Hershey, Sara Lee, and Perrier line the shelves of the National Archives.

The only difference is that these brands aren’t for sale—they are a part of the holdings of district court records of the National Archives. Whether Good Humor and Popsicle are waging a different kind of cold war involving patents or, as in the following case, Aunt Jemima is accusing competitors of trademark infringement, food fights are common in the district courts.

Aunt Jemima has been adorning the tables of America’s breakfast nooks for well over a century. R.T. Davis Milling Company brought this racially charged image to life in 1890 when it hired Nancy Green to be the company’s spokesperson. Success even led the company to change its name to the Aunt Jemima Mills Company. Later purchased by the Quaker Oats Company in 1926, Aunt Jemima’s name and face helped sell milled oats, grains, and ready-mix pancake flour. Surprisingly absent (at least to me) from the product line was pancake syrup. It would take nearly 50 years, at least two lawsuits and even the precedent-setting principle the “Aunt Jemima Doctrine” before Aunt Jemima realized it should … [ Read all ]

Inside the Treasure Vault

The National Archives has over 3,000 employees, but not all of them are archivists. There are educators, social media writers, preservationists, security personnel, and Federal Records Center workers. Some of us handle records all day, but for many of us, our jobs do not bring us into direct contact with the records.

That’s why it is so exciting to go inside the Treasure Vault, as we call the specially secured and fire-safe room that holds some of the most interesting and precious documents of the National Archives. Today, some of our staff from various departments took a special trip to Treasure Vault of the Center for Legislative Archives (CLA), which holds the records of the  U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

These treasures range in content and across time, from Clifford Berryman’s political cartoons (when CLA acquired them, the drawings were stored in trash bags) to a radar map showing Japanese planes approaching Pearl Harbor to the electronic records from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States (the 9/11 Commission).

But my favorite record from Congress? It was George Washington’s inaugural address. The two sheets were in a protective case, but when the archivist held them up in front of me, it was still thrilling to see the pages written in Washington’s own hand and to imagine the President reading the address aloud in New York.

I love my job writing … [ Read all ]

“The pole at last!”

When Robert Peary wrote “The pole at last!!!” into his diary on April 6, 1909, he had no idea that his claim would be disputed for the next several decades by experts who doubted that he and Matthew A. Henson were the first men to reach the North Pole.

Marie Peary Stafford had no such doubts, but her mission was equally difficult to complete. In 1932 she headed to a remote part of Greenland to erect a monument to her father’s accomplishments.

Marie had been born in Greenland while her father was on an expedition there, and she was now returning to the remote country with her two sons. She had raised the money and had the plans for the monument—56 feet high with decorative marble Ps at the top—created by a Boston firm. They charted the schooner Morrissey, and when they sailed away from the dock, Matthew Henson was on the shore to wave them off.

The expedition was recorded by a cameramen hired to film the events, but Marie’s diary revealed that she struggle to maintain control over mounting problems.

In a her Prologue article detailing Marie’s journey, National Archives preservation specialist Audrey Amidon notes that the five master stonemasons turned out to be “a bricklayer, two stonecutters, a painter, and a carpenter.” When the cement froze and the workers attempted … [ Read all ]

A Factory Fire and Frances Perkins

Today marks 100 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire—a blaze that lasted 18 minutes and left 146 workers dead.

Among the many in New York City who witnessed the tragedy was Frances Perkins, who would later become FDR’s Secretary of Labor, making her the first woman to serve in a Presidential cabinet.

As Secretary of Labor, Perkins was instrumental in creating and implementing the Social Security Act—but she was also intensely interested in the safety and rights of workers. “I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen,” she said.

Perkins had a degree from Mount Holyoke College, where her coursework included touring factories. She later earned a master’s degree in in social economics from Columbia University. She had been working as factory inspector in New York at the time of the fire.

The fire started in a wastebasket on the eighth floor, and the flames jumped up onto the paper patterns that were hanging from the ceiling.

In an oral history, blouse operator Mary Domsky-Adams recalled that “My own machine was located near the locked front doors, and I often looked with fear at the darkness that loomed through the half-glassed door, which made me feel as if some secret force were peering out from there. And it was before this door that the … [ Read all ]