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Archive for 'Unusual documents'

A warning from the Surgeon General about air conditioning

Letter from the Surgeon General regarding air conditioning at the National Archives, page 1 (holdings of the National Archives)

Rick Blondo, management and program analyst at the National Archives, reflects on the logistics of maintaining records in the sweltering humidity that is summer in Washington, DC.

Summer in Washington can be a wilting experience for tourists and locals alike, but not so for the holdings maintained in the National Archives.

The National Archives was one of the first buildings in Washington with air conditioning. The building was designed in the 1930s to safeguard the records of the United States in an environment suited to that purpose.

The vault-like structure included an air conditioning system that could maintain 70 degrees in winter and 80 degrees in summer throughout the entire building. Relative humidity was kept at 55 percent in stacks and 45 percent in workrooms.

The holdings collected in the stacks would be cool, but officials wondered if the relatively cool air elsewhere in the building would pose a health problem to staff.

Louis A. Simon, the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the National Archives, asked the Surgeon General to provide an opinion about whether exposure to conditioned air (and also a high amount of artificial lighting) posed a health risk to those who would work in the building.

The Surgeon General, H.S. Cumming, determined that … [ Read all ]

Striking Gold in the Records

A vial of gold found in the case file of Heine v. Roth in the National Archives at Anchorage (Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21)

People often refer to the National Archives as a “treasure trove” of history. Usually they’re referring to the wealth of knowledge documented in our billions of pieces of paper. But occasionally you come across something that would not be out of place in a real treasure chest.

At the end of the 19th century, thousands of gold-seekers headed to Alaska. Few found even enough gold to pay for the voyage north, but a little bit of the precious ore found its way into federal records at the National Archives in Anchorage.

The 1904 case of Heine v. Roth concerned waterfront property rights. George Roth had purchased land on the banks of the Chena River near Fairbanks and prospected for gold there. C. H. Heine also occupied land near the Chena and had filed a homestead claim on May 6, 1904, for 35 acres.

On July 15, 1904, Heine asked Roth to leave the property and had him arrested for trespassing when Roth refused. In court they argued over who had claim to the waterfront property, which was accessible only during low tide. Heine argued that Roth’s camp denied him access to the river. Roth argued … [ Read all ]

A letter to the President—in Braille

Letter in Braille from John Beaulieu to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 10/1958 (ARC 594353)

This week marks the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The National Archives holds many records that relate to American citizens with disabilities. From personal letters to historic legislation, these records from the Presidential Libraries provide insight into disability history.

For the opening of the Public Vaults exhibition at the National Archives Building in 2004, public affairs specialist Miriam Kleiman was assigned to track down and bring to Washington some of the people mentioned in the exhibition. This is her account of her search for John Beaulieu.

I was intrigued by the letters from children in the “Dear Uncle Sam” section of the “Form a More Perfect Union” vault. One unusual letter in the stack interested me a great deal—a letter written in Braille to President Dwight D. Eisenhower by a young boy in the fall of 1956.

Thirteen-year-old John Beaulieu offered the President the following campaign stump speech: “Vote for me. I will help you out. I will lower the prices and also your tax bill. I also will help the negroes, so that they may go to school.”

The return address listed Perkins School for the Blind (Helen Keller’s alma mater) in Watertown, Massachusetts. After my Internet searches led nowhere, I called the Perkins School but was … [ Read all ]

Plucked from our records: Pasquale Taraffo and the Harp Guitar

 

This photograph of Pasquale Taraffo found in the National Archives.

“Attachments,” the current exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, DC, tells the stories of some of the millions of people who have entered and left the United States.

One visitor, Pasquale Taraffo, came to the United States three times—once for a concert tour of New York City and California in 1928–29, once as a crew member of a ship that docked in New York in 1933, and once for a concert stop in New York in 1935.

Born in Genoa, Italy, in 1887, the musician began giving guitar concerts at age nine. He eventually switched from the traditional guitar to the harp guitar, a 14-string instrument mounted on a pedestal. Taraffo started touring abroad in 1910, performing on his own and with other musicians. Known as “the Paganini of the guitar”—a reference to the legendary Italian violinist—he was wildly popular around the world and especially in South America.

When he came to the United States, he applied for a visa based on artistic abilities, and probably had to submit evidence of his exceptional talent in order to enter the country. Photo postcards of Taraffo with his harp guitar, along with a handbill for his 1926 concert in Corregio, Italy, were found, but these documents were separated from any of his other documents, mixed … [ Read all ]

Take me out to the ballgame (and then to court)

Today’s post is written by Kimberlee Ried, public programs specialist at the National Archives in Kansas City.

“Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd . . .” 

These words, written by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer in 1908, are still heard every night at  baseball parks across America, usually during the seventh-inning stretch. Even in the midst of summer heat, fans watch their favorite baseball players throw another strike, hit a homerun, or catch a foul—always in the hopes of winning the game.

On Tuesday, July 10, the city of Kansas City, Missouri, will host the All-Star Game. This exhibition game is played by the best players in the league midway through the baseball season. But there’s another piece of baseball history at Kansas City: a patent court case found in the holdings of the National Archives at Kansas City.

Victor Sporting Goods Co. v. Rawlings Manufacturing Co. was filed in 1909 in the U.S. Circuit Court in St. Louis, Missouri. Victor was suing Rawlings over the patent rights for a catcher’s mitt—specifically how catchers achieved “pocket” in their mitts.

E.L. Rogers’ patent drawing for a catcher mitt. Rogers patented multiple catcher’s mitts during his career with Victor Sporting Goods. Record Group 21, Records of the District Courts of the United States, St. Louis, MO, Law and

[ Read all ]