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White House Reunions: Presidential Library Dedications

Today’s blog post comes from Susan Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives.

It’s not often that several Presidents are together at one time, but on April 25, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will be dedicated to the American public. Although many dignitaries from around the world will attend, all eyes will likely focus on the gathering of men who have called the White House home. In addition to George W. Bush, guests of honor will include current Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama, and former Presidents William J. Clinton, George Bush, and Jimmy Carter.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

The first Presidential Library and Museum was conceived and built under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s direction from 1939 to 1940 in Hyde Park, NY. The official FDR Library dedication was a small, quiet affair, with close friends and family attending the ceremony. Over the years, the ceremonies have grown larger, and dedications have become notable for the atmosphere of nonpartisan goodwill and respect among former Presidents.

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum was dedicated on July 6, 1957, in Independence, MO. During Truman’s Presidency, Herbert Hoover offered his services to help with post–World War II humanitarian efforts. Despite being Presidents from opposing parties, the two forged a working relationship that eventually grew into a strong friendship. At the Truman Library dedication, Herbert Hoover delivered remarks and stood next to Truman.  Five years later, on Hoover’s 88th birthday, the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum was dedicated. Once again, the two former Presidents, now good friends, stood side by side.

Former Presidents Harry S. Truman and Herbert Hoover move through the crowds of people attending the dedication of the new Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. August 10, 1962.

Part of what has made past Presidential Library dedications so memorable is the candid manner in which former rivals have offered praise to one another. At the 1986 ceremony for the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta, GA, then-President Ronald Reagan gave a speech that underlined the qualities of his predecessor. He opened by saying, “None of us today need feel any urge, in the name of good will, to downplay our differences. On the contrary, in a certain sense, we can be proud of our differences, proud because they arise from good will itself.”

Afterwards, Jimmy Carter began his own remarks by addressing President Reagan directly. He said, “As I listened to your talk, I understood more clearly than I ever did in my life why you won in 1980 and I lost.”

Although Presidential Library dedications are not the only settings for Presidential camaraderie, the ceremonies offer rare opportunities for the rest of us to see these men interact with each other. When the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum first opened as a private facility on July 19, 1990, it marked the first time that four Presidents were seen together at a public event. The ceremony featured speeches from then-President George Bush, and former Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, and Ronald Reagan.

The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum dedication. July 19, 1990. Courtesy of the Richard Nixon Foundation.

Seventeen years later, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum officially became a part of the Federally operated Presidential libraries system. On July 11, 2007, a ceremony was held to announce the partnership between the Richard Nixon Foundation and the National Archives.

It’s been eight years since the last Presidential Library and Museum dedication occurred in 2004 for William J. Clinton. Perhaps George Bush summed it up the best when he delivered remarks in honor of the man to whom he had lost the election in 1992. “There’s an inescapable bond that binds together all who have lived in the White House. Though we hail from different backgrounds and ideologies, we are singularly unique, even eternally bound, by our common devotion and service to this wonderful country.”

In honor of the upcoming dedication of the 13th Presidential Library, we’ve put together a gallery of past dedications and Presidents.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library dedication. June 30, 1941.

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum dedication. Truman stands fourth from the left, and Herbert Hoover stands third from the left. In his address, Hoover stated that he thought it was a good thing that Presidential records were not all in Washington, DC, as they would be "nearer to the people themselves" if they were dispersed into local communities. July 6, 1957.

Dwight D. Eisenhower looks at the gold key to his Presidential Library and Museum, which was just presented to him at the dedication ceremony. October 31, 1959.

Kennedy family members break ground for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. June 12, 1977.

Lady Bird Johnson, President Richard Nixon, and Lyndon B. Johnson at the dedication of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. May 22, 1971

On September 18, 1981, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum was dedicated in Grand Rapids, MI. Both President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush gave remarks at the ceremony, as well as Valery Giscard d'Estaing, former President of France; Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada; and Jose Lopez Portillo, President of Mexico. The festivities also included a parade featuring Bob Hope, Pearl Bailey, several other celebrities, and seven marching bands.

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum dedication. October 1, 1986.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum dedication. November 4, 1991.

The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum dedication. November 6, 1997.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum dedication. November 18, 2004. Courtesy of the William J. Clinton Foundation.

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