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Tag: Congress

From Our Film Archives: “The March”

This Sunday is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. To commemorate the event, the National Archives is displaying a program from the march in the East Rotunda Gallery and screening The March on August 27 and 28.

But if you are not in Washington, DC, you can still watch the entire film on our YouTube channel.

The first reel of this documentary (embedded below) shows the lead-up to the march—from assembling thousand of picket signs to making 80,000 cheese sandwiches for bagged lunches to the long bus rides into the Washington, DC. The first 12 minutes gives a different view of the event from the usual clips of the March on Washington.

The film was directed by James Blue, who was later nominated for an Oscar in 1969 for another documentary, A Few Notes on Our Food Problem.

The March was made as part of a series of films created by the United States Information Agency (USIA), founded by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953. These films were meant to promote American policies in foreign countries, without being overt propaganda. (You can read about the agency’s anticommunism message in this Text Message post about the race to the Moon.)

But these USIA films were rarely seen in America because of concerns about the U.S. Government propagandizing its own people. The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act mandated that no USIA film could be shown domestically … [ Read all ]

Patriotic posters and the debt ceiling

As the calendar turns to August and the summer heat sets in, no topic is hotter than the debt ceiling.

Congress has voted to increase the debt limit more than 100 times since it was first established. How did this get started? Part of the answer is in these nearly century-old posters.

To raise money for the costs of World War I, the Federal Government began issuing war bonds. When the first round was not as successful as hoped, artists were commissioned to make more compelling posters, and famous actors encouraged citizens to buy them. Purchasing war bonds came to be seen as a patriotic duty, and several more sets were issued during the war.

With the passage of the Second Liberty Bond Act in 1917, the Department of the Treasury began issuing long-term bonds in order to minimize the government’s interest costs. As a means of managing these new obligations, the legislation enacted a statutory limit on federal debt.

Legislation passed over the next two decades created similar limits for other types of government-issued debt, including the bills and the notes issued by the Treasury.

By 1939, Congress eliminated these separate limits and established one aggregate debt limit. The nation’s cumulative debt at the time was $40.4 billion, approximately 10% below the $45 billion limit.

The federal debt did not begin to rise exponentially until … [ 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 ]

A Submerged House: Ironclads and the Civil War

The USS Monitor was the Navy’s first ironclad vessel, but it was not the only one in Civil War waters.

The Virginia had started life in 1855 as the Merrimack, a Union ship that had been burned to the waterline, sunk, and abandoned in the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, VA. The Confederates raised what remained of the ship and used the hull to build the ironclad Viriginia.

On March 8, 1862, Virginia made its first combat sortie, as the ship headed through Hampton Roads and fired on the Union frigates Cumberland and Congress in an attempt to break the Union blockade at Hampton Roads. According to this New York Times article, the Virginia looked like “a submerged house” with “nothing protruding above the water but a flagstaff flying the rebel flag, and a short smokestack”

But when the Cumberland fired on the Virginia, the Confederate ship proved to be far tougher than an underwater home: “the latter opened on her with heavy guns, but the balls struck and glanced off, having no more effect than peas from a pop-gun.” The Virginia rammed the wooden frigate, which was no match for the ironclad boat, and also took out the Congress. Another Union ship was run aground.

The next morning, March 9, the Monitor arrived. The two ironclads fired on each other … [ Read all ]

Cloudy with a chance of records

Weather has been front-page news across the country for the last couple of weeks. Winter storms have left up to 50 inches of snow in places, and even in Dallas, TX, snow and ice made the Packers and Steelers feel right at home at the Super Bowl.

What’s the outlook for sunshine, snow, or rain in the future? The groundhog may have predicted an early spring, but for a more scientific forecast, we have the National Weather Service, whose birthday is today.

On February 9, 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing “meteorological Observations at the military Stations and other Points in the Interior of the Continent, and for giving Notice on the northern Lakes and Seaboard of the Approach and Force of Storms.”

In the National Archives you can find weather-related records in Records of the Weather Bureau (Record Group 27) and Records of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (Record Group 370).

So, Happy Birthday, Weather Service! Here’s hoping you can give us all good news soon.… [ Read all ]