Happy Birthday National Archives!

The National Archives turns the big 8-0 on June 19. You may have thought the Archives was older considering our country is almost 250 years old, but it wasn’t until 1934 that President Franklin Roosevelt signed the National Archives Act (48 Stat. 1122) creating the National Archives as an independent agency. What, you might ask, was happening to the records before the establishment of the Archives?

Our records go back farther than 1934. Fortunately, agencies were keeping records, but in myriad places and under varied storage conditions. In 1935 the first records started arriving at the Archives and haven’t stopped. In fact, we have so many records that there are now 40 facilities across the nation to house all of them!

“Photograph of State Department Records Being Received at Archives, 1936” (Local Identifier: 64-NA-69 / National Archives Identifier: 3493230) Part of “Historic Photograph File of National Archives Events and Personnel, 1935 – 1975? (Local Identifier: 64-NA / National Archives Identifier: 518146)

In 1949, the Archives lost their independent status and was moved under the General Services Administration (GSA) by President Harry Truman. Our name also changed to the National Archives and Records Service (NARS). (You can see an in-depth timeline of the history of the Archives here.)

So where did “NARA” come from? In the 1970s GSA started discussing changing to subject based arrangement of records without regard to the original creators or collectors. This may not sound like a big deal, but it goes against archival principles, like provenance or respect des fonds, and tends to get archivists riled up. Prior to the French Revolution archivists tended to group records along subject lines regardless of who created them or where they came from. After the Revolution this idea of respecting the original groupings of records grew and is now a universally accepted principle of archival management. National Archives employees concerned about the deviation from this principle created a group to fight this in 1980 and on October 19, 1984 the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was established as an independent agency once again.

While we’ve been through several iterations, we celebrate June 19, so come visit and say “hello”! Check out the videos below about the National Archives through the years…

…including this one produced by the United States Air Force.

Your National Archives (Local Identifier: 64-GENERAL-10 / National Archives Identifier: 12065)

“Photograph of Constitution Avenue Entrance, 1935”  (Local Identifier: 64-NA-1 / National Archives Identifier: 3493226)

This next video documents the dedication of the National Archives at College Park, often referred to as Archives II. It was built after the iconic National Archives facility in Washington, DC (pictured above) ran out of storage space. Archives II is where you can do research on our audiovisual holdings.

Archives II Dedication Ceremony, 05/12/1994 (Local Identifier: 64-GENERAL-47 / National Archives Identifier: 12072)

This newsreel shows a variety of record types held at the National Archives and preservation techniques used in the 1940s.

The Archives, 1940 (Local Identifier: COL-COL-122 / National Archives Identifier: 89855)

2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday National Archives!

  1. Dear all at NARA,
    my best wishes to the anniversary. You’re doing a great job for historical science and (in my case) for media companies.

  2. Laurel, great post. Fascinating to see our forebears working in the building; that’s Carl L. Gregory putting the film cans in the drawers!

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