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The Big Move: From the White House to Our House

The National Archives takes a historical look at the transition of Presidential records into Presidential Libraries.

Ed. note: The following essay is cross-posted from the National Archives blog

For this year’s American Archives Month, we’ve decided to highlight a lesser known role the National Archives plays in promoting democracy: the transition of Presidential records into Presidential Libraries.

During the month we’ll be sharing stories from staff who have been involved with Presidential records moves.

Three forty-foot trailer trucks carrying President Dwight D. Eisenhower personal files and records
In 1961, three 40-foot trailer trucks left the National Archives in Washington, DC, headed for Abilene, KS, containing both the official and personal papers of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1/13/1961. (National Archives Identifier 12170067)

We’ll also highlight some of our 13 current libraries. 

After the President leaves office—at noon on January 20—the Archivist of the United States takes legal and physical custody of the President’s records.

Staff at the National Archives work closely with the White House to safely and efficiently move Presidential records (and Vice Presidential records and artifacts) from the outgoing administration to a temporary storage facility near the site of the future Presidential library.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s was the first to have a Presidential library.

In 1938 Roosevelt decided he wanted a library with all the records of his administration to be built with private funds. He also wanted it to be run by the National Archives.

Congress approved FDR’s plan, and his library opened in 1941.

Subsequent Presidents followed suit, on a voluntary basis, until the 1978 Presidential Records Act required that Presidential records are property of the U.S. Government.

Currently, as President Obama wraps up his second term, our staff is busy preparing his records for transfer to his forthcoming library in Chicago. His will be the 14th library in the Presidential Library system.

You can learn more about the process of moving Presidential records in this Prologue article. And read this blog post to learn more about the Presidential Records Act.

Moving van outside the White House on January 20, 1993.
Moving van outside the White House on January 20, 1993. (Clinton Presidential Library, National Archives).

Jessie Kratz is a Historian of the National Archives.