When did the President’s Home become the “White House”?

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

During the nineteenth century, the residence of the President of the United States was routinely referred to as the “Executive Mansion.”  President Theodore Roosevelt changed that in 1901.  On October 17 of that year, George B. Cortelyou, Secretary to the President, sent the following note to Secretary of State John Hay.  Presumably, a similar missive went to the heads of all other agencies.  The note bears the black mourning border in the wake of President William McKinley’s death on September 14 after being shot by an assassin on September 8. Continue reading

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Receiving Notification of President Kennedy’s Shooting: November 1963

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

On November 22, 1963, Secretary of State Dean Rusk was aboard a U.S. Air Force plane over the Pacific Ocean.  He was leading a delegation of Cabinet officials to Japan to meet with their Japanese counterparts.  Accompanying the Secretary of State were Secretary of the Treasury Douglas Dillon, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman, Secretary of Commerce Luther Hodges, and Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz.  About an hour-and-a-half after a stop at Hickam Field in Hawaii for fuel, word came of the shooting of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.  The following near-contemporary document provide a matter-of-fact account of the events on board the aircraft.

VC-137.86972.1VC-137.86972.2

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Chronology of Event Aboard AF (VC-137) #86972

Secretary of State Rusk later described the somber mood on the airplane and concerns relating to the assassination in his memoir As I Saw It (1990).  Under Secretary of State George Ball gave his account in his The Past Has Another Pattern: Memoirs (1982).


Source: Chronology of Events Aboard AF (VC-137) #86972, undated, file “The White House,” Records of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs: Subject Files, 1961-1965 (NAID 624719), Entry A1-5226, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

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The Process: Moving RG 365 and 366 Records from Archives II to Archives I

Today’s post was written by Amanda Landis and Ken Roussey, Archives Technicians in Textual Accessioning at the National Archives at College Park.

In the fall of 2016, the Textual Accessioning Branch at National Archives, College Park transferred the Treasury Department Collection of Confederate Records (RG 365) and the Civil War Special Agencies of the Treasury Department (RG 366) to National Archives, Washington DC, reuniting them with related Civil War records in our collection.

The records, totaling 1800 assets, consisted of various ledgers, minute books, correspondence, inventories of seized property, and cancelled checks. While some of the records were contained in archival Hollinger boxes, the majority were leather-bound volumes from the mid-to-late 1800s.

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Winston Churchill Goes to Gettysburg, 1932

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

In addition to being a politician and government official, Winston Churchill was an avid writer.  He wrote for newspapers and magazines, as well as books of biography, history, travel, and autobiography and memoir.  Indeed, the payment he received for his various writings was his primary source of income.  His final major work of history was the four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956-1958).  A portion of volume four of that opus was separately published as The American Civil WarContinue reading

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Preparing for the release of “On the Beach”

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

In 1959, United Artists released the major motion picture On the Beach, based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Nevil Shute.  Both the book and the movie depict a post-apocalyptic world resulting from a nuclear war.  As the first major movie about nuclear conflict, it threatened to stir up international sentiment against war and nuclear weapons.

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On the Beach (1959) (c) United Artists

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Concrete and Canyons: Senator Robert Kennedy’s 1967 Family Vacation

Today’s post is written by Cody White, Archivist at the National Archives at Denver.

Nearly 50 years ago on June 29, 1967 an airplane landed at Hall’s Crossing near the upper end of Utah’s Lake Powell. On hand to meet the plane was San Juan County Commissioner Calvin Black who presented two Navajo blankets to the distinguished guests who disembarked, Utah Senator Frank Moss and New York Senator Robert Kennedy.

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Senator Moss and Senator Kennedy being greeted at the Hall’s Crossing Airstrip.

After the presentation, Moss led his large party of guests including Senator Kennedy and his wife Ethel, seven of their 11 children, and Eunice Shriver along with several of her children on a tour of Lake Powell, taking in Rainbow Bridge National Monument and Glen Canyon Dam before the Kennedy’s continued on a four day, 90 mile raft trip to Phantom Ranch at the base of the Grand Canyon. This family vacation, by virtue of Kennedy’s status and the locale, can today be relived within the records held by the National Archives at Denver.

To preface the trip, let’s go back nearly 120 years ago. Rainbow Bridge, a 290 foot tall, 275 feet wide rock span that neighboring Indian tribes had long considered sacred, was designated a National Monument in 1910 by President Taft but was remote enough that only hardy travelers made the trek, including former President Teddy Roosevelt shortly after the dedication. That would all begin to change in the 1950’s when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation became involved in the area.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was established in 1902 and is the federal agency responsible for the massive water management projects, including the famous Hoover Dam, that dot the western United States. Outside some specialized holdings such as films, electronic files, still pictures, and oversized maps held at the National Archives at College Park, the entirety of Record Group 115, Records of the Bureau of Reclamation, are held here at the National Archives in Denver and this is where the photographs detailing the Kennedy family’s trip can be found. Continue reading

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World War I Foreign Policy Records, Part III: The American Commission to Negotiate Peace

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

April 6, 2017 marks the centennial of United States entry into World War I. As part of its commemoration of that event, the National Archives and Records Administration has digitized and put online three sets of records constituting the most important files relating to the foreign policy aspects of the war and the subsequent peace conference. Those records consist of the so-called “World War I file” of the Department of State, the reports and studies of The Inquiry, and the central file of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.

This third, and last, part describes records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.

The American Commission to Negotiate Peace, headed by President Woodrow Wilson, represented the United States at the peace conference in Paris at the end of World War I. The records of the Commission were deposited in the U.S. embassy in Paris at the end of the proceedings. They were eventually packed up in about 100 packing cases and sent to the Department of State for preservation. They now form the larger part of Record Group 256: Records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.

Some of the records had been arranged according to an ad hoc modification of the filing system used by American diplomatic and consular posts but others were unarranged and in a chaotic state. Because of the lack of organization, in the early 1930s, the Department undertook a comprehensive effort to reorganize and index the records. In doing so, the Peace Conference Section of the Division of Communications and Records followed the filing system used for the Department of State’s central record keeping system of the time. Those records were arranged in nine subject classes according to a pre-determined decimal subject classification scheme using a system of country numbers and subject numbers to create a file number. The subject classes found in the Commission records are:

Class 0: General. Miscellaneous

Class 1: Administration

Class 3: Protection of Interests

Class 4: Claims

Class 5: International Congresses and Conferences

Class 6: Commerce

Class 7: Political Relations of State

Class 8: Internal Affairs of States (This class is further divided into file categories on political affairs; public order, safety, health, and works; military affairs; naval affairs; social matters; economic matters; industrial matters; communication and transportation; navigation; and other internal affairs.)

To provide for the unique documentation and subjects dealt with at the peace conference, the Peace Conference Section staff established numerous new file categories in Class 1. The broad outline of the subjects of those files is:

  • Principal Councils and Conferences
  • Committees and Commissions
  • Organization and Functions
  • National Delegations [other than U.S.]
  • American Delegation
  • Questions Considered by the Conference

In general, the files of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace include minutes and reports of the various committees, councils, commissions, field missions, and plenary sessions; telegrams and dispatches between the Department and the Commission; minutes of meeting of the post-treaty Conference of Ambassadors; and memorandums, publications, pamphlets, and other materials. Also in the files are many documents not related to the work and activities of the Commission. President Wilson and Secretary of State Robert Lansing continued to handle many issues relating to other aspects of U.S. foreign relations while at the conference and documents reflecting those activities were filed with those of the Commission.

The following is a document and enclosure from the files.  “Nguyen Ai Quac” is an earlier alias used by Ho Chi Minh:

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Click the image to see an English translation.

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Nguyen Ai Quac to Secretary of State of the United States, Letter with enclosure, June 18, 1919, file 851G.00/1, General Records, RG 256: Records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.

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World War I Foreign Policy Records, Part II: The Inquiry

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

April 6, 2017 marks the centennial of United States entry into World War I. As part of its commemoration of that event, the National Archives and Records Administration has digitized and put online three sets of records constituting the most important files relating to the foreign policy aspects of the war and the subsequent peace conference. Those records consist of the so-called “World War I file” of the Department of State, the reports and studies of The Inquiry, and the central file of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.

This second part, of three, describes records from The Inquiry.

The U.S. government began preparing for the postwar settlement soon after its entry into the war in April 1917. In the fall of that year, President Woodrow Wilson directed the organization of a group of experts to collect and analyze data on the geographical, ethnological, historical, economic, and political problems of those areas likely to be the subject of the peace negotiations. This staff became known as “The Inquiry.” Most of the experts were lawyers, geographers, political scientists, and historians from American colleges and universities and learned societies. The Inquiry ceased as an independent organization in December 1918. After that, it was absorbed into the Division of Territorial, Economic, and Political Intelligence of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace which represented the United States at the peace conference in Paris. In many ways, The Inquiry was the forerunner to the famed Research and Analysis Branch of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. The records of The Inquiry are now part of Record Group 256: Records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.

Perhaps the most important records created by The Inquiry are the formal “Inquiry Documents.” President Wilson relied on those reports and studies for background information and used them when drafting the territorial propositions in his Fourteen Points and later used some of their suggestions in developing the peace treaties. Each of the documents was stamped “Inquiry Document” and given a sequential number.

Cover page of Inquiry Document 887:

ACNP.Inquiry.887

Inquiry Document 887, December 22, 1917, “Inquiry Documents” (Special Reports and Studies), Entry 4, RG 256: Records of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.

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World War I Foreign Policy Records, Part I: The Department of State

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

April 6, 2017 marks the centennial of United States entry into World War I. As part of its commemoration of that event, the National Archives and Records Administration has digitized and put online three sets of records constituting the most important files relating to the foreign policy aspects of the war and the subsequent peace conference. Those records consist of the so-called “World War I file” of the Department of State, the reports and studies of The Inquiry, and the central file of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace.

This first part, of three, describes relevant records from the central files of the Department of State.

The Department’s primary files on World War I and its termination are found in file “763.72” and its subfiles. That is the file on political relations between Austria (country number “63”) and Serbia (country number “72”), the initial belligerents in the war. As the war expanded, the Department continued filing documents under that file number and it became known as “the World War I file.” The records are from the Central Decimal File, part of Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State.

The World War I file was initially made widely available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M367: Records of the Department of State Relating to World War I and Its Termination, 1914-1929. They can now be reached online from here. The online arrangement matches the microfilm publication (see below).

The following document is the Department of State’s notification to American diplomatic posts that a state of war existed between the United States and Germany:

763.72[3697a.ONLINE

Department of State to All Diplomatic Missions except Petrograd, Telegram, April 6, 1917, File 763.72/3697a, 1910-1929 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, U.S. National Archives.

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What Women Use: Cosmetics, Hygiene Products, and Medicines

Today’s post was written by Laney Stevenson, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve gathered together some registered patent labels of beauty products created for and used by women, including cosmetics, hygiene products, and medicines, dating from 1878 to 1937. All of the labels are from Record Group 241, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, Case Files for Registered Product Labels, 1874-1940 (NAID 563415). These patent labels have been digitized and will soon be available in the National Archives Catalog.

Thomson’s Torso Corset and Thomson’s Unbreakable Corset Steels, 1878 – Corsets were one of the earliest mass-produced products for women and in the Victorian era were used to emphasize the hourglass silhouette that was in fashion. The corsets of the mid to late 19th century were stiffened with bone or steel and tightly laced in order to shape the body and create the desired narrow waist.

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Flowers of Petroleum, 1878 – This unique patent label featured a folding flap which opened to reveal a woman before and after using the product, which is described as “a beautifier of the hair” and “the only hope for the bald and gray.” Continue reading

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