Hidden Treasures in the National Archives

By Eleanor Rose| April 17, 2018

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An intern could easily spend an entire semester among the hidden treasures of The National Archives alone.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is our nation’s record keeper.

Only about 1-3% of the documents created as part of our federal government’s business operations are deemed important enough to preserve for legal or historical reasons. Still, the collection is massive, and these most valuable, preserved records are available to you. Who would want to miss a resource like that?

In 1934, the National Archives began to centralize U.S. Government records, previously maintained in their various departments. Below is a photo of files in the new National Archives Building, Nov. 22, 1939.

National-Archives-Circa-1940s

Why should interns care?

The National Archives museum houses billions of letters, photographs, video and audio recordings, drawings, maps, posters, treaties and a ton more. Everything preserved in the National Archives documents the stories of America’s history, as a nation and as a people. It’s a huge opportunity to enhance your internship experience while you’re here with us in D.C.

What can you expect from your National Archives visit?

The galleries are new and high-tech, with interactive features. There are rotating exhibits of historical records and presidential papers, public vaults with the Charters of Freedom, exhibits about American Presidents, and a permanent exhibit on civil rights throughout our nation’s history. You can even attend public programs, including film presentations, workshops and lectures.

Whether you’re interested in obtaining clues about your family’s history, looking to prove a veteran’s military service or are just researching a historical topic of interest, the Archives are another can’t miss experience that you absolutely must see while interning in D.C. The museum is filled with all sorts of exciting and even strange pieces that shape our past, present and future as Americans.

Here are just some of the most popular hidden treasures hidden in the National Archives that you’ll want to seek out during your visit:

  • Declaration of Independence, Constitution & Bill of Rights – View the original founding documents, known as the Charters of Freedom, of the United States written by the hands of the patriots who created and conceived our nation in liberty.
  • Magna Carta – A most treasured heirloom, the original copy of the Magna Carta from 1297 is housed in the Archives. The Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense during the Revolutionary War when colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen. Those rights were turned into the laws of the states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
  • Emancipation Proclamation – Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1st, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war is also held the archives. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
  • Ronald Reagan’s Speech – View President Ronald Reagan’s speech card from his remarks made in Berlin, Germany in June 1987 when the infamous Berlin Wall was still standing. The cards are shown with his own markups to indicate points of emphasis.
  • Child Labor Photographs – Photographs of child labor conditions at the turn of the 19th century can be seen in one of the galleries of the museum. Children did everything from selling newspapers to shucking oysters just to make a few pennies.
  • Warrant for Lee Harvey Oswald – The original arrest warrant for Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who was accused of assassinating President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas is also housed within the Archives.
  • The Zimmerman Telegram – Named for German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann, this telegram secretly offered U.S. lands to Mexico in exchange for Mexican support during World War I. This document is what ultimately helped convince the United States to enter the war in 1917.

There are so many incredible treasures, some wierd, to be discovered in the National Archives that you just have to see it to believe it! Here’s a few of the more onscure ones just to give you a taste!

  • An actual crane created by Sadako Sasaki. the book, 1000 Cranes, is the true story of the two-year-old, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima only to die of leukemia 10 years later.

Flight of a Sadako Crane

  • In the foreign documents section, RG242, lies Eva Braun’s diary and the last page of Hitler’s will.

https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2016/08/10/the-gems-of-record-group-242-foreign-records-seized/

  • Halloweeny kinds of things like a creepy creeping doll and a wall of heads!

https://narations.blogs.archives.gov/2013/10/25/weird-records-from-the-depths-of-the-archives/

  • Patent drawing for a cheese press, created in the same year Andrew Jackson was given a 1400 pound cheese wheel from a NY farmer.

https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2014/01/29/a-big-cheese-for-the-big-cheese-in-1837/

  • The press release from John Kennedy about why we need the space program and a current exhibition of documents related to JFK’s call to action to land a man on the moon.

https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2017/10/12/one-giant-leap-the-apollo-space-program-at-50/

  • An 1898 letter from Annie Oakley to President William McKinley offering 50 American lady sharpshooters to serve in the Spanish-American War. They would happily provide their own guns and ammo.

https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2018/03/13/annie-oakley-a-woman-to-be-reckoned-with/

  • Early documents for flying saucer designs found by Michael Rhodes among boxes and boxes of Air Force records. This research turned into a super popular article.

Flying Saucers, Popular Mechanics, and the National Archives

  • Executive orders 9066 and Civil Liberties Act of 1988, milestones in civil rights. Roosevelt and Reagan signed these 2 executive orders to further civil liberties.

On display: Executive Order 9066 and the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

So, be sure to plan your visit before you leave D.C., and get an up-close, in-person experience of all of the bits and pieces that have helped build, shape and define our American history. If you are researching pretty much any subject, the treasures of the National Archives are a wealth of information.

Learn more about how the African-American impacts a student’s perspective Museum here

To Visit:

700 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20408

Research Center Hours

Research room hours:M-F from 8:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Closed Saturday, Sundays, and Federal Holidays

Rotunda and Exhibit Hall Hours

10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Last admission is 30 minutes prior to closing.
(Closed Thanksgiving Day and December 25)

Admission Free

National Archives and Records Administration
Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, NW
Washington, DC.

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