Design For Democracy :  200 Years of Drawings from the National Archives
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Science and Technology
Artistic Expression

The designs that you are about to see demonstrate the creativity and ingenuity of the American people and their government as they worked to build this country. Among the drawings on display, you can find ideas for symbols, improvements, achievements in science and technology, and artistic expressions; however, many of the items in the exhibit will fall into more.

Federal Designs: Symbolism
Symbols are an important part of America`s design heritage. They establish and reinforce the national identity and patriotism. In some cases, American symbols are based on recognized associations. The ideals of Greek democracy, the power of Imperial Rome, or the refinements of European fashion frequently are reflected in Federal designs. At other times and for other purposes, designers created icons using images unique to this new country, to this new form of government, and to America`s aspirations to world power. They created a visual vocabulary based on New World flora and fauna, Native American related images, depictions of America`s creative energy, and views of the nation`s dramatic landscape. This combination of influences has resulted in designs for flags, seals, shields, and other emblematic devices, as well as memorials that commemorate the heroic figures and events of the American past.

Sketch of the Great Seal of the United States
Sketch of the Great Seal of the United States

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Federal Designs: Improvements
As the new country grew, the Federal Government continued to build. The nation`s security demanded forts, warships, and weapons. Civilian needs required post offices, customhouses, and courthouses. The Government also sponsored projects to aid commerce, communication, and settlement of the vast American interior. Many Federal agencies produced designs and several, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Department of the Treasury, the Bureau of Ships, and the Public Buildings Service, were established for the purpose of obtaining designs and supervising construction projects for the Government. Sometimes, even when localities, states, or the private sector designed the improvements, drawings found their way into agency files and eventually into the National Archives.

Tentative Sketch of the Clock Tower Complex, including Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan Halls, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
Tentative Sketch of the Click tower Compex, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

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Federal Designs: Science and Technology
Scientific and engineering drawings are a visual record of American technological progress, both civilian and military. Patent drawings reflect the Federal Government`s continuing responsibility to promote "the Progress of Science and the Useful Arts," by protecting the rights of inventors, as stated in the Constitution of the United States. Until 1877 patent applicants routinely submitted drawings of their inventions with their application. The National Archives holds over 126,000 patent drawings and hundreds of thousands of engineering drawings.

"Standard Plan Parachute General Arrangement and Details"
Standard Plan Parachute General Arrangement and Details

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Federal Designs: Artistic Expressions
Utility was the driving force behind most Federal design drawings, but many of the drawings shown here can be appreciated as works of art. This was especially true of the late 19th century and early 20th century when the Government employed or commissioned some of the nation`s most prestigious architects and delineators to create beautiful renderings of buildings, ships, bridges, uniforms, and memorials. The holdings of the National Archives also include a wide variety of original graphic designs for such things as posters, flags, costumes, uniforms, and even theatrical sets.

Untitled poster design
untitled poster design

Citation for left side image:
Sketch of the Great Seal of the United States
By Francis Hopkinson, May 10, 1780
Pencil and ink on paper
7 3/8 " x 6 3/8 "
National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention

Tentative Sketch of the Clock Tower Complex, including Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan Halls, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
By Maj. Gen. J. Franklin Bell, February 1908
Ink and wash on paper 46" x 46"
National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers

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