About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks at the CoSA Dinner

Rotunda, National Archives Building, Washington,DC
August 15, 2018


Welcome to my house!  Thought I would tell you a little about my house.

The architect, John Russell Pope, also designed the Jefferson Memorial.  Trained in Rome, hence Neo-Classical style.  He hoped the building would “harmonize with the Captiol, White House, Treasury Building, and the Lincoln Memorial.”

Ground breaking was 9 September 1931.

8,575 piles were driven into the unstable marsh (The Swamp!) and then a concrete bowl 21 feet deep was poured for the foundation.

The base of the building is made of granite and the walls and columns of Indiana limestone.

There are 72 columns each weighing 94 tons.  They were completed in sections and hoisted on top of earlier sections.  And the Corinthian capitals were carved in place.

Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone at 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue in 1933 just before he left office.

The two pediments measure 118 feet wide and 18 feet at the highest point.  The Constitution Avenue pediment is known as the “Recorder of the Archives” and was designed by James and Laura Fisher.  The Fishers were dog lovers and their dog is prominently present on Constitution Avenue.  The Pennsylvania Avenue pediment was designed by Adolph Alexander Weinman and is titled, “Destiny” and features horses and griffins.  The theme of this pediment is that the future of the nation will be determined by the knowledge of the past as recorded in the documents in the Archives.

The Dome of the Rotunda is 75 feet off the ground.

The doors on Constitution Avenue are the largest bronze doors in the world—that we know of.  They are 38 feet, 7 inches high, 11 inches thick, and each door weighs 6.5 tons.

The Rotunda is kept at a constant 68 degrees F and relative humidity of 45 percent.

Lighting is two foot candles. Sunny day natural light is more than 12,000 foot candles.

Total funds appropriated for the building in 1935—$8.5 million  (about $166 million in today’s dollars)

Rotunda murals painted by Barry Faulkner who was paid $36,000 and took two years to complete.

The monumental statues on each side of the building were chiseled by the Piccirrilli Brothers—the same family of carvers who did Patience and Fortitude at the New York Public Library.

On the Pennsylvania Avenue side Future with the inscription, “What is Past is Prologue” and Past with the inscription, “Study the Past.”  On the Constitution Avenue side, Heritage with the inscription “The Heritage of the Past is the Seed That Brings Forth the Harvest of the Future” and Guardianship with the inscription “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.”    

Three wonderful inspriational inscriptions are high up on the east and west sides of the building:

“The glory and romance of our history are here preserved in the chronicles of those who conceived and builded the structure of our nation.”

“This building holds in trust the records of our national life and symbolizes our faith in the permanency of our national institutions.”

“The ties that bind the lives of our people is one indissoluble union are perpetuated in the archives of our government and to their custody this building is dedicated.”  


The building was designed with a Rotunda to display the Charters of Freedom but the Declaration of Independence was in the custody of the Library of Congress and the Librarian refused to release the document.  It wasn’t until 1952 when President Truman got involved that the transfer took place.

Thanks to the great research of Sam Anthony I have two great records related to that transfer.

The Law Librarian at the University of Washington in 1927 wrote to the Chair of the Joint Committee on the Library to discourage the move.  In it he wrote:  “As a librarian I would advise this a very serious mistake, and as an individual I would like to register my protest against such a move with all due respect to the National Archives of our Nation.  The fact remains, that it is more like a museum, or a cemetery of National documents, rather than an institution of life and action.”

Despite his protest the transfer was accomplished.  In May 1952, the Librarian of Congress (Luther H. Evans) wrote to the Archivist of the United States (Wayne C. Grover) saying:

“I don’t know what history will say about our friendly collusion.  But I can tell you that I fee darned broadminded and just a wee bit righteous, something like a fell who gave up his gal to an ugly clumsy younger brother who wasn’t very good a finding gals of his own.

About the consummation of this business, I suppose that awaits your completion of the bridal chamber.  I am at your service, and the Senator is on your hands, white horse and all.”