National Archives and Records Administration

American Originals Exhibit

Part II

Here will be preserved all . . . the records that bind State to
State and the hearts of all our people in an indissoluble union.
--President Herbert Hoover, upon laying the cornerstone
of the National Archives Building, February 20, 1933

riginal documents are the raw stuff of history. They are physical links to the past. The original documents of the United States government—those that have been identified as having permanent value—are preserved and made available to the public by the National Archives and Records Administration.

American Originals presents some of the most treasured documents in the holdings of the National Archives. They have passed through the hands of George Washington, Helen Keller, Wyatt Earp, Napoleon, Rosa Parks, and John Hancock, connecting us physically to another moment in time. While some of the documents announce their own importance with a grand design, others quietly mark a revolution. All of them are physical connections to real people and events of the past and hold messages far beyond their words.

The documents on display are drawn from the nationwide holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration. They are housed not only in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., but also in the recently opened state-of-the-art facility in College Park, Maryland, and regional archives located throughout the United States. The Presidential papers and other historical materials of every President since Herbert Hoover are preserved in the nationwide Presidential Libraries System, which consists of 10 Presidential libraries and the Nixon Presidential Materials project. If stacked in a single pile, the nationwide holdings of the National Archives would stretch 378 miles.

This mountain of records captures the sweep of America's past: from the greatest event to the smallest detail, from peace treaties with foreign powers to doorknobs on federal buildings, from the Founding Fathers to space explorers, from the Monroe Doctrine to the Watergate tapes, from Yorktown to Saigon, from heroes to scoundrels, from Presidents to slaves.

American Originals presents a tiny sampling of records from the National Archives. It represents the larger historical record that documents our national life in all its complexity. While offering intimate contact with the past, it attests to the accountability of a government that lays itself open, through its records, to the scrutiny of present and future generations.


Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)

Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)

Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)

The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)

Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)

Contemporary United States (1968 to the present)

National Archives and Records Administration
Last updated: September 16, 1998