Press Release
Press Release · Tuesday, October 21, 1997

Press Release
October 21, 1997
Designs for Democracy: 200 Years of Drawings from the National Archives

Washington, DC. . . Over the course of its history, the United States government has prepared, commissioned, received or approved designs for millions of objects. These objects range in size from minuscule to mammoth, from chandelier lamps to expansion bridges. The design for each of these objects was created in response to a specific Federal policy or program and reflects the diversity and creativity that forms the core of the American character.

Nearly 100 of these drawings will be on display in "Designs for Democracy," a major exhibition in the Circular Gallery of the National Archives Building that opens to the public on March 13, 1998. The exhibition, which is free, will remain open through January 10, 1999. The National Archives and Records Administration is located on Constitution Avenue, between 7th and 9th Streets, NW.

These designs were originally created to support military objectives, provide civilian services and facilitate the conduct of government business. As a result, drawings can be found among NARA’s records of a great many Federal agencies. "Designs for Democracy" highlights some of the essential evidence representing 200 years of Federal design.

"Designs for Democracy" includes elegant watercolors, exquisite ink and wash drawings, bold charcoal and pencil sketches and finely executed engineering details that were created by professional artists, engineers, inventors, draftsmen or graphic artists -- a few were submitted by inspired citizens. While some bear the signature of a well-known designer, many the imprimatur of an approving Federal official, often they are unsigned and their creator remains unknown.

Highlights In the exhibition include:

Sketch of the Great Seal
By Francis Hopkinson, May 10, 1780
Pencil and ink on paper
Records of the Department of State
Although Francis Hopkinson’s 1780 design for the Great Seal of the United States was not accepted, several of its components were incorporated into the approved design of 1782. Hopkinson introduced the arrow and olive branch as symbols of war and peace. He also suggested the red, white and blue colors for the shield.

"Plans for the Arlington Memorial Bridge"
William Mitchell Kendall, architect, McKim, Mead, and White, for the Arlington Memorial Bridge Commission, 1923
Pencil, ink and wash on paper
Records of the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital
In 1922 the Memorial Bridge Commission selected William Mitchell Kendall’s design for a bridge which would link Washington, D.C., to Virginia’s Arlington Cemetery. Kendall’s design served not only as a memorial to Americans who had died in military service, but also as the symbolic reunification of North and South after the Civil War. This rendering measures 3 ½ feet by 11 feet, showing the bridge from two perspectives: one from the south side of the Lincoln Memorial looking across to the Custis-Lee Mansion; the other from mid-Potomac River.

Submarine Torpedo Boat
By John P. Holland, February 18, 1875
Ink on paper
Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance
In 1875 Irish American John H. Holland sent the U.S. Navy this design for an experimental 15 ½-foot long torpedo boat, designed to operate underwater. Although this design was rejected, Holland continued to improve his invention and on October 12, 1900, the U.S. Navy commissioned the first true submarine, the 64-foot U.S.S. Holland

Walt Disney Design for 114 Signal Intelligence Company
By an unknown artist, 1942
Gouache on card stock
Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917 -
During World War II, the Walt Disney Company assigned artists to design approximately 1,200 unit insignias for the armed forces. Disney gave unrestricted use of the insignias to the armed forces, but stipulated that any profit-making enterprises needed to be approved by the company. Other entertainment companies, notably Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Brothers, also donated insignia designs. This design is reminiscent of one of the characters in the 1934 cartoon The Grasshopper and the Ants.

"John Gorham’s Design for Spoons"
By John Gorham
Patent granted April 10, 1855
Watercolor and wash on paper
Records of the Patent and Trademark Office
John Gorham applied for a design patent for his pattern of decoration for a spoon. This type of patent is issued for artistic ornamentation of manufactured objects.

For black and white and color images of items in the exhibition may be obtained by calling the Public Affairs Staff.

For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or e-mail Susan Cooper at


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