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veying water." Beyond ordering investigations into the causes of these fires and the extent of the damage to the records, Congress took no immediate action to remedy the situation.
The Archives Act of 1810.—The first step toward improving the condition of the archives was taken when Josiah Quincy, of Massachusetts, on February 21, 1810, moved in the House of Representatives the appointment of a committee "to inquire into the state of the ancient public records and archives of the United States, with authority to consider whether any, and what, provision be necessary for a more safe and orderly preservation of them, with leave to report by bill, or otherwise. In its report, dated March 27, 1810, the committee declared that in its investigation it found "all the public records and papers belonging to that period, antecedent to the adoption of the present constitution of the United States, in a state of great disorder and exposure; and in a situation neither safe nor convenient nor honorable to the nation." These records were stored in the garrets "of the public building west of the President's house”, where also were deposited “all the public records, recent, as well as ancient, of the state, war and navy departments." The committee was satisfied “that this building does not contain sufficient room for the general accommodation of those departments; nor can enable a safe and orderly disposition of the public records, so long as it is permitted to be occupied as it is at present." Upon its recommendation Congress passed an act, approved by the President on April 28, 1810, making an appropriation for the construction in the building west of the President's house of as many fireproof rooms as shall be sufficient for the convenient deposit of all the public papers and records of the United States, belonging to, or in the custody of the state, war or navy departments (2 Stat. L. 589). This act may quite appropriately be called our first National Archives Act.
Movement for a Hall of Records.—The act of 1810, however, did not solve the problem. During the next half century the Nation grew by leaps and bounds, its archives increased in proportion to the growth of the country, and as they increased in volume and in value the conditions under which they were kept became more and more precarious. Fires in 1814, 1833, 1877, and at other times, destroyed valuable public records. The danger from fire hazard is clearly shown by a report of the fire marshal of the District of Columbia, laid before Congress in 1915, which listed 250 fires that occurred between 1873 and 1915, inclusive, in Government buildings located in the District. Losses and destruction of archives were also caused by the frequent removal of records from one place to another, and by dampness, heat, and insects. Stamp collectors, autograph dealers, and thieves mutilated or purloined valuable documents. In one case an official of the Government sold to a junk dealer 400 tons of official records—he needed the space for his office force!
The conditions under which the archives were kept were frequently described by officials of the Government, who intermittently recommended remedial legislation. Following a destructive fire in the building of the Department of the Interior on September 24, 1877, President Hayes appointed a commission “to examine the several public buildings in this city and determine the nature and extent of
as a hall
their security against conflagrations and the measures to be taken to guard the buildings and their contents from destruction or damage by fire.”. In a special message to Congress of December 10, 1877, transmitting the report of this commission, the President said:
The records of the Government constitute a most valuable collection for the country, whether we consider their pecuniary value or their historical importance; and it becomes my duty to call your attention to the means suggested for securing these valuable archives, as well as the buildings in which they are stored. The commissioners have performed their duties intelligently and faithfully. Their recommendations are fully concurred in by me and commended to the favorable consideration of Congress.
In his Annual Message of 1878, and again in that of 1879, President Hayes returned to the subject to recommend to Congress a plan suggested by the Quartermaster General of the Army and approved by the Secretary of War for a cheap building of records perfectly fire-proof
to cost abont $200,000.
Congress, however, seems not to have been greatly impressed until fires that broke out in the War Department in December 1880 and in February 1881 brought the need of action more sharply to its attention. On February 10, 1881, accordingly, the Senate passed an archives bill, but the expiration of the Forty-sixth Congress, on March 3, prevented its consideration by the House. Between that date and 1912, 42 archives bills were introduced in one House or the other. These bills had the support of nearly every member of the Cabinet and of the several Presidents. President McKinley, in his Annual Message to Congress on December 3, 1900, summed up their views in the following statement:
I am very much impressed with the statement made by the heads of all the Departments of the urgent necessity of a hall of public records.
In every departmental building in Washington, so far as I am informed, the space for official records is not only exhausted, but the walls of rooms are lined with shelves, the middle floor space of many rooms is filled with file cases, and garrets and basements, which were never intended and are unfitted for their accommodation, are crowded with them. Aside from the inconvenience there is great danger, not only from fire, but from the weight of these records upon timbers not intended for their support. There should be a separate building especially designed for the purpose of receiving and preserving the annually accumulating archives of the several Executive Departments. * * I urgently recommend that the Congress take early action in this matter,
Despite the refusal of Congress to pass an archives bill, the movement had continuously gathered momentum. Congress frequently called for reports on the subject, and these reports, together with discussions of the problem, both within and without Congress, gradually enlarged the ideas of executive officials, of legislators, and of the general public as to the requirements of an adequate archives establishment for a great nation. In 1878 it seemed to the Secretary of War that these requirements would be met by “a cheap building to cost about $200,000” ; in 1898 the Secretary of the Treasury placed the cost of an archives building proportioned to the requirements of the Government at $1,200,000; and 2 years later he raised his estimate to $3,000,000.
These changes in the official conception of an adequate archives establishment, important as they were, related only to the size and character of the physical plant required to house the Nation's ar
chives. Even more important, if more slowly evolved, was the change that was gradually taking place in the conception of the functions of such an establishment. During the first 30 years of the movement, the proponents of a "Hall of Records” seemed to be thinking only of a building of the warehouse type, to be used primarily for storage purposes; never, so far as the records show, did it occur to any of them that another and equally important object of an archives establishment was the efficient administration of its collections for the service of the Government and of scholars.
The storage idea dominated the thinking of Government officials on the archival problem down to 1908. In that year the Council of the American Historical Association pointed out that the lack of provisions for the "orderly keeping of these public documents” made them "unavailable for historical work”, and appointed a committee of distinguished historians to call the attention of the President and of Congress to the importance that an archives establishment “would have for researches in American history." In 1910 the Association adopted the following resolution:
The American Historical Association, concerned for the preservation of the records of the National Government as muniments of our national advancement and as material which historians must use in order to ascertain the truth, and aware that the records are in many cases now stored where they are in danger of destruction from fire and in places which are not adapted to their preservation, and where they are inaccessible for administrative and historical purposes, and knowing that many of the records of the Government have in the past been lost or destroyed because suitable provision for their care and preservation was not made, do respectfully petition the Congress of the United States to take such steps as may be necessary to erect in the city of Washingon a national archive depository, where the records of the Government may be concentrated, properly cared for, and preserved.
A memorial was accordingly prepared, presented to the Senate, and ordered to be printed. Other historical and patriotic societies joined actively in support of the movement.
The idea of service to Government officials and to scholars as a primary function of a national archives establishment gave a new slant to the movement and stimulated a livelier interest in the proposal than had been aroused by official representations, which through constant repetition had tended to become perfunctory.
The period of agitation was now drawing to a close. The year 1913 marked the turning but not the end of the road. In that year Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to have plans and specifications prepared for a fireproof national archives building to cost not over $1,500,000. These plans, however, were not to be completed until inspection should be made of the best modern national archives buildings in Europe and consultation had with the best European authorities on the construction and arrangement of such buildings (37 Stat. L. 884). The outbreak of the World War prevented the execution of this provision of the act, and in 1916 Congress authorized the preparation of the plans "without such inspection and consultation in Europe” (39 Stat. L. 241). But then came the entrance of the United States into the war, and another decade of delayed hopes followed, marked by an accumulation of Government records at a vastly accelerated rate, which drove executive officials almost to frenzy in vain efforts to find space for both their files and their office forces.
This situation, of course, increased the pressure on Congress for an archives building. In the meantime, in 1916, Congress had taken steps to provide more adequate quarters for the departments of the Government through a great public buildings program. Temporarily halted by the entrance of the United States into the World War, this program was revived and considerably expanded after the war. In his Budget Message of 1923, President Coolidge recommended to Congress “the enactment of legislation which will authorize a reasonable progressive building program to meet the needs of executive departments and establishments of the Government in the District of Columbia.” He repeated this recommendation in his Budget Message of 1924. In that of 1925, he more specifically urged upon Congress the construction of "additional federal buildings at the seat of government in order to adequately house and operate the business of the Government and protect its employees and records.”
This recommendation was carried into effect by the “Act to provide for the construction of certain public buildings, and for other purposes”, approved May 25, 1926 (44 Stat. L. 630-635). The Second Deficiency Act, approved July 3, 1926, contained an appropriation of $6,900,000 for a National Archives Building (44 Stat. L. 874). This sum was later increased to $8,750,000 (45 Stat. L. 1044). The Public Buildings Commission designated 'the National Archives Building was the third project in the triangle development.” The site selected is that portion of the Federal Triangle bounded on the north by Pennsylvania Avenue, on the east by Seventh Street, on the south by Constitution Avenue, and on the west by Ninth Street. Ground for the building was broken on September 9, 1931, and the cornerstone was laid by President Hoover on Monday, February 20, 1933.
THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES BUILDING
The construction of the National Archives Building, though not completed, had reached an advanced stage by the close of the year covered by this report. The following description of the building and of its sculptural and mural decoration was furnished by the office of the architect, John Russell Pope, of New York:
The building.–The importance of a building to contain the permanent records of the National Government, its conscquent associations with the great monuments of Washington, its unique and prominent site are considerations that dictate the design, style, and character of the building.
In relation to Constitution Avenue, the Archives Building will be centered on the cross axis of the Mall, established in the Washington Plan of 1901. In relation to Pennsylvania Avenue, the building will be a point of interest halfway between the Capitol and the Treasury Building.
The intersection of Indiana Avenue with Pennsylvania Avenue at Eighth Street forms a rectangular plaza, on which the north facade of the Archives Building will face. The center of this facade will also be the focal point of the Eighth Street vista from the Patent Office.
In effect, the Archives Building will be rectangular in form, with a colonnade in the Corinthian order, 52 feet high, on each of the four facades. The center of the colonnade on the Constitution Avenue side will be accented by a pediment and a portico eight columns in width and four columns in depth. The portico will be the entrance to the building from Constitution Avenue. There will be a similar portico, two columns in depth, to accent the colonnade above the entrance on the Pennsylvania Avenue facade.
The building is in classical style to harmonize with the Capitol, the White House, the Treasury Building, and the Lincoln Memorial. În keeping with the principle of expressing in the architecture the significance and safety of the various records to be deposited in the Archives Building, materials for the exterior were selected with permanence as the paramount consideration.
Regarding the interior treatment, the public Exhibition Hall, which is entered through the portico on Constitution Avenue, has been designed in monumental proportions in character with the exterior, with the aim always in mind that the general public is to gain from these features a proper realization of the significance and importance of the building itself as a complete record of the history of the National Government. The hall, which is planned for the display of documents of particular public interest, is semicircular in shape, and its ceiling is a half dome 75 feet above the floor. The decorations and materials of this hall will be in keeping with its purpose and character.
The portion of the building facing Pennsylvania Avenue is to be occupied by the administrative offices, of which there are seven floors. Included in this section is the public information room, which resembles in purpose and function the reference room of a large library. Adjoining it at either end are rooms planned to have a book capacity approximating forty thousand volumes of reference works.
Spaces for the handling of archival material, together with the various offices for the Archivist and his staff, are distributed throughout the upper floors of the administrative section. The large cataloging unit to take care of the segregation, recording, and indexing of all papers and records is also included in this section, as is the projecting room for the showing of motion pictures, which comprise a part of the records to be stored in the building.
The greater portion of the building consists of many tiers of modern-type file stacks, where the official documents of the Government that are to be retained will be permanently located in a carefully studied classification, which will provide ready access to the documents by historians, Government officials, and others.
The sculptural decorations.-In view of the classic spirit in which the design of the building was conceived, it was considered essential by the architect and the sculptors that allegory rather than realism be the means of conveying the significance of the sculptural decoration as described below.
The north and south pediments surmounting the eight-columned porticos on each of the main facades are 118 feet long, measured from end to end of the entablature. The area occupied by the sculptural decoration in these pediments is approximately 106 feet long, with a rise at the center of 18 feet. Very few larger pediments than these have been constructed either here or abroad. Two that come to mind are those on the New York County Court Building and the New York Stock Exchange Building.
The sculpture on the north or Pennsylvania Avenue pediment is the conception of Adolph Alexander Weinman, who has executed many important works of like nature. His description of the meaning and symbolism contained in this beautiful group of sculpture is as follows:
“The dominant central figure represents 'Destiny', flanked on either side by eagles mounted upon the fasces, the symbol of the strength that lies in unity. The eagles are used here as both the national symbol and that of 'Lofty Courage. The two-winged genii appearing above are the 'Bearers of the Fire of Patriotism. The whole of this central motif is crowned with a band of stars.
"At the left of this central group is the massive portrayal of a mounted husbandman accompanied by a female figure carrying the distaff and branches of olive and the palm, signifying both victory and peace. This group symbolizes "The Arts of Peace,'
"Opposite this, at the right of the central group, is shown a warrior mounted upon a powerful charger, accompanied by a warrior carrying the swords of vanquished enemies, the group being symbolic of The Arts of War.'
"Following this to the right, is shown a group of four figures, two philosophers in contemplation of a crowned skull and sword and a kneeling figure and child with the scroll of History. This group symbolizes "The Romance of History.'
"Opposite this, to the left, is shown a group of four figures, the savant, a female figure with the torch of enlightenment, a child carrying a garland of flowers, and a kneeling male figure with harp, singing 'The Song of Achievement.'