archivist of the united states

Join me, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, for a Tumblr #AnswerTime!

On Friday, July 1, at 11 am ET / 8 am PT, I’ll be answering your questions here on @aotus:

Ask me a question!

About David S. Ferriero

David S. Ferriero was confirmed as 10th Archivist of the United States in November 2009. The National Archives and Records Administration is responsible for preserving and providing access to the records of the U.S. Government. NARA has 43 facilities across the country, including 13 Presidential Libraries, containing approximately 13 billion pages of textual records; 43 million photographs; miles and miles of film and video, and an ever increasing number of electronic records. Previously, Mr. Ferriero served as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the New York Public Libraries and held top library positions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Duke University. And he loves to make pancakes for the Archives Sleepover.

The Archivist of the United States posted this today after people freaked out that Michelle Obama reminded everyone that the White House was built by slaves. They then had the audacity to try downplay just how bad slavery was as a whole. 

Here you go. Primary source documentation. 


In case you wanted more, here is a receipt for the purchase of a slave who worked on the White House.


Have you ever wondered what happens in a museum after the building closes and the lights go out? Now’s your chance!

Join us for a special sleepover at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, and spend the night next to America’s most precious treasures: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

During the event kids ages 8-12 along with their adults will become superhero citizens, meet heroes from history, learn the power and responsibility of government and its citizens, sleep in the Rotunda near the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and make memories to last a lifetime.

Guests also will be treated to movies in the museum’s William G. McGowan Theater before turning in for the night, and will enjoy breakfast – with pancakes flipped by Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero! – and more activities the next morning. 

Register here! 


Ever wonder what happens in the National Archives when it’s closed to the public? The Racing Presidents of the Washington Nationals baseball team showed up at 6 am on Wednesday morning! They filmed a special opening sequence that will be shown at the Nats ballpark before the mascots’ famous race after the 4th inning. Our staff had a great time hosting them–and we can’t wait to see the video this summer!

Happy Constitution Day! 

It’s really hard to change the Constitution. Since it was ratified 227 years ago, it has been amended only 27 times, even though Congress has introduced over 11,000 amendment proposals. Article V of the Constitution states the rules for making amendments, and it sets a very high bar for changing our foundational document. The Founders purposefully made it hard, but not impossible, to amend the Constitution.

Article V states that an amendment must be proposed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress, and then it must also be ratified by three-quarters of the states. Amendments can also be proposed and ratified by conventions, but to date that has only happened once—for the ratification of the 21st Amendment that repealed Prohibition.

The Archivist of the United States, the head of the National Archives, is responsible for certifying that constitutional amendments have been properly ratified. The National Archives also holds other federal records relating to the creation and application of the amendments, including the enrolled version of each amendment.

Want to learn more? Our exhibit “Amending America” opens in 2016–stay tuned!


The National Archives’ Strategic Plan includes the bold initiative to digitize our analog records and make them available for online public access.

Our new digitization strategy outlines the many approaches we will use to achieve this goal, and I am proud share with you the results of some of our recent digitization work.

Recently digitized by staff in the National Archives Still Picture Branch, these stunning color photographs from the Battle of the Bulge were taken by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in St. Vith, Belgium. The photos depict the wreckage in St. Vith in the days after units of the 7th Armored Division liberated the town in January, 1945.

More photos from the Battle of the Bulge are featured on Today’s Document Tumblr, and you can read more about “The Bloodiest Battle” in Prologue Magazine.

The Archivist of the United States welcomed our millionth visitor of 2015 today!

Lily McCarragher of Iowa City, Iowa, is a rising 5th grader. She was accompanied by her parents, Joe and Laura, and brothers Jackson and Noah. She also mentioned that she had a great time with her class at theHerbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in Iowa.

Special thanks to the National Archives Foundation and the myArchivesStore for the goody bag!


Amending America: How do we amend the Constitution?

Our new exhibition, “Amending America,” opens on March 11, 2016.

2016​ ​marks the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, written in 1789 and ratified on December 15, 1791. The original Bill of Rights, on permanent display in the National Archives Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, is still closely connected to the biggest issues of today–and to each of our citizens.

Here is a sneak peak of a musical number explaining how we amend our Constitution.  This animated video was made in collaboration with HISTORY and shows the story of how we amend, through the proposal and ratification process. It also illustrates why our Founders made it possible to amend, and explains the important role of the Archivist of the United States in the amendment process!

Read the full post on the AOTUS blog.

A message from David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States:

It is with great sadness that I share the passing of Dr. Allen Weinstein, Ninth Archivist of the United States, who died yesterday.

Professor Weinstein was sworn in as Archivist on February 16, 2005. The National Archives saw many major accomplishments under Weinstein’s leadership, including:

An increase in the annual appropriated budget for the National Archives from $318.7 million for fiscal year 2005 to $411.1 million for fiscal year 2008;

  • Restoration of public trust through the declassification and release of interagency agreements, an audit of purported reclassification activity, the return of previously withdrawn materials to public access, and the implementation of stringent new procedures to stem withdrawal of previously declassified and released records;
  • Establishment of the National Declassification Initiative to begin to address the very serious challenges regarding the policies, procedures, structure, and resources needed to create a more responsive and reliable executive branch-wide declassification program, particularly with respect to referrals of classified equities between executive branch agencies;
  • Inclusion of the once-private Nixon library into the National Archives system of Presidential libraries;
  • Expanding public outreach of the National Archives, in partnership with the Foundation for the National Archives, through the creation of the Digital Vaults and the Boeing Learning Center;
  • Creating, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the “First Preservers” program which offers support and guidance to state archives and local records repositories to preserve vital records;
  • Continued growth of the Federal Records Center program.

Citing health reasons, Weinstein announced his resignation as Archivist in December 2008. Among numerous awards and fellowships, Weinstein has held two Senior Fulbright Lectureships; served as a Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the American Council of Learned Societies; and was a Commonwealth Fund Lecturer at the University of London.

In 1987, he delivered the Bicentennial Fourth of July Oration at Boston’s Faneuil Hall. Recognition for his international contributions include the United Nations Peace Medal in 1986; The Council of Europe’s Silver Medal in 1990 and 1996; and awards from the Presidents of Nicaragua and Romania for his efforts on behalf of democratization in those countries.

We offer our condolences to Professor Weinstein’s family and will forever remember with gratitude his dedication to the mission and employees of the National Archives.

What’s in Your Attic?

Recently I came across a story about an archives in a box of Corn Flakes. A woman in Tennessee had stored some 400 letters written by former German prisoners-of-war who had lived in camp near the state’s southern border. After the war was over, many of the POWs wrote to the people in the community, often addressing the Americans as family, such as “aunt” or “uncle,” asking for help, and sharing the stories of their lives.

The family donated the letters to Lipscomb University in Nashville, and through a small re-grant from the Tennessee Historical Records Advisory Board made possible through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), they are being transcribed, translated, and made available in digital form online. See the ABC News story here.

I am constantly surprised at what turns up from work supported by the National Archives through the NHPRC. Not just the small gems that turn up through the state boards, but large-scale projects as well—from the creation of municipal archives in cities like Boston, Seattle, and San Antonio to the publication of the papers of 16 U.S. Presidents on microfilm, print, and online editions. And it has enabled the National Archives to fund professional development for archives and historical editors and in research and development in electronic records management, Encoded Archival Description, and much more.

In turn, this investment helps historians write new histories—including several Pulitzer Prize books; teachers introduce primary source materials in the classroom; and family historians and local historical societies discover lost treasures.

Read the full post on the AOTUS blog.

Photo courtesy of Kristi Jones/Lipscomb University and ABC news 

Remembering Robin Chandler Duke

As the University Librarian at Duke one of my favorite duties was talking people into donating their personal collections to the University Library.  My staff had great intelligence about who we should go after to strengthen the collections, so I was always armed with rationale(s) for the fit at Duke.

The passing of Robin Chandler Duke on Saturday reminded of those encounters with donors.  Robin was the widow of Angier Biddle Duke, Chief of Protocol in the Kennedy White House and Ambassador to El Salvador, Spain, Denmark, and Morocco from the Truman through the Johnson Administrations.  And one of THE DUKES—the family of the founder of the university.

We already had the Ambassador’s personal papers in our holdings, so Robin’s were a logical quest.

I remember my first visit to her apartment at River House in New York City, sitting in her sunroom overlooking the East River. Grace, beauty, charm, wit, and intelligence are my memories of that first encounter.  She assumed, I think, that I was most interested in whatever of the Ambassador’s papers she still had, and was surprised about how much I knew about her own career.

Robin was a newspaper and television journalist, vice president for public relations at Pepsi-Cola, active in organizations supporting abortion rights and legal equality for women.  The best part of that first visit was seeing evidence of “documentation.”  She saved everything!  And her life and letters complemented her husband’s ambassadorial life, contributed to the burgeoning women’s studies collection, and her Pepsi years added to the strength of the one of the best advertising collections in the country.

Read the full post on the AOTUS blog.


Some might say the best part of sleeping over at the National Archives is snoozing the night away beneath the Constitution, but we know the best part is having the Archivist of the United States make you pancakes for breakfast!

Three times a year, kids and their parents can stay overnight at the National Archives. And the next morning, David S. Ferriero is there, taking a break from his job as head of the agency to flip pancakes for our guests.

We asked him to share his favorite recipe that he uses when he makes pancakes at home–and now you can make pancakes just like the Archivist!

The Archivist’s Pancakes

Yield: 30 pancakes—depending on size


2 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups milk
4 tbsp melted butter
2 large eggs


1.  Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt

2. Separately mix together milk, butter and eggs

3.  Add dry ingredients to wet and mix—don’t overmix

4.  Spoon or pour batter (amount dependent upon how big you want them) onto griddle or frying pan

5. Sprinkle on chocolate chips or berries and cook for a couple of minutes until underside is brown

6. Flip and cook another couple of minutes

All these shots of beautiful, clean, tidy #ArchivesShelfies made us grateful that the world has such dedicated archivists!

Before 1934, the Federal Government lacked a uniform manner to handle its records.

In 1934, Congress passed legislation creating the National Archives which also created the office of the Archivist of the United States. The new Archivist’s first step was to determine which of the older Federal records the Archives would accession (take legal and physical custody of).

In the early days, the process of collecting government records was anything but routine. It was first necessary to survey existing Federal records from all over the United States.

Archives staff in Washington, DC, surveyed 5,157,019 linear feet of documents. Of these, 40.61 percent were stored in areas exposed to hazards of fire; 43.89 percent were exposed to dirt; 8.9 percent were stored in the damp conditions; and 5.12 percent were infested with insects or vermin.

Overall, 55 percent of the records were kept in unsuitable storage conditions.

Particularly egregious was the condition of War Department files in the White House garage. Such conditions demonstrated the dire need for a National Archives!

You can read more here:

Photograph from the Records of the National Archives, RG 64


Our staff got into the spirit of #MuseumSelfie today!

Staff from the Lyndon B. John Presidential Library posed with their animatronic LBJ.

A bust of Roosevelt managed a #museumselfie with a little help from staff at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.
Alice Kamps, curator, posed in front of a special backdrop of the Rotunda in the Boeing Learning Lab. John Keller posed with Charlie Brown from the new exhibit at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Kim Coryat of the Clinton Presidential Library snapped this #museumselfie early this morning.  Tammy Williams squeezed in next to Truman at the Harry Truman Presidential Library. Education specialist Amber Kraft (left) posed with a copy of the Constitution and three education interns. The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, snuck behind the scenes of our upcoming exhibit “Spirited Republic” to snap a #museum selfie. Guillermina Tovar posed with the President and First Lady at the LBJ Library. Corinne Porter, curator, posed with a facsimile of her favorite document in front of a special backdrop.

The Archivist of the United Stated presented two facsimile documents to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales this afternoon. Prince Charles stopped by to see our original copy of the 1297 Magna Carta while attending a conference in our building on the 800th anniversary of this document.

At the National Archives, we sometimes give facsimiles of documents to special visitors, whether it’s the Prince of Wales or design maven Tim Gunn. In our vast holdings, we often find directly relating to them, or about them.

This 1957 telegram is in reference to the engine specifications of an American-built “midget car” for the 8-year-old prince. Staff were “anxious [to] get car ready before Prince Charles returns from school,” and although they had the car running, they needed to know what kind of gas should go in the engine!

Since we hold the records of the Patent and Trademark Office, we also presented him with a facsimile of a patent application. This patent for a polo stick was filed by his uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten on August 6, 1931.


The National Archives had a historic visit from HRH The Prince of Wales today! The prince saw the 1297 Magna Carta (left photo, with Archivist of the United States David Ferriero and A'lelia Bundles, President of the Foundation for the National Archives

He then went upstairs to the Rotunda and saw the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution​ (seen here) and the Bill of Rights.

The National Archives remained open during his visit, and our visitors were surprised and delighted to see him walking through the exhibit spaces in our museum!