President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) established the first presidential library. During the second of his four terms in office, he surveyed the many papers generated by his administration, found that many documents from previous administrations had been lost, sold, or ruined by improper storage, because the heirs of presidents were free to what they wished with those documents.
Only a fraction of the documents found their way to the Library of Congress. On the advice of historians, F.D.R. determined he would found a public repository for his administration’s papers.
On July 18, 1939, Congress accepted F.D.R.’s offer of sixteen acres of the Springwood estate he had inherited from his father (and expanded) in Hyde Park, New York for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library (53 Stat. 1062-65). The U.S. National Archives & Records Administration (N.A.R.A.) administers the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum.
F.D.R. had himself signed the legislation in 1934 that authorized the creation of the U.S. National Archives and had appointed Dr. R.D.W. Connor as the first Archivist of the United States. In 1949, Dr. Connor recounted that when he had met President Roosevelt, Roosevelt had said to him of the National Archives, “You know, it’s my baby.”
In 1939, F.D.R. donated private and public papers, photographs, audio and visual recordings, books, periodicals, and memorabilia to the U.S. Government. Some of his friends founded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Foundation, a non-profit corporation to raise funds to build the facility, which opened in 1941.
During his presidential administration, F.D.R. received approximately 4,000 letters per day from the public. F.D.R. laid the cornerstone for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum on November 19, 1939.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum opened in 1941, during the third of his four presidential office terms. It was dedicated June 30, 1941.
Nearly 2,000 friends, relatives, political associates, and Hudson Valley residents attended the dedication ceremony held in front of the facility.
According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library & Museum, “Originally, the museum was more of a showcase for various collections. There was a gallery devoted to Roosevelt’s model ship collection and a room full of ‘oddities,’ gifts given to FDR and Eleanor during his time in office. The main gallery held an exhibit of artwork created through the WPA Art program, while the basement held a display of stagecoaches, on loan for the exhibit, and an iceboat similar to one used by Roosevelt as a child.”
F.D.R. had not intended to die in office and had planned to spend time at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library & Museum sorting through documents and artifacts. He would have prepared the books, letters, memos, etc. before researchers read them at the F.D.R. Presidential Library and artifacts before visitors saw them at the F.D.R. Presidential Museum.
After his death on April 12, 1945, this task fell to Harry L. Hopkins (1890-1946), Samuel I. Rosenman (1896-1973), and Grace Tully (1900-1948). Hopkins, though, died less than eleven months after Roosevelt. Consequently, Mr. Rosenman, Ms. Tully, and Library Director Fred W. Shipman continued the task with the assistance of F.D.R. Presidential Library staff members.
Researchers gained access to documents after the committee processed them. One of the first collections to be processed was F.D.R.’s professional and personal papers from his years as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, between 1913 and 1920. The first search card was issued in June of 1946.
The recipient was Martin P. Clausen, a historian from Alexandria, Virginia in the employ of the U.S. Army Air Forces (now the U.S. Air Force).
A U.S. Senate committee filed a lawsuit against the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library for the right to examine all of F.D.R.’s papers. Director Shipman and the other two committee members, as well as F.D.R.’s successor, President Harry S. Truman, asserted that the public could not have access to the collection until after Shipman’s committee had been able to peruse each document to ascertain if it had sensitive information.
After nearly three years in the legal system, a court ruled that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library’s collections were property of the U.S. Government, and authorized the trio of Director Shipman, Mr. Rosenman, and Ms. Tully to decide if some papers had information that was too sensitive to share with the public. According to the F.D.R.P.L.M., “Information was considered sensitive if it would give away government secrets or if it would embarrass people who were still living. Members of the US Senate, however, believed the collection held vital information for their investigations into both Arabian oil deals and WWII contracts.”
The U.S. Senate committee was eventually able to examine most of the papers, but the committee investigators found nothing relevant to its investigations. The trio were able to process 85% of the collection by 1950. The public finally gained access to those materials on March 17, 1950.
Although the F.D.R. Presidential Library & Museum in the N.A.R.A. system, there are also presidential libraries operated by organizations other than the U.S. Government, the eldest of which predates the F.D.R. Presidential Library & Museum. The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio, is operated by the Ohio Historical Society and the Hayes Foundation, the Hayes family having set aside their estate, Spiegel Grove, for the purpose of housing the Hayes Library in 1911.
It opened in 1916 with holdings that included his 12,000-volume personal library and his professional papers from his days as an army officer during the Civil War and a politician. Major General Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893) represented Ohio in Congress, served as Governor of Ohio, and won a disputed election as President of the United States in 1876.
The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, which opened to the public on Friday, September 27, 2013, is housed in a 45,000-square-foot facility on the grounds of the president’s Mount Vernon estate – now George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens – which has been owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association since 1858. The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington is a repository of Washington’s books, correspondence, and papers. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association is also calling it George Washington’s Presidential Library.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum is part of the state government under the umbrella of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and is funded in part privately through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. It began as the Illinois State Historical Library, which the Illinois General Assembly established in 1889 as a repository for the state’s political, social, and religious history. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library opened in 2004 and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum was dedicated on April 19, 2005, in a ceremony attended by President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, future president and then U.S. Senator Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.
 Harry Lloyd Hopkins (1890-1946) had headed the Temporary Emergency Relief Agency for F.D.R. when the latter was Governor of New York. F.D.R. subsequently brought him to Washington, D.C. in 1933 to head Federal Emergency Relief Administration (F.E.R.A.), the Civil Works Administration (C.W.A.) in 1933-34, and the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.). Hopkins served as U.S. Secretary of Commerce from December of 1938 to September of 1940. Hopkins was one of F.D.R.’s closest advisors and lived at the White House during much of World War II, from May of 1940 to December of 1943. F.D.R. used him as an emissary to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965). Both F.D.R. and his successor, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972), used him as an emissary to Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin (1878-1953). [The latter’s official titles were General Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Community Party of the Soviet Union, Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and People’s Commissar of Defense.] Hopkins supervised the Lend-Lease Program, under which the U.S. shipped supplies to the U.K., Free France, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, and other allies in the war against the Axis Powers. He closely supervised the shipment of supplies to the U.K., the Republic of China, and, after Nazi Germany broke its treaty with the Soviet Union (that called for both states to invade and divide Poland), the Soviet Union. Samuel I. Rosenman (1896-1973) was a presidential advisor and speechwriter for Roosevelt and Truman. He was the first Special Counsel (now called White House Counsel). Grace Tully (1900-1948) was an active Democratic Party member who went from being secretary to Patrick Cardinal Hayes (1867-1938), Archbishop of New York (1919-1938) to working for the Democratic National Committee, which assigned her to work for Eleanor Roosevelt at a time when Mrs. Roosevelt was helping to organize support for New York Governor Al Smith (1873-1944), who was the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 1928. [Al Smith, like Ms. Tully, was a Roman Catholic. His candidacy both galvanized Catholic voters who rallied around him on the one hand and Protestants (especially Lutherans and Southern Baptists) who harbored anti-Catholic views and supporters of Prohibition on the other hand. The Republican candidate Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) won in a landslide.] Ms. Tully joined the staff of F.D.R. later in 1928 when he became the New York Democratic Party’s gubernatorial candidate. She became the assistant to his personal secretary, Marguerite Alice (“Missy”) LeHand (1898-1944). [Like Al Smith and Grace Tully, she was a Catholic.] Ms. Tully frequently accompanied F.D.R. when he went to Springwood, Shangri-La (the presidential retreat now called Camp David), and the Little White House (F.D.R.’s private residence in Warm Springs, Georgia). When Missy LeHand suffered a stroke in 1941, Grace Tully succeeded her as F.D.R.’s private secretary. Unlike Ms. LeHand, Ms. Tully was never rumored to be his mistress. She was with him when he died at the Little White House. She subsequently became executive Secretary of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Foundation. In 1955, she went to work for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, where she worked with Senate Majority Leader (and future President of the United States) Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973). She remained with the Senate Democratic Policy Committee until her retirement in 1965.