History of FDR Library and Museum

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum was revolutionary for its time; never before did a U.S. president establish a library based on his personal effects acquired while in office. Presidents used to become the personal guardians of their administration’s documents and artifacts upon leaving office. Some presidents burned their papers. Other presidents kept them within the family or donated them to various museums (NARA, para. 3). But Franklin Roosevelt would change this tradition.

Why? In their article, “Roosevelt and His Library,” historians Cynthia Koch and Lynn Bassanese believe at least two key issues motivated Roosevelt: 1) he was a collector who was loath to throw anything away, and 2) he realized the incredible historical value his presidential belongings possessed (para. 8 and 9). So Franklin made history by trying to preserve history. He established the National Archives and Records Administration to oversee the construction of presidential libraries, and, ever since, every president after his administration has their own library.

“A Brief History of the Roosevelt Library”

Roosevelt took great care in establishing his library – even building the premises on his own estate in Hyde Park, New York (NARA, para. 1). Koch and Bassanese further describe acts that illustrate his great dedication: Roosevelt selected the architecture, gave directions on how his documents were to be stored, and ensured that enough space was permitted to showcase his naval collections and gifts received while president (being quite perceptive that people would be more interested in a museum than a library full of documents) (para. 3-5).

Once finished in 1941, Roosevelt would often work from his library when he was at his home in Hyde Park for breaks. Visiting foreign dignitaries would often get a personal tour from a very proud Roosevelt. He would even broadcast some his fireside chats from the library (Koch and Bassanese, para. 17). But because of his death during his fourth term, Roosevelt never had the opportunity to fully enjoy his library without the burdens of the presidency.

“The Roosevelt Library Today”

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum offers over 17 million documents and 44,000 books for scholars looking to do research on Roosevelt (Koch, para. 3). But for those not looking to do scholarly research, the topnotch museum serves as a great way to learn about the 32nd president. The permanent exhibits are divided into the stages of Roosevelt’s life.

First Fifty Years:

This exhibit includes items from Roosevelt’s youth, including school materials, baptismal gown, letters, and more. It also exhibits items from his marriage to Eleanor and his political career up until the presidency.

The White House Desk:

Visitors can see the authentic desk that Roosevelt used while in office, replete with replicas of his favorite cigarettes, reference books, and his other must-have materials.

The Presidential Years:

This exhibit covers all four terms of Roosevelt’s presidency. It includes campaign memorabilia, gifts given to the president, a look at the New Deal programs, and more. It also features an interactive exhibit that allows guest to make wartime decisions.

World War II: The Map Room:

We’ve all heard references to the presidential war room in popular media, but did you know that Roosevelt had the secret Map Room that only a handful of people could access? This multimedia exhibit includes a room that’s a replica of the Map Room in the White House.

FDR’s Ford:

Visitors can even get a glimpse of Roosevelt’s special Ford Phaeton, which was designed with hand levers so Roosevelt could drive.

The President’s Study:

This study is the actual office that Roosevelt used while giving some of his fireside chats in the library. He also frequently worked here. Visitors can see how the office was exactly furnished when Roosevelt occupied it.

Eleanor Roosevelt:

One exhibit is dedicated solely to Eleanor Roosevelt and her life, ranging from her childhood to her time as a U.N. delegate. Personal artifacts of hers are on display.

Resources Online:

Even if you can’t access the library physically, there are plenty of online exhibits if you want to learn more about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt found at this address: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/museum.html.

Sources:

Koch, Cynthia and Lynn Bassanese. “Roosevelt and his library.” Prologue Magazine 33.2 (Summer 2001): http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2001/summer/roosevelt-and-his-library-1.html

Koch, Cynthia. “Historical Matters in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. (Feb. 2003): http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/collec20.html

“Museum Exhibits.” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/mainga13.html

NARA. “A Brief History.” http://www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries/about/history.html