FDR's "Act of Faith"
"It seems to me that the dedication of a library is in itself an act of faith."
- Franklin Roosevelt, Remarks at the Dedication of the Franklin Roosevelt Library, June 30, 1941
On June 30, 1941, a crowd gathered on the lawn in front of this building. They had come to witness the dedication of America's first "Presidential library." As FDR looked out at the group assembled on that warm summer day, he observed they had gathered "at a moment when government of the people by themselves is being attacked everywhere." Indeed, as he spoke, totalitarian nations were threatening freedom in Europe and Asia. The dedication of his Library, Roosevelt affirmed, was "an act of faith" that demonstrated "our confidence in the future of democracy...will not diminish."
Creating the FDR Library
Before FDR, Presidential papers were often lost to history. Presidents routinely took their papers with them when they left office. Some destroyed them; others scattered them haphazardly, making research difficult if not impossible. In the twentieth-century, the families of some presidents began donating their papers to the Library of Congress. But by then many Presidential papers had disappeared: given away as souvenirs, destroyed, lost in family attics, and sold to autograph collectors.
A collector and student of history, Roosevelt was determined to change this. He devised a plan that revolutionized the way Presidential history is preserved and interpreted. He raised private funds to build a library on his estate to house his papers and display his eclectic personal collections. Then, he presented the library to the nation as a gift. In 1943, FDR donated his Springwood home to the country, on the condition that his family be able to use it after his death. It was transferred to the Department of the Interior in 1945 after the family relinquished their lifetime rights.
America's Presidential Libraries
The Roosevelt Library inspired a growing system of Presidential libraries. Subsequent presidents embraced FDR's model of a public facility - built with private funds - to preserve their papers, books, and memorabilia.
Every president since FDR has built a Presidential library, and Herbert Hoover subsequently created one for his records. Today, there are over a dozen libraries in a system operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. Their records are open to the public and used by thousands of researchers each year.
In 1978, the Presidential Records Act established that Presidential papers would be the property of the nation, starting with the president elected in 1980.