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Traveling Exhibit: "American Originals" Treasures from the National Archives

Note: All of the documents featured in "American Originals" are from the holdings of the National Archives. For prints, or for more information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Media Desk.


The National Archives Takes
"American Originals" on the Road

Washington, D.C. … The Louisiana Purchase. The Emancipation Proclamation. Thomas Edison's patent for the "Electric Lamp—" These documents represent milestones in American history, and all are part of "American Originals," a new traveling exhibition from the National Archives and Records Administration. This major exhibition is scheduled to travel to nine cities, bringing some of the rarely-seen treasures in the holdings of the National Archives to people across the nation.

"American Originals" is currently scheduled to travel to the following locations:

  • The New York Public Library, New York City, New York (Oct. 5, 2001-Jan. 5, 2002)
  • The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago, Illinois (Feb. 8-April 28, 2002)
  • Ohio Historical Center, Columbus, Ohio (May 24-Sept. 2, 2002)
  • Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Atlanta, Georgia (Sept. 27, 2002-Jan. 5, 2003)
  • Union Station Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri (Jan. 31-May 4, 2003)
  • Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas (May 31-Sept. 1, 2003)
  • Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles, California (Oct. 4, 2003-Jan. 4, 2004)
  • Museum of American Political Life, University of Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut (Jan. 30-May 9, 2004)
  • Delaware Art Museum at the Bank One Center on the Riverfront, Wilmington, Delaware (Sept. 2-Oct. 17, 2004)

"American Originals" showcases original documents that have charted the course of American history. The exhibition is drawn from the vast holdings of the National Archives, which preserves and makes available to the public those records of the United States government that have been identified as having permanent value. These original documents are the raw stuff of history. They are physical links to the past - pieces of history in its most unprocessed form. While some of the documents announce their own importance with flourished signatures and wax seals, others are deceptively routine in appearance. All of them have passed through the hands of the most notable figures in our nation's history, and hold messages beyond their words.

In conjunction with "American Originals," the National Archives will also share one of its greatest treasures with the American people by sending the original, signed Emancipation Proclamation to each of the eight sites. To ensure its preservation for future generations, this fragile landmark document will be on special display for four days at each venue.

Archivist of the United States John Carlin said, "'American Originals' gives us an invaluable opportunity to share our nation's rich historical resources with Americans around the country. The traveling exhibition is scheduled to coincide with an extensive renovation of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. When we reopen the Rotunda in 2003, the Charters of Freedom will be more accessible to all Americans and our renovated building will have better public areas to showcase our nation's documentary heritage."


Highlights of the Traveling Exhibit: "American Originals" Treasures from the National Archives

"American Originals" includes original documents that have charted the course of American history. This online press kit features images of the documents that will be traveling to every venue, as well as one document that is of unique regional interest to each venue. For preservation purposes, the pages of a particular document or the version of that document may vary from site to site. Click on the thumbnail images for a high-resolution image of the document. For prints, or for more information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Media Desk.

Core Documents
(These documents will travel to every site; due to conservation concerns, different pages will be on display at different sites.)

Other Documents of Regional Interest


Core Documents

1787 voting record of the Constitutional Convention (first page)
(Image size: 2.8 MB)

Voting record of the Constitutional Convention, 1787 (first page). For 4 months, the delegates debated fundamental questions relating to government, power, and human nature. Each and every issue of the Constitution was painstakingly argued and resolved. The voting records reflect the countless concessions and compromises that produced the Constitution. This page records the final vote taken September 15, 1787. Delegates to the Convention signed the proposed Constitution on September 17, 1787. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention. Due to conservation restrictions, different pages will be displayed at each venue.

Louisiana Purchase Treaty, April 30, 1803 (first page)
(Image size: 2.1 MB)

Signature PageLouisiana Purchase Treaty, April 30, 1803. The Louisiana Purchase added 828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River to the United States. For roughly 4 cents an acre, the United States had purchased a territory whose natural resources amounted to a richness beyond anyone's wildest calculations. National Archives and Records Administration, General Records of the U.S. Government. Due to conservation restrictions, this document will be displayed in New York, Columbus, and Atlanta. A related treaty from the Louisiana Purchase will be on display in Kansas City, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Hartford.

The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, September 22, 1862 (Page One)
(Image size: 3.7 MB)

Page Two, Page Three. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, September 22, 1862. President Lincoln proclaimed in this document that all slaves in states that were still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would be free. One hundred days later, with the Confederacy still in full rebellion and the nation approaching its third year of bloody Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. National Archives and Records Administration, General Records of the U.S. Government. Due to conservation restrictions, different pages will be displayed at each venue.

Emancipation Proclamation (Page One)
(Image size: 3.0 MB)

Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five. Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln, 1863. National Archives and Records Administration, General Records of the U.S. Government. That proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." Due to the fragility of this document, it may be exhibited for no longer than four days in each city.

Thomas Edison's patent application for an 'improvement in electric lamps,' November 1, 1879.
(Image size: 1.7 MB)

Thomas Edison's patent application for an "Improvement in Electric Lamps," November 1, 1879. Thomas Edison propelled the United States out of the gaslight era and into the electric age. In 1878, the creation of a practical long-burning electric light had eluded scientists for decades. With dreams of lighting up entire cities, Edison lined up financial backing, assembled a group of brilliant scientists and technicians, and applied his genius to the challenge of creating an effective and affordable electric lamp. On January 27, 1880, Edison received the historic patent embodying the principles of his incandescent lamp that paved the way for the universal domestic use of electric light. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office. Due to conservation restrictions, some venues will display the first page of the original document and a facsimile of the second page, while the other venues will display a facsimile of the first page and the original second page.

Act of Military Surrender, signed at Berlin, May 8, 1945 (Page One)
(Image size: 1.7 MB)

Page Two, Page Three. German Military Surrender, signed at Berlin, May 8, 1945. This document was a purely military surrender, aimed at ending the fighting and halting any further bloodshed. Article 4 provided for a more general political surrender that would come later. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Due to conservation restrictions, this document will be displayed in New York, Columbus, and Atlanta. The Act of Military Surrender, signed at Rheims on May 7, 1945, will be on display in Kansas City, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Hartford.

John F. Kennedy's handwritten draft of his inaugural address, January 17, 1961, first page
(Image size: 1.3 MB)

John F. Kennedy's handwritten draft of his inaugural address, January 17, 1961, first page. In this draft written three days before the inauguration, Kennedy wrote down 15 statements, most of which were used in the final speech after being revised and refined in subsequent drafts. While most of the speech looked to the future, heralding "a new generation of Americans," its opening lines saluted the past and the legacy of the American Revolution. Kennedy linked himself to the Presidents that preceded him in taking the oath to uphold and preserve the U.S. Constitution. National Archives and Records Administration, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston, Massachusetts. Due to conservation restrictions, different pages will be displayed at each venue.


Other Documents of Regional Interest
George Washington's first inaugural address, delivered April 30, 1789
(Image size: 1.9 MB)
Page One

New York Public Library, New York, New York:
George Washington's first inaugural address, delivered April 30, 1789, at Federal Hall, New York City. Washington's reading copy of the speech showed his final revisions and pause marks, so he recopied the entire document, the version shown here, for formal presentation to Congress. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the U.S. Senate, reproduced with the permission of the U.S. Senate.

Notebook recording the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, December 2, 1942.
(Image size: 1.7 MB)

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago, Illinois:
Notebook recording the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, December 2, 1942. This notebook is a product of the Manhattan Project, an all-out, but highly secret effort of the federal government to build an atomic bomb during World War II. The work was conducted in a laboratory at the University of Chicago. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, Great Lakes Region (Chicago).

President Abraham Lincoln's nomination of Ulysses S. Grant to be Lieutenant General of the U.S. Army
(Image size: 1.1 MB)

Ohio Historical Center, Columbus, Ohio:
President Abraham Lincoln's nomination of Ulysses S. Grant, a native son of Ohio, to be Lieutenant General of the U.S. Army, February 29, 1864. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the U.S. Senate, exhibited with the permission of the U.S. Senate.

Framework for a settlement in the Sinai
(Image size: 1.5 MB)

Jimmy Carter Library, Atlanta, Georgia:
President Jimmy Carter's draft, "Framework for a settlement in the Sinai," 1978, page 1. The issue of Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai emerged as the greatest obstacle to a peace agreement between the two countries. Throughout the negotiations, President Carter clung fiercely to the goal of an agreement, even as both sides threatened to leave. He served, not only as mediator, but also as draftsman, immersing himself in the minutest details of the proposed agreements to produce compromise proposals. This is one of several working drafts that President Carter personally produced over the course of the negotiations. National Archives and Records Administration, Jimmy Carter Library, Atlanta, Georgia.

A note, in case of failure, written by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 5, 1944
(Image size: 2.5 MB)

Union Station Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri:
A note, in case of failure, written by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 5, 1944, but misdated July 5. Heavy rains, high winds and rough seas complicated the decision on the exact timing of the D-day invasion. In the early morning hours of June 5, 1944, with meteorologists predicting a temporary break in the weather, Eisenhower gave the final order that put the vast operation in motion. Hours later, he wrote this note and slipped it into his wallet. It was a statement that he would issue in case the operation were to fail. The only apparent hint of nerves on his part is his error in dating the note "July 5," instead of June 5. Weeks after his troops had breached the Nazis' "Atlantic Wall," Eisenhower tossed this note in the wastebasket. It was retrieved by his naval aide, Captain Harry Butcher, and is now among the holdings of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library in nearby Abilene, KS. National Archives and Records Administration, Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas.

Credentials of the Honorable Sam Houston, Senator from Texas
(Image size: 2.9 MB)

Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas:
Credentials of the Honorable Sam Houston, Senator from Texas, February 21, 1846. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the U.S. Senate, exhibited with the permission of the U.S. Senate.

John Wayne's application for employment with the Office of Strategic Services (Page Twelve)
(Image size: 2.2 MB)
Page One, Page Eleven.

Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles, California:
John Wayne's application for employment with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), August 2, 1943. Wayne applied for, but did not receive, a commission with the OSS during World War II. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Office of Strategic Services.

Opinion of the Supreme Court in United States v. The Amistad, March 9, 1841
(Image size: 1.7 MB)

Museum of American Political Life, Hartford, Connecticut:
Opinion of the Supreme Court in United States v. The Amistad, March 9, 1841. Senior Justice Joseph Story wrote and read the decision of the Court. The Supreme Court ruled that the Africans on board the Amistad were free individuals. Kidnapped and transported illegally, they had never been slaves. The decision affirmed that ". . . it was the ultimate right of all human beings in extreme cases to resist oppression, and to apply force against ruinous injustice." The Court ordered the immediate release of the Amistad Africans. The first court proceedings in the Amistad case took place in Hartford's Old State House. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Supreme Court of the United States.

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