American Experience

Through the Lens 📷

U.S. presidents are among the most photographed individuals in the world. We are familiar with the many pictures of them conducting official duties as the leaders of the free world, but what always captures my interest are the images of impromptu moments – a laugh among the president and his cabinet, the look at a child after an unscripted question, or the quiet moment between president and spouse. They are human.

The position of official White House photographer was not created until John F. Kennedy became president and appointed Cecil W. Stoughton to the post. Prior to that, official photographs of the president were taken by military photographers. Some of the most iconic images of our presidents are the work of uncredited photographers who worked behind the scenes.

The National Archives and its Presidential Libraries are home to millions of photographs of our presidents. This week, we bring you a tiny selection of photographs that give you a glimpse of the less familiar side of the highest office in the land.

Patrick M. Madden
Executive Director
National Archives Foundation

Laying Keel

The USS Arizona was a Pennsylvania-class battleship that met a tragic end. On December 7, 1941, the USS Arizona, along with 1,177 officers and crew members, was lost during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. To this day, the remains of the battleship lie at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and is straddled by the USS Arizona Memorial, which is visited by millions of people every year.

Before it was christened the USS Arizona in 1915, the battleship was known as Battleship Number 39. Built in Brooklyn, New York, the keel of the battleship was officially laid on March 16, 1914 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. This rare photo depicts a young FDR walking across the scaffold, wearing a derby hat, and smiling at the camera on the day of the keel laying.

JFK and Friendship 7

In recognition of astronaut Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr.’s historic flight aboard the Friendship 7, which carried him around the world three times, President John F. Kennedy presented Glenn with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Distinguished Service Medal at Cape Canaveral on February 23, 1962. Afterward, Kennedy took a look at the capsule that Glenn had flown in. Kennedy’s official White House photographer, Cecil Stoughton, was on hand to document the event.

Factory Visit

Sometimes, even a president has to roll up his sleeves and do some heavy lifting. Or operating. On a Monday in January 2002, President George W. Bush climbed into a combine at the John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, Illinois, and turned a gold key that fired the big machine up. Afterward, he chatted with assembly line worker Deborah Davis, captured by White House photographer Eric Draper, and gave a speech to 1,500 employees and supporters.

History Snacks

A Dog’s Life

Presidential pets are often privy to conversations that most of us could never hope to take part in. White House photographer David Hume Kennerly took many photographs of President Gerald Ford and his beloved golden retriever, Liberty, in the White House. This shot shows Liberty enjoying a much deserved head scratch by the Resolute desk, while this shot of the sweet pup captures her stretching out at the feet of Henry Kissinger during a meeting in the Oval Office.

Down on the Dance Floor

President Barack Obama followed the lead of his wife, Michelle Obama, and got out on the dance floor with kids from Holy Name High School in Mumbai, India. Pete Souza, who also was the official White House photographer for President Ronald Reagan, took this shot of President Obama grooving to the music.

Last Week and More

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  • We the People
  • History Pix
  • Archives Encore
  • History Quirks
  • Patent Pending
  • Cooking Club

Live Interactive Programming

While the National Archives has remained closed, the National Archives Foundation has begun hosting a variety of live programming including interviews with historians and authors as well as a celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. Check out our past programs below and stay tuned for upcoming adventures in history!

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