American Experience

From Sea to Shining Sea

You would be hard pressed to find a corner of the United States that lacks some pretty spectacular destinations. My current virtual commute takes me from my upstairs to my kitchen to my living room office––nothing notable. But my traditional commute takes me over the Potomac into Washington, D.C. with views of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument and those museums that dot the National Mall with the Capitol in the distance.

Yet, discovering the natural destinations of our nation with their undisturbed and breathtaking wonders is a favorite of mine. From the famed Redwoods in California to the rock face at Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, from the Everglades in Florida to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas and Mount Rainier in Washington, the United States is brimming with awe-inspiring natural treasures.

We can thank the U.S. National Park Service for preserving and interpreting these lands for future generations. President Theodore Roosevelt often referred to the national parks as “great and beautiful cathedrals.” He believed one of our nation’s most pressing questions is the task of “leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”

This summer seems to be the perfect time to breathe in that fresh mountain air, relax in the great outdoors and soak in some national parks’ history from the National Archives holdings.

So go ahead, pitch your tent, build a fire and gaze at the stars with us.

Patrick Madden
Executive Director
National Archives Foundation


The Conservation President

While the National Park Service wasn’t born until August 25, 1916, with the Organic Act, pioneers recognized the need to protect certain sites from public interference as early as the 1800s. President Theodore Roosevelt was among the most outspoken advocates, doubling the number of national parks while in office. Join us next week and bring the kids as we sit down with President Roosevelt on Thursday, July 16 at 1:00 p.m. to hear about his legacy firsthand.


Capturing the American West

Renowned photographer Ansel Adams contributed greatly to highlighting the wonders of the national parks and the American West. After he received his first camera at age 12 and photographed Yosemite National Park, Adams’ interest in photography continued to grow. In 1941, he was contracted by the Department of the Interior to create a photo mural of the national parks. The project was never completed due to America’s entry into World War II, but Adams’ iconic photos live on at the National Archives.

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A Fool Thing to Do

When the National Park Service wanted to build an elevator to take tourists down into the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, they didn’t know what they were getting into. At the time, the elevator was second in height to only the Empire State Building’s elevators. Get the full story of how the grand opening became a miraculous mishap when a Park Ranger fell down the 754-foot elevator shaft…and survived with barely a scratch!


The Sheep are Safe

National parks are of course hotspots for those long-awaited summer vacations and camping trips. But the well-preserved, natural land is also an attractive filming location for Hollywood moviemakers. Apparently filmmakers back in the day had to be really specific with the National Park Service on how the land would be used during filming. In fact, during the filming of a 1950s movie titled Devil’s Doorway, in which a mock battle takes place near a sheep farm, MGM Studios were assured that “in motion pictures we do not actually dynamite the sheep.” Good thing they clarified…?

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Last Week and More

We want to bring the Archives to you. If you missed last week or our content in the past, have no fear! We’ve collected everything we’ve dug up from holdings. Click on an icon below to learn more!

  • 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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