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“Making Their Mark” Exhibit Features Lawrence F. O’Brien Pen Collection

April 7, 2014

Rediscovery #: 26784Making Their MarkFeatured in the National Archives Museum’s latest exhibition, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, these 50 pens were collected by Lawrence F. O’Brien during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, 1961-1965. During that time, 221 pieces of legislation were enacted.

Presidents often use several pens to sign important legislation and present the pens as keepsakes of the occasion.  The pens shown here were given to Lawrence F. O’Brien, in recognition of his contribution to the passage of the numerous acts.  Surrounding the display of pens in the exhibit are photos showing the laws in action. This collection is in the exhibit courtesy of Lawrence F. O’Brien III, a past president and current member of the board of the Foundation for the National Archives.

The legislation highlighted in this collection has impacted the lives and well-being of millions people around America and the world, and includes the Peace Corps Act signed by President Kennedy in 1961, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act signed by President Johnson.

Established during the fear filled days of the Cold War, the Peace Corps was one of the Kennedy administrations ideas to bolster the American image abroad and sway countries in the so-called “third world” away from the alluring images promoting Soviet communism. The idea behind the Corps was an “army of volunteers,” teachers, doctors, engineers, and citizens from every walk of life, building schools, helping grow crops, and improving the lives of people in less developed regions of the world.

Though domestically unpopular initially, the forward thinking program proved to be successful in its main goal of improving the world’s opinion of U.S. foreign policy. To this day, the Peace Corps is dedicated to improving the lives and conditions of people around the world.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act, pushed by President Kennedy and then President Johnson immediately after he assumed the office, had a long road to travel towards its eventual passage. In the early days of the Johnson presidency the bill was stuck in the House Rules Committee. Facing resistance from the committee chair Howard W. Smith, President Johnson looked to the President Kennedy’s longtime advisor, Larry F. O’Brien, to organize members of the House of Representatives to sign a discharge petition to force the bill out of committee negotiations and onto the House floor for debate.

The pressure from the discharge petition, as well as letters from unions, church leaders and civil rights groups, eventually forced Smith to bring the bill up for debate in the committee where it passed with an 11-4 vote.

The full list of legislation represented by this collection, as well as the President that used each pen is listed below.

Left column Middle column Right column
Establishment of ARA
John F. Kennedy 5-1-61
Aid to Medical Education
John F. Kennedy 9-24-63
Elementary and Secondary Education Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 4-11-65
Minimum Wage Bill
John F. Kennedy 5-5-61
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
John F. Kennedy 10-7-63
Repeal of Excise Taxes
Lyndon B. Johnson 6-21-65
Housing Act
John F. Kennedy 6-30-61
Establishment of Mental Health & Retardation Program
John F. Kennedy 10-31-63
Older Americans Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 7-14-65
Establishment of the Alliance for Progress
John F. Kennedy 9-4-61
Higher Education Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 12-16-63
Drug Abuse Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 7-15-65
Establishment of the Peace Corps
John F. Kennedy 9-22-61
Air Pollution Program
Lyndon B. Johnson 12-17-63
Silver Coinage
Lyndon B. Johnson 7-23-65
Juvenile Delinquency Program
John F. Kennedy 9-22-61
International Coffee Agreement Treaty Ratification
Lyndon B. Johnson 12-20-63
Lyndon B. Johnson 7-30-65
Establishment of Community Health Facilities
John F. Kennedy 10-5-61
Library Services Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 2-11-64
Voting Rights-Poll Tax Repeal
Lyndon B. Johnson 8-6-65
Manpower Development and Training Program
John F. Kennedy 3-15-62
Tax Reduction and Reform
Lyndon B. Johnson 2-26-64
Housing Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 8-10-65
Welfare and Pension Plans Disclosure Act
John F. Kennedy 3-20-62
Civil Rights Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 7-2-64
Saline Water Program
Lyndon B. Johnson 8-11-65
Establishment of the Educational Television Program
John F. Kennedy 5-1-62
Mass Transit Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 7-9-64
Rapid Transit—D.C.
Lyndon B. Johnson 9-8-65
Establishment of the Communications Satellite Corp
John F. Kennedy 8-31-62
Federal Pay Act and Reform
Lyndon B. Johnson 8-14-64
Establishment of Dept of Housing and Urban Development
Lyndon B. Johnson 9-9-65
United Nations Bond Issue
John F. Kennedy 10-2-62
Establishment of the Poverty Program
Lyndon B. Johnson 8-20-64
National Foundation on Arts and Humanities
Lyndon B. Johnson 9-29-65
Reciprocal Trade and Trade Agreement Act
John F. Kennedy 10-11-62
Land and Water Conservation
Lyndon B. Johnson 9-3-64
Rapid Rail Transportation
Lyndon B. Johnson 9-30-65
Tax Reform Act
John F. Kennedy 10-16-62
Wilderness Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 9-3-64
Federal Water Pollution Control Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 10-2-65
Institute for Child Health
John F. Kennedy 10-17-62
Nurses Training Act
Lyndon B. Johnson 9-4-64
Immigration Act of 1965
Lyndon B. Johnson 10-3-65
Mass Immunization Act
John F. Kennedy 10-23-62
Lyndon B. Johnson 3-9-65
Heart, Cancer and Stroke
Lyndon B. Johnson 10-6-65
Outdoor Recreation
John F. Kennedy 5-28-63
Highway Beautification Program
Lyndon B. Johnson 10-22-65

About Lawrence F. O’Brien

A longtime advisor to President John F. Kennedy and his Special Assistant for Congressional Relations, O’Brien was in Dallas on November 22, 1963, riding in the motorcade in which President Kennedy was killed. After the assassination, he continued with Lyndon Johnson as the new President’s congressional liaison. His knowledge of the political and lawmaking process helped to guide landmark Great Society legislation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Medicare, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act through Congress.

President Johnson appointed O’Brien to his Cabinet as Postmaster General in 1965. In 1968, he resigned to run Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign for President and was in Los Angeles for the California Democratic primary the evening Kennedy was assassinated there. Elected Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 1968 and again in 1970, O’Brien featured prominently in another historic event. On June 17, 1972, burglars broke into his Washington, DC, office at the DNC headquarters in the Watergate complex, beginning a series of events that led to the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon.

In 1975, O’Brien was elected Commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Upon his retirement in 1984, the NBA permanently named its world championship trophy, “The Larry O’Brien Trophy.” He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991.

In his honor, the Lawrence F. O’Brien family helped create the O’Brien Gallery in the National Archives Museum in 2004 and continues to generously support its exhibitions.

“Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” is made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives with the generous support of Lead Sponsor AT&T. Major additional support provided by the Lawrence F. O’Brien Family and members of the Board of the Foundation for the National Archives.

Family and educational programming related to “Making Their Mark” is sponsored in part by Fahrney’s Pens, Cross, and Parker Pen Company – Newell Rubbermaid.