The National Archives opened in 1935 in Washington, DC to hold the original copies of America’s Founding Documents. These are flanked by murals of Thomas Jefferson amidst the Continental Congress and James Madison at the Constitutional Convention.
The Rotunda in the Archives is the permanent home of our country’s Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights.
The Archives holdings also include: the Magna Carta from 1297, The Emancipation Proclamation from 1863, collections of photography, and other culturally significant American artifacts.
The Archives serves as the original headquarters of the National Archives and Records Administration established in 1934. Congress created NARA because government agencies were having difficulty maintaining their records. Fires, floods and other disasters caused irreparable damage. Records were stored in extreme climates, stuffed in bottom drawers, lost, misplaced, or outright stolen. The federal government needed a central location to organize and protect their valuable originals.
Besides safeguarding documents, NARA provides access to the general public for naval records.
In 1994, due to the increasing demand for display space and storage, NARA opened an additional facility near the University of Maryland in College Park.