Presidential Libraries Across the Country

When it comes to the history and memorabilia of the United States, Presidential Libraries across the country are pure gold to travelers. Every president has been a trailblazer in one or more ways and presidential libraries devoted to past leaders of the United States make for interesting destinations--even if you voted for the other candidate.

Our Presidential Libraries and Museums are national treasures where people of all ages can explore the Presidency and the American experience," says Susan K. Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park Maryland. "The Libraries preserve the documents and artifacts of our Presidents and provide insight into the times in which these presidents lived and served our nation. This is a unique heritage that we invite everyone to come and discover."

Presidential Libraries (including the Ford Museum) aren't "libraries" in the typical sense of the word, where the traditional activities are the reading and lending of books and other documents. Located across the country, these treasure troves contain and present huge archives of documents, museums containing Presidential artifacts, ongoing public and educational programs, and varied informational websites for virtual visits.

The concept of Presidential libraries started during the second term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had a mass of papers and more he and his staff had accumulated over the years. Before Roosevelt, most presidential papers were destroyed, sold, lost, or simply ruined by poor storage conditions of the past.

Historians and scholars convinced Roosevelt to preserve his memorabilia. He thus started a tradition that remains today: raising private nonfederal funds for a new facility and then turning it over to the United States to be operated through the National Archives and Records. Thus, Presidential libraries and their contents truly belong to the American people.

In 1950, Harry S. Truman decided to build a library to house his presidential papers as well and pushed for congressional action. Congress legislated actual Presidential Libraries policy back in 1955 with the Presidential Libraries Act. Under this and later acts, more libraries have been established. Once completed, the private organizers turn over the libraries to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to operate and maintain them.

Until 1978, scholars, legal professionals, and Presidents dating back to George Washington's day generally held the view that records created by the President and his or her staff when in office were the personal property of the President and that they were his or hers to take when he or she left office. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 made Presidential records that document the statutory, constitutional, and ceremonial duties of the President the property of the United States Government.

When the President leaves office, the Archivist of the United States takes custody of the records. The Presidential Records Act made the continuation of Presidential libraries as the records repository and the Presidential Libraries Act of 1986 required private endowments linked to the size of the facility and for a portion of these endowments to be used by the NARA to offset some maintenance costs. This often includes popular presidential shopping stops and varied dining.

There are currently 13 Presidential Libraries and Museums. In order of presidencies, they are: Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa; Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York; Harry S. Truman Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri; Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas; John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts; Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California; Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum in Atlanta, Georgia; Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California; George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas; William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas; and George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas.

From the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, here's an overview of Presidential libraries and museums across the country:

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (Boston, MA)
Starting with the east coast and located at Columbia Point on Boston's waterfront in a stunning I.M. Pei-designed building, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is situated on a 10-acre park landscaped with the shrubs, pine trees, and wild roses that are reminiscent of President Kennedy's beloved Cape Cod. The facility features three theaters, period settings, and more than two dozen multimedia exhibits that bring Kennedy's life, presidency (1961-1963) leadership, and legacy alive.

Permanent exhibits include: Campaign Trail; The Briefing Room; The Space Race; The Oval Office; First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy; and The Kennedy Family. "Highlights Tours" feature footage from the first televised debate, President Kennedy's Oval Office rocking chair, doodles President Kennedy made during Cuban Missile Crisis meetings, a piece of the Berlin wall, and the hand-painted closet doors from Mrs. Kennedy's dressing room.

Many special exhibits and events make each visit unique. There's also the Museum Store, JFK Café, Harborwalk, and President Kennedy's 26-foot sailboat, Victura (on display on the grounds from May to October).

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum (Hyde Park, NY)
Opened in 1941, this was America's first presidential library and was the only one used by a sitting President. From the start, its mission was to foster education and research on the life and times of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as their continuing impact on America, through the museum, archives, education, and public programs.

The permanent galleries reopened in mid-2013 to rave reviews. The new exhibits tell the stories of the Roosevelt presidency (1933-1945), beginning in the depths of the Great Depression and through the New Deal and World War II. Special interactive exhibits, immersive audio-visual theaters, and artifacts bring the "New Deal to a New Generation."

Highlights of a visit can include: touch screen experiences in the Oval Office at FDR's desk and in his Ford Phaeton; ten "Confront the Issues" touch screens (like FDR's health, the Holocaust, and Japanese American internment); Fireside Chat Environments; the Map Room; many museum collections, and much more. A temporary exhibit showcasing almost 100 presidential gifts given to President Roosevelt by governments, organizations, and private individuals runs through December 31, 2015.

Gerald R. Ford Library & Museum (Ann Arbor, MI & Grand Rapids, MI)
Gerald R. Ford's Presidential library and museum legacy is unique, in that there's a "library" in Ann Arbor and a "museum" in Grand Rapids. Just 130 miles apart and sharing one director, both are well worth a visit.

Situated on the North Campus of the University of Michigan (Ford's alma mater), the Gerald R. Ford Library opened to the public in 1981 and collects, preserves, and makes accessible more than 25 million pages of memos, letters, meeting notes, reports, and other historical documents related to United States domestic issues, political issues, foreign matters, and more during the Cold War era. The 1974-77 papers of Gerald Ford and his staff form the core of the collection.

Also opened in 1981, the Gerald R. Ford Museum wants visitors to participate in history and not just view it. Along with permanent exhibits (look for the soldier's uniform and medals returned to President Ford after his decision to grant clemency to Vietnam War draft dodgers), temporary exhibits draw from the vast holdings of the Presidential libraries system, the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution, and other sources.

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum (Atlanta, GA)
Originally opened in 1986, the revitalized Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum reopened to rave reviews in 2009. Appropriately situated on Freedom Parkway near downtown Atlanta, the grounds include a Japanese Garden designed by Japanese master gardener, Kinsaku Nakane.

The museum portion of this bustling attraction includes photographs and historical memorabilia from the Carter presidency (1977-1981). A permanent exhibit of major events during Jimmy Carter's life and political career includes many photographs and interpretive captioning. One particularly popular exhibit is an exact replica of President Carter's Oval Office, with gifts received by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter also on display.

Temporary exhibits and a busy special events schedule make for many repeat visitors. Along with more than 25 million pages of Jimmy Carter's White House material and those of his staff, there are also approximately a half-million pictures and hundreds of hours of video and audio tapes.

William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum (Little Rock, AR)
Located within the Clinton Presidential Center and Park (which also includes the Clinton Foundation's Little Rock Office and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service), the Clinton Presidential Library & Museum includes exhibits, special events, educational programs, archival collections, and research facilities. It's become a stand-alone Little Rock destination.

The museum's permanent collection includes replicas of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room, with exhibits that use documents, photos, videos, and interactive stations to highlight the events, ceremonies, day-to-day workings of the White House, the lives of the nation's 42nd President and First Family, and the work of the Clinton Administration from 1993-2001. Highlights include: the Orientation Theater; the Inauguration; the Presidential Timeline; Protecting the Earth; Confronting Conflicts; Restoring the Economy; The Little Rock Nine; Preparing for New Threats; People's Gifts; State Events; Life at the White House; Celebration at the White House; and more.

The ground level also includes a Presidential limousine and an exhibit on the work of the United States Secret Service. There's also the Clinton Museum Store and a renowned on-site restaurant appropriately named Forty Two that features seasonal and locally-grown ingredients.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum (West Branch, IA)
Now open for more than 30 years and having welcomed more than three millions visitors to its Iowa prairie setting, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum commemorates Hoover's 1929-1933 presidency and more. It's actually located in the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, which is a 187-acre park run by the National Park Service that preserves the natural environment of Hoover's youth in the Quaker community where his renowned values formed.

President Hoover was an orphan who became a multi-millionaire mining engineer and humanitarian who suffered through the Great Depression to return to public life and much success. Once known as a scapegoat for the Great Depression, Hoover's efforts in Europe and back home after World War II eventually made him a hero to many.

Starting with 57 brass sheaves of wheat (one for every country where Hoover helped with relief efforts over the decades), permanent exhibits and galleries include: Years of Adventure; The Humanitarian Years; The Roaring 20s; The Logical Candidate; The Great Depression; From Hero to Scapegoat; An Uncommon Woman (an ode to First Lady Lou Henry); Counselor to the Republic; and much more.

Visitors will want to seek out the Belgian relief warehouse from World War I, the Inaugural Platform from 1929, the President's fishing cabin, Mrs. Hoover's dresses, and Suite 31A at the Waldorf Towers, where Hoover spent his last years.

Harry S. Truman Library & Museum (Independence, MO)
The legacy of President Truman comes to life in Independence at the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. All of the many major issues and events during Truman's presidency are highlighted in a core exhibition, "Harry S. Truman: The Presidential Years."

There are two "decision" theaters, enhanced audio and video programs, and many interactive elements, including: the Introductory Film; Taking Office; First Four Months; Decision to Drop the Bomb; Postwar Challenges; Europe 1947; Origins of the Cold War; Recognition of Israel; Decision Theater 1; Upset of the Century; Second Term; The Cold War Turns Hot; Decision Theater 2; America 1952; Leaving Office; Legacy Gallery; and A Living Legacy.

"Harry S. Truman: His Life and Times" is another major permanent exhibit that covers the personal side of Truman and his family, including many personal objects from the collection and many letters between Harry and Bess Truman. Temporary exhibits are also excellent, with the current one, "Till We Meet Again," commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and Truman's march toward the presidency (through January 3, 2016).

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum (College Station, TX)
Located at Barbara Bush's alma mater (Texas A&M University), the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum documents the nation's 41st presidency (1989-1993) and much more through a wide variety of interesting permanent and temporary exhibits. Artifacts, films, photographs, documents, music, sound effects and interactive videos are all utilized to provide a perspective on President Bush's life and work.

The museum proper is divided into sections, including: Symbols of the Presidency; Family Traditions; World War II; Political Itch; Domestic Leadership; First Lady Contributions; Crisis Management; A Life of Service; and Before you Go (memento letters). Other highlights of a visit can include the Ansary Gallery of American History, the Presidential Pond, the Barbara Bush Rose Garden, the Bush Family Gravesite, a statue of George H.W. Bush, and Veryl Goodnight's dramatic sculpture, "The Day the Wall Came Down."

Specific displays that are particularly popular include a World War II Avenger Torpedo Bomber, a 1947 Studebaker, a slab of the Berlin Wall, and replicas of President Bush's Oval Office, Camp Davis, and Situation Room. A special section of the museum highlights First Lady Barbara Bush's humanitarian efforts. There's also an ongoing schedule of temporary exhibits, including Conquering Cancer: A Commitment For the Ones We Love," which runs through September 28, 2015.

George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum (Dallas, TX)
George Bush's son, the 43rd president from 2001 to 2009, is commemorated just 180 miles to the north in Dallas. Exhibits, artifacts, documents, photos, videos, and more from the collection feature educational reform, the global war on terrorism, the financial crisis, the spread of AIDS/HIV, and more.

The signature element of the complex is 67-foot-tall Freedom Hall, which encases a 360 degree HD video wall that serves as an orientation to the facility and also depicts a montage of the nation's presidents. The temporary exhibit gallery and the main lobby also present displays to complement the permanent exhibits.

The unique Artifact Gallery rotates artifacts from the collection 360 degrees, allowing unique views of some of the 43,000-plus gifts given to George W. Bush and Laura Bush. In addition, there's a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, a full-sized replica of Bush's Oval Office, and a pretty Texas Rose Garden.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (Austin, TX)
Dedicated by Lyndon Johnson in 1971 and located on a 30-acre site on The University of Texas campus, LBJ's Presidential Library and Museum features an iconic 10-story building and a four-story Great Hall with a glass-encased view of the archives collection. The building houses more than 45 million pages of documents, 650,000 photos, and 5,000 hours of recordings from President Johnson's career. Like many Presidential Libraries, less than 2% of the collection is typically seen in the permanent exhibits.

Johnson served as president from 1963 to 1969 and the core of collection consists of personal objects owned, used, bought or worn by the President and First Lady. Permanent exhibits include: "Civil Rights;" "November 22, 1963" (the day President Kennedy was assassinated); "The Legacy Gallery;" "Social Justice Gallery;" "The Oval Office;" and "March to Freedom."

Unique items include clothing worn at the 1964 inauguration, items and furniture from the Oval Office, the desk used for signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and much more. The Great Hall also includes a photo-engraving mural by artist Naomi Savage.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home (Abilene, KS)
Traveling to the multi-faceted Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home rewards visitors with insights into the life and times of Eisenhower and harkens back to a different time in the United States and the world. Originally dedicated on Veterans Day in 1954, the Museum proper was constructed of Kansas limestone and was built to house materials and objects related to Eisenhower's presidency (1953-1961) and life.

The Museum itself is divided into five major galleries: an introductory gallery; a changing exhibits gallery; a First Lady's gallery; a military gallery; and a presidential gallery. Changing exhibits are extremely popular here, with two current ones running through 2016: "World War II Remembered: Leaders, Battles & Heroes" and "Be Ye Men of Valour: Allies of World War II."

The ground around the Museum feature much more. The Visitors Center, which includes a gift shop and introductory film, is situated on the site of the former Lincoln School, where Eisenhower attended elementary school. The 19th century Boyhood Home was occupied by the Eisenhower family until Mrs. Eisenhower's death in 1946. There's also a classic bronze statue of Eisenhower in his beloved World War II "Eisenhower Jacket."

Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum (Yorba Linda, CA)
In 2007, the National Archives and Records Administration opened the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, thanks to an agreement with the formerly private Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation. This landmark agreement gave the federal government and the public materials previously returned to President Nixon and his estate in the 1980s and 1990s.

Today, this Yorba Linda presidential destination is better than ever. Highlighting Nixon's presidency from 1969 to 1974 and much more, the Library and Museum is on nine acres just 15 minutes from Disneyland. After an introduction showing vintage campaign films, news footage, TV appearances, and more, exhibit highlights in the permanent galleries include: an exploration of Nixon's space program, including the telephone President Nixon used to call Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon; a replica of the East Room of the White House and the Lincoln Sitting Room in the living quarters; and the 1967 Lincoln Continental limousine used by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.

Special exhibit galleries have a variety of rotating exhibits. The grounds also include Nixon's birthplace home, where he was born in 1913, and a restored Army One helicopter used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (Simi Valley, CA)
Sitting on a hill with dramatic view of the southland, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum offers unique opportunities like acting in a movie with Reagan using green screen technology, delivering the oath of office on the U.S. Capitol's steps, setting the table for a state dinner, riding a horse alongside Reagan at Rancho del Cielo, and touring an Air Force One aircraft that served seven presidents and flew Reagan more than 660,000 miles to 46 U.S. states and 26 foreign countries.

Renovated in 2011 to integrate hundreds of artifacts--50% never previously displayed-and dozens of interactive displays, 18 new galleries pay tribute to the nation's 40th president (he served from 1981 to 1989). The Air Force One Pavilion also includes a "Presidential Motorcade" of varied vehicles, a Marine One helicopter, and the Ronald Reagan Pub--the actual Irish pub from Ballyporeen, Ireland, that Reagan visited in 1984.

The interesting galleries follow Reagan from the time he was a young boy, through Hollywood, Sacramento, the White House, and beyond. There's even a replica of the White House's South Lawn and yet another piece of the Berlin Wall.

Thus, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Presidential history and so much more can be explored at these Presidential Libraries and museums. Hail to the Chief! Know Before You Go: The Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives and Records Administration maintains a great website to help plan a trip to one or more Presidential libraries and museums: The Barack Obama Library and Museum Presidential libraries and museums are typically established in cities that played a special role in the life of the honored president and they're typically pursued in partnership with a local institution. According to the Barack Obama Foundation-as of press time and after an open call for -three cities advance to the final round for the location of the Barack Obama Library and Museum: Chicago, Illinois (bids received from the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago); Honolulu, Hawaii (bid received from the University of Hawaii); and New York, New York (bid received from Columbia University). The winning city will be announced in 2015. Stay tuned!