The largest collection of the papers of President Theodore Roosevelt, documenting his extraordinary career in the White House and as vice president, governor of New York, and as a naturalist, writer and reformer, has been digitized and is now available online from the Library of Congress.
The digitization of the massive collection comes just before the 160th anniversary of Roosevelt’s birthday. The nation’s 26th president was born Oct. 27, 1858, and died nearly 100 years ago on Jan. 6, 1919.
The Roosevelt collection is online at: loc.gov/collections/theodore-roosevelt-papers/about-this-collection/.
The Roosevelt papers are one of the largest presidential collections held by the Library, consisting of about 276,000 documents and comprising about 461,000 images. It includes letters, speeches, executive orders, scrapbooks, diaries, White House reception records and press releases of his administration, as well as family records.
The collection provides a closer look at Roosevelt as an individual and as a powerful president from 1901 to 1909 who established a tradition of using his position as a “bully pulpit” by appealing to the broader public through the media. Roosevelt strengthened the presidency by seeking to centralize power after a time when Congress and the Supreme Court had dominated government, and he survived an attempted assassination during his unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1912.
Roosevelt was a prolific writer, offering readers a glimpse at the power of his personality and family life. In public service, he was known for confronting such major issues as the regulation of corporations, conservation of natural resources, construction of the Panama Canal and mediation during the Russo-Japanese War (for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize). Beyond the presidency, he was also an influential naturalist. Animal specimens he brought back from a safari in Africa remain part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Roosevelt also nearly died while exploring an uncharted river in Brazil. The river was later named in his honor.
The papers also document his service as vice president before the assassination of President William McKinley, his time as governor of New York, as police commissioner of New York City, as a cavalry officer in the Spanish-American War, his founding of the Progressive Party and his unsuccessful run for president in 1912.
Highlights of the Roosevelt papers include:
- A personal diary from Feb. 14, 1884, where Roosevelt records his reaction to the death of his first wife and mother on the same day. “The light has gone out of my life,” he wrote;
- An 1897 letter signaling Roosevelt’s support for annexing Hawaii and building a canal in Central America while he was assistant secretary of the Navy;
- A listing of “Rough Rider” officers serving with Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War;
- Roosevelt’s letter from 1900 with his first documented use of the phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick;”
- A 1905 letter on the conservation of Yosemite Valley as a national park;
- Roosevelt’s 1912 campaign speech in Connecticut while seeking another term as president on the Progressive Party ticket;
- A 1915 letter criticizing President Woodrow Wilson’s policy toward World War I.
The Roosevelt papers have been at the Library of Congress since Roosevelt sent the first shipment of his papers from his Oyster Bay, New York, home to the Library for safekeeping in 1917. His deposits were made a permanent gift in 1919. Additional contributions to the collection were made by Roosevelt’s family members and his literary executor.
The Harvard University Library also holds a major archival collection documenting Roosevelt’s life and career. The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in North Dakota is building a digital library of Roosevelt materials in partnership with the Library of Congress and other organizations.
Previously, much of the Library’s Roosevelt collection was available on microfilm, which helped facilitate the digitization process. More recent additions to the collection were scanned and digitized for the first time during this project.
The Roosevelt project reflects advancement toward a goal in the Library’s new user-centered strategic plan to expand access, making unique collections, experts and services available when, where and how users need them. Learn more about the Library’s five-year plan at loc.gov/strategic-plan/.
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Image: President Theodore Roosevelt is shown in 1910 after he had left the White House. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)