For political junkies, presidential libraries offer a smorgasbord of Oval Office history.Forty-three men have served as president of the United States but only a dozen have presidential libraries and museums. The 13 libraries (two honor the same president, in separate locations) each provide a unique perspective on one of the world’s most demanding and powerful jobs, as well as the chief executive who held it. With a presidential election on the not-too-distant horizon, it’s a great time to visit one of these historical treasure troves and discover more about the leaders who have put the “man” in commander in chief.
Harry S. Truman Library & Museum
Independence, Mo. / Opened July 6, 1957 / Truman was in office from 1945 to 1953.
While he occupied the Oval Office, Truman’s desk was famously adorned with a sign that stated, “The Buck Stops Here!” That bit of history (which says “I’m from Missouri” on the reverse side) can now be seen in Truman’s presidential museum. www.trumanlibrary.org
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum
West Branch, Iowa / Opened Aug. 10, 1962 / Hoover was in office from 1929 to 1933.
Think presidential libraries and museums are only about indoor exhibits characterized by rows of documents and antique keepsakes? Not so. The library and museum built to honor the only president thus far who has hailed from Iowa sits within the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site — a 187-acre park administered by the National Park Service — which honors Hoover’s commitment to nature during his presidency. Also included in this vast area are Hoover’s birthplace cottage, the grave sites of Hoover and his wife, and 81 acres of tallgrass prairie dotted with yellow coneflowers in the summer. A single admission fee grants visitors access to the park as well as the museum. www.hoover.nara.gov
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Hyde Park, N.Y. / Opened June 30, 1941 / Roosevelt was in office from 1933 to 1945.
Before presidential libraries existed, executive documents became the property of past presidents, eventually making their way to scholarly outlets or collectors, or simply disappearing. FDR changed that by creating an institution to safely house his treasures. His library and museum were the first of their kind and began as a private project (control was later assumed by the National Archives and Records Administration). Roosevelt’s library is the only one used by a sitting president — FDR even delivered several of his “fireside chats” from inside the building. www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum
Abilene, Kan. / Opened May 1, 1962 / Eisenhower was in office from 1953 to 1961.
The Order of Victory, a ruby-and-diamond-encrusted five-pointed platinum star, was the highest military decoration that the Soviet Union bestowed on members of its army’s high command. It also was presented to high-ranking foreign military officers who assisted in an important Soviet victory. Only one is housed in the United States, and it’s in Ike’s museum. In June 1945, Eisenhower was one of five foreign recipients of the decoration, which has been awarded only 20 times. www.eisenhower.archives.gov