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See and Hear: Presidents on Record

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Happy Presidents’ Day from the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division! Moving image and recorded sound materials offer exciting possibilities for engaging with the lives and political careers of past presidents. To launch your exploration, we’ve pulled together some online resources from the Division that illuminate the lives of past presidential figures.


Moving Image

Two major online film collections offer glimpses into the lives and careers of early 20th century presidents—“Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times,” and “Last Days of a President: Films of McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition, 1901.” The National Screening Room also contains materials related to presidents, from newsreel footage to advertising.

Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times

“Shall we prepare?” (TR speaking at Sagamore.) Theodore Roosevelt Association Collection. Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.

This online collection features nearly 100 films and several sound recordings of Theodore Roosevelt before, during, and after his presidency. Most of the films in the digital collection were originally given to the Library of Congress by the Theodore Roosevelt Association, founded in 1919 as the Roosevelt Memorial Association. This association was established to further the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, and collected pamphlets, paraphernalia, motion pictures, articles, books, and photographs documenting TR’s life and career. Most of the films from the Theodore Roosevelt Association are composed of footage made after his presidency, and so films from the Paper Print Collection are also included in the digital presentation. These films from the Paper Print Collection show scenes in Roosevelt’s life as president and as a colonel in the Spanish-American War. The digital collection contains films of Roosevelt from 1898 to 1919, as well as films made after his death until about 1928.

Last Days of a President: Films of McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition, 1901

The films in this online collection give us a window into the final months of President William McKinley: his second inauguration as president, his trip to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, and events related to his death and funeral. These films are actualities from the Paper Print Collection—scenes filmed from life by the Edison Manufacturing Company.

Peace, little girl : [Daisy political spot]
“Peace, little girl [Daisy political spot].” Tony Schwartz Collection. Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.
National Screening Room

A new digital collection, the National Screening room, also has some films related to the presidents. Launched last fall, the Screening Room contains a wide variety of films meant to showcase the breadth of the Library’s moving image collections. Along with newsreel footage of dancing at a birthday ball for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a few Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley films that also make appearances in the Screening Room, perhaps the most famous presidential item is a campaign ad for Lyndon B. Johnson that aired only once on September 7, 1964. Created by media consultant, radio host, producer, educator, and recording folklorist Tony Schwartz, the “Peace, Little Girl” campaign spot remains one of the most controversial advertisements of all time.


Recorded Sound

Several digital collections from the Recorded Sound Section provide opportunities to hear the voices of presidents past:

American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I

This digital collection presents recordings made between 1918 and 1920 for a series called “Nation’s Forum.” St. Louis attorney Guy Golterman (1879-1967) was the force behind the recordings—he believed that the voices and words of prominent Americans should be preserved and made more widely available to those who may never have had the chance to hear the speakers in person. In many cases, these recordings are the only surviving recordings of the speaker featured. The speeches are not actuality recordings—that is, recorded at the time of their original delivery. Instead, speakers were invited to repeat significant orations for the project. A major reason for this was that the acoustic recording technology in the early 20th century, which relied on the force of the human voice to cut a record, was extremely limiting. A speaker had to project loudly and clearly into a recording horn at close range to successfully capture their voice on a disc. Additionally, many of the speeches are abridged, as phonograph records of this period could only hold about three minutes of material. Recordings in the series from 1918 are devoted mostly to World War I topics; recordings from 1919 and 1920 are devoted to post-war issues such as nationalism and international politics, as well as the 1920 presidential election.

Presidential figures heard on the “Nation’s Forum” recordings include Warren G. Harding as an Ohio senator and 1920 presidential candidate, Calvin Coolidge as governor of Massachusetts and Harding’s running mate, and Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Democratic vice presidential candidate, as well as a tribute to President Woodrow Wilson. Transcripts are available for recordings in the digital collection as well.

National Press Club

Another fascinating collection that includes presidential voices is the National Press Club Collection. The National Press Club has hosted luncheon gatherings since 1932, where presidents and political figures as well as cultural icons have addressed the press and answered questions about current events and affairs. In this online collection are the Press Club remarks of eight presidents: George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Harry Truman. Appearing at various stages of their political careers, including before and after their presidencies, they speak about economic struggles and recovery, international relations, civil rights, and much more.


Of course, presidents appear throughout the materials in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division—not just in the digital collections. News coverage in the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Sections offers a wealth of material on presidents past and present. The Division holds a large NBC radio and television collection, as well as election coverage on other major news networks such as CBS, coverage of inaugurations and State of the Union addresses, “Meet the Press” in both radio and television formats, and oral histories of the presidencies of Reagan, Nixon, and Kennedy. Coverage of political conventions, speeches and addresses, documentaries—all of these and more can be found in the moving image and recorded sound holdings of the Library.

To find moving image and recorded sound materials, search the Online Catalog and SONIC, or get in touch with Moving Image and Recorded Sound reference staff through Ask-a-Librarian. Visit the Moving Image Research Center and Recorded Sound Research Center websites for more information on searching our collections.

Check out the Library’s Digital Collections to see more from the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.

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