Start Your Engines: The National Historic Vehicle Register

The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, Chief, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) displays amazing cars on the National Mall each spring. Their Cars at the Capital event tells the stories that make these rare automobiles, motorcycles, and trucks come to life. Once added to the National Historic Vehicle Register, each car is documented with professionally created photographs and measured drawings. Four of the twenty-four registry vehicles are already part of the Historic American Engineering Record for which the Library of Congress provides enduring and online public access.

1918 Cadillac Type 57 on display at the National Mall. Photo by Historic Vehicle Association, 2018.

1918 Cadillac Type 57 on display at the National Mall. Photo by Historic Vehicle Association, 2018.

There might not seem to be much in common between “old cars” and the oldest federal cultural institution—the Library of Congress. But the connections are plentiful.

The Library of Congress has an especially strong connection to the 1918 Cadillac Type 57, also known as U.S. 1257X. The Historic American Engineering Record statement of significance notes: “The vehicle is … associated with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the daughter-in-law of former President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt, who was charged with leading women’s official involvement in WWI.”

Overall view of the interior viewed from above, facing the front of the car. - 1918 Cadillac Type 57, Gardiner, Jefferson County, WA, Photo by Casey T. Maxon, 2014. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.wa0922/photos.581704p

Overall view of the interior viewed from above, facing the front of the car. – 1918 Cadillac Type 57, Gardiner, Jefferson County, WA, Photo by Casey T. Maxon, 2014. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.wa0922/photos.581704p

E[leanor] wearing Y.M.C.A. uniform that she designed. Photo, 1936. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c35061

E[leanor] wearing Y.M.C.A. uniform that she designed. Photo, 1936. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c35061

The Prints & Photographs Division received all 25 volumes of Mrs. Roosevelt’s family photo albums as a gift in 1986. During a recent visit, the current owner of the 1918 Cadillac was fascinated to see the images that she saved. Devotion to accuracy based on research is another common characteristic for the HVA and libraries!

The Library of Congress and the HVA also share a strong commitment to preserving and documenting the past. We both strive to bring the past alive by telling the stories that make history matter today and for future generations.

Whether it’s appreciation for the technology or a connection to a family story, images of motor vehicles spark imagination and memory. Prints & Photographs Division staff enjoyed sharing items from the collections relating to motor vehicles at a recent display in the reading room.

P&P staff and visitors survey motor vehicle related items on display. Photo by P&P staff, 2018 April.

P&P staff and visitors survey motor vehicle related items on display. Photo by P&P staff, 2018 April.

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