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What did presidents do during their administrations? The documents and letters they place in their presidential libraries are a good start to find out. Recent presidents have libraries dedicated to preserving their documents, but a few earlier ones left their papers to institutions, historical societies and public libraries. See which on this NARA webpage.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the first presidential library in 1939 to house his papers and records for future research. Presidential libraries and museums have their own library system administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, a federal agency. Read more about NARA on their website, which is also a destination for research in and of itself.
Libraries of presidents from WWI through WWII
Libraries for Cold War presidents
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum
Simi Valley, California. Republican.
Known as the Reagan Years, the former California governor served from 1981 until 1989 and survived being shot in an assassination attempt.
Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum
Atlanta, Georgia. Democrat.
Often derided as a peanut farmer, Carter served one term from 1977 until 1981.
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum
Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Republican.
Richard Nixon's vice president, Ford became president after he pardoned Nixon in 1973 and served out the term until 1977.
Nixon Library & Museum
Yorba Linda, California. Republican.
President from 1968 until shortly into his second term when he resigned under fire over the Watergate scandal in 1973.
LBJ Presidential Library
Austin, Texas. Democrat.
The architect of a war on poverty called "The Great Society", Vice President Johnson was sworn in as president the day JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963. He was elected president in 1964 and served one term.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
Boston, Massachusetts. Democrat.
JFK served from 1961 until his assassination in November 1963.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home
Abilene, Kansas. Republican.
A five star general during World War II, Ike held two terms from 1953 to 1961.
Harry S. Truman Library & Museum
Independence, Missouri. Democrat.
The public high school graduate and WWI veteran was elected senator from Missouri before Pres. Roosevelt chose him as vice president. When Roosevelt died 82 days after taking for his fourth term in 1945, Truman was sworn in as president. In 1948, Truman won election as president.
A presidential library yet to be built
The Barack Obama Presidential Center will be built in Jackson Park in Chicago's south side. Until then, the newest presidential library will be the subject of news stories, giving you a chance to read about all the considerations that go into planning one of these unique libraries. The building has yet to be built, but the website for the Barack Obama Presidential Library is up. Keep up with the latest developments here.
Libraries of post Cold War presidents
George W. Bush
Dallas, Texas. Republican.
"W", or "dubya", was known by the middle initial that differentiated him from his father, President George Bush. Elected in 2000, he was president on 9/11 (2001) and won re-election.
William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum
Little Rock, Arkansas. Democrat.
The scandal-ridden yet popular Clinton served two terms from 1993-2001.
College Station, Texas. Republican.
Ronald Reagan's two-term vice president, Bush called people to public and community service in a famous "thousand points of light" speech.