NPR

JFK, Digitized: Presidential Archive Debuts Online

The inaugural address of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, on Jan. 20, 1961, in Washington, D.C. (John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library/NPR)

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. It's an event that may seem like ancient history to some. But the Kennedy Library and the National Archives hope to make that history a bit more accessible.

On Thursday, they announced they have put all of the 35th president's important speeches, papers and recordings online at www.jfklibrary.org.

There, you can find famous memorabilia -- such as the president's inaugural address from Jan. 20, 1961, in which he urged, "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

Watch a video about the writing of Kennedy's inaugural address.

But there are also lesser known items in the archives, including part of a 1962 TV and radio address on the admission of the first African-American to the University of Mississippi. "Mr. James Meredith is now in residence on the campus of the University of Mississippi," Kennedy said. "This has been accomplished thus far without the use of National Guard or other troops."

The Digital Archive includes more than 200,000 pages of speeches and notes, hundreds of reels of audio tape, and more than 1,000 recorded phone conversations. JFK Library Director Thomas Putnam says putting it online was a long and painstaking process.

"It's been a four-year project, and again, it's very labor-intensive because all of these documents and photos weren't born digitally, so each one needs to be hand-scanned," he says.

The documents now online have been available at the brick-and-mortar JFK Library in Boston. But now anyone with access to a computer and the Internet can view firsthand drafts of Kennedy's inaugural, showing how the famous phrase "ask not what your country can do for you" evolved from "ask not what your country is going to do for you."

Putnam's favorite find? "I really do love the conversations he has during the middle of the Cuban missile crisis. I mean, nothing can bring you closer to that moment about what he was trying to deal with than hearing, you know, even the laughter in the conversation between him and Eisenhower." (Listen to that phone conversation between Kennedy and former President Eisenhower.)

At a reception announcing the opening of the online archive, Caroline Kennedy said her father's example, words and spirit are more important than ever.

"Using today's technology, we will be able to give today's generation access to the historical record and challenge them to answer my father's call to service to solve the problems of our own time," she said.

The president's daughter contributed to the archive. Her name is carefully printed in her then 5-year-old's handwriting on the back of one of Kennedy's papers.

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More Photos

The inaugural address of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, on Jan. 20, 1961, ...

President Kennedy aboard the family yacht, the Honey Fitz, on Aug. 31, 1963, off Hyannis Port, Ma...

First lady Jacqueline Kennedy laughs as her son, John Jr., plays with her necklace in his White H...

President Kennedy meets with the leaders of the March On Washington in the Oval Office on Aug. 28...

President Kennedy and his family, in Hyannis Port on Aug. 4, 1962. (Cecil Stoughton/John F. Kenne...

Brothers (from left) John, Robert and Edward Kennedy in Hyannis Port in 1960. (John F. Kennedy P...

Jackie Kennedy visits the Lake Palace in Udaipur, India, on March 16, 1962. (Cecil Stoughton/John...

President Kennedy watches his daughter Caroline inspect a snowman made for her on the White Hous...

Sen. George Smathers (D-FL), and President Kennedy get a look at the Saturn rocket at Cape Canav...

President Kennedy gets a look inside the Mercury capsule that was piloted by John Glenn (at Kenne...

President Kennedy sails aboard the Manitou off the coast of Maine, Aug. 12, 1962. (Robert Knudsen...

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. If the event seems like ancient history to some, the Kennedy Library and the National Archives hope to make it a bit more accessible.

Today, they announced that they've put all of the 35th president's important speeches, papers and recordings online.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Go to www.jfklibrary.org and you can find the famous, like the president's inaugural address from January 20th, 1961.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

NAYLOR: And there's the less well-known. Here's part of a 1962 TV and radio address on the admission of the first African-American to the University of Mississippi.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Mr. James Meredith is now in residence on the campus of the University of Mississippi. This has been accomplished thus far without the use of National Guard or other troops.

NAYLOR: The digital archive includes over 200,000 pages of speeches and notes, hundreds of reels of audiotape, and over a thousand recorded phone conversations.

JFK Library director Thomas Putnam says putting it online was a long and painstaking process.

Mr. THOMAS PUTNAM (Director, JFK Library): It's been a four-year project. It's very labor-intensive because all of these documents and photos weren't born digitally, so each one needs to be hand-scanned.

NAYLOR: The documents now online have been available at the brick and mortar JFK Library in Boston. But now anyone with access to a computer and the Internet can view firsthand drafts of Kennedy's inaugural, showing how the famous phrase, ask not what you can do for your country, evolved from, ask not what your country is going to do. Putnam's favorite find?

Mr. PUTNAM: I really do love the conversations he has during the middle of Cuban missile crisis. I mean, nothing can bring you closer to that moment about what he was trying to deal with and hearing, you know, even the laughter in the conversation between him and Eisenhower.

(Soundbite of conversation between Pres. John F. Kennedy and Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower)

President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: Something may make these people shoot them off, I just don't believe this will.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Right.

President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: (Unintelligible) I'll say this, I'd want to keep my own people very alert.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Yeah. Well, hang on tight.

President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: Yes, sir.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Thanks a lot, General.

President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: All right.

NAYLOR: At a reception announcing the opening of the online archive, Caroline Kennedy said her father's example, words, and spirit are more important than ever.

Ms. CAROLINE KENNEDY: Using today's technology, we will be able to give today's generation access to the historical record and challenge them to answer my father's call to service to solve the problems of our own time.

NAYLOR: The president's daughter contributed to the archive. Her name is carefully printed in her then 5-year-old's handwriting on the back of one of Kennedy's papers.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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