Mosler and U. S. Archives. America's precious documents are "as safe from destruction as anything that the wit of modern man could devise" said President Harry Truman as the National Archives dedicated a new building in Washington, D. C., Dec. 15, 1952. A Mosler safe protected the nation's three "Charters of Freedom" -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights -- that went on display that day in the exhibition hall in the archives building. "Working under the tremendous pressure of a December deadline," a company history noted, "Mosler engineers, technicians and machinists labored around the clock to design and build" the vault for the National Archives. During visiting hours, the documents are shown "in a glass case resting in a marble altar," explained a publication Mosler produced for the 1952 dedication. "At night, and in case of emergency, a button is pressed and the case descends slowly through the floor. An elevator gently lowers it into a 50-ton safe.
As the precious burden settles, huge five-ton doors swing shut, lock and safeguard the documents," said the booklet. The Hamilton-built vault -- constructed of steel and reinforced concrete -- was designed to be fireproof, shockproof and bombproof. That last safeguard was a major consideration in the early 1950s because of increasing tensions in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The conflict had begun shortly after World War II, with the rapid expansion of Soviet influence over Eastern Europe. The nuclear arms race had started in 1949, when the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb, ending a four-year U. S. advantage. The U. S. detonated its first hydrogen bomb in November 1952, nine months before the Soviet tested their first super bomb. The decision to consolidate the collection of historic U. S. documents and protect them from nuclear destruction was made in the context of Cold War events. When the National Archives building was dedicated Dec. 15, 1952, the Korean War was stalemated, Joseph Stalin still ruled in the Soviet Union and President Truman was within weeks of turning over the nation's leadership to President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower.
By 1952, the documents protected by the Mosler security system also were threatened by decades of frequent movements and poor care. The Declaration of Independence, written in 1776 in Philadelphia, moved often in its early years as the Continental Congress shifted its meeting sites to avoid British capture during the American Revolution. The Constitution, drafted in 1787 in Philadelphia, and the Bill of Rights, adopted in 1791 in Philadelphia, also traveled as the nation's capital switched from New York to Philadelphia and finally to Washington, D. C., in 1800. By 1950, the Declaration was the most fragile of the documents, the result of improper handling and exposure from 1841 until 1894. During this period, said a National Archives report, it was displayed "with little concern about the likelihood of its fading." The report said "for the first 35 years of this period, it hung in the Patent Office Building in Washington, opposite a window and exposed to sunlight; it was the shown in Philadelphia at the centennial of its signing; and soon after that it was displayed in the new State, War and Navy Building in Washington."
That building burned soon after the document was removed and stored. Before being placed in the Mosler-built protection system in 1952, the Declaration was sealed in a helium-filled display case with filtered glass to prevent further damage. (See Mosler for company details.)