Before he took on the “bully pulpit” as the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt lost his first wife and mother on the same day in 1884. Reflecting on their deaths, he turned to a page in his diary and wrote, “The light has gone out of my life.”
That somber note and thousands of other intimate records from his life are now available in a digital archive compiled by the Library of Congress. According to the library, its collection of Roosevelt’s papers has become the world’s largest, with 276,000 documents and more than 460,000 images from his time as governor of New York, his days as a cavalry officer in the Spanish-American War and his role as president in the early 1900s.
Among the historical files are scrapbooks, speeches, and family records, most notably a letter containing Roosevelt’s first documented use of the proverb “speak softly and carry a big stick;” a campaign speech from his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1912; and a document criticizing Woodrow Wilson’s policy on World War I.
The bespectacled politician first sent his papers to the library for safekeeping in 1917. His shipments eventually became a permanent gift, and the collection grew as his relatives and literary executor sent additional contributions.
The majority of the materials date from the period between 1878 — when Roosevelt was a student at Harvard College — through 1919, the year of his death. Most of the them were digitized from 485 reels of microfilm; others were scanned for the first time as the collection took shape.
The Harvard University Library also holds a significant archive of Roosevelt documents. And Dickinson State University in North Dakota is partnering with the Library of Congress and other organizations to develop a digital collection as well.
Recent collections digitized by the Library of Congress include those of Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Franklin and Susan B. Anthony. The institution had also set out to archive every public message posted on Twitter in the platform’s history, but that ambitious plan was scrapped earlier this year.