Presidential libraries are quintessentially and patriotically American. Located across the United States, these libraries are nothing like your local neighborhood library. In fact, the 15 Presidential libraries are a combination of national history, the personal history of the leaders of the land, and a record of the times in which the leaders served.
Presidential libraries are fun and interesting places to visit, combining interactive museum exhibits, donated personal and professional papers of the presidents, plus key personal items such as clothing, cars, Presidential flags and replica rooms from the White House.
So, if you’re looking for an exhilarating and interesting day out, why not visit one of the great American presidential libraries? Here, we have our top five picks of the presidential libraries that we think you shouldn’t miss.
5. Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
Yorba Linda, California
Located in Richard Nixon’s birthplace, Orange County, the Nixon Library and Museum is also the 37th president’s final resting place. Nixon’s 50-year career is extensively explored at the museum, including even the more controversial aspects. As one of America’s most divisive presidents, the exhibits at the Nixon Library and Museum are guaranteed to intrigue and enthrall.
Key events from Nixon’s career are explored in the permanent exhibits, such as the Vietnam war exhibit, which also depicts the lives of Prisoners of War (POW) and their homecomings. Nixon’s involvement in the space program and his visit to China, which became known as “the week that changed the world,” are also exciting features at the museum.
The museum also features information about Nixon’s personal life, his career progression up to and including a mock-up of the 1960s presidential campaign, and the Nixon/Kennedy debates.
The Watergate scandal and a mock-up of Nixon’s departure speech after the president’s resignation from office are controversial but very interesting inclusions. Both will challenge any preconceptions you have about Nixon, the only president to resign from office as President of the United States.
4. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Hyde Park, New York
As the very first presidential library and museum, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidential Library and Museum is really one for the history buffs. Created under President Roosevelt’s direct supervision between 1939 and 1940, it was built on property donated by the president himself.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, realizing that the papers and artifacts collated during his presidency would probably be lost, sold, or destroyed, decided to donate these items to a public repository. This started a tradition, which continues to this day, and it preserves incredible insights into the presidency and our nation’s history.
FDR’s presidency is depicted through photographs, personal papers, videos, audio, and artifacts. The library contains highlights of key events during Roosevelt’s presidency, including the Great Depression, the attack on Pearl Harbor and his subsequent “Day of Infamy” speech. There is even the chance to tour FDR’s family home, with a particularly engaging section that features the president’s famed “fireside chats.”
Personal items from the President and the First lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, can also be viewed at the library and museum. Particular highlights include FDR’s adapted Ford Phaeton car, the President’s model ship collection, and many gifts of state from international visits.
3. William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
Little Rock, Arkansas
The largest of all the presidential libraries, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum contains over 80 million pages of documents, 79,000 artifacts, two million photographs, and 21 million emails.
Construction was started in 2001, and it was funded by private donations, with completion and dedication of the museum and library to William J. Clinton occurring in 2004. The library was the first federal building to receive the Platinum LEED certificate for environmental design.
Featuring exact replicas of rooms from the White House and special artifacts like the presidential limousine, visitors are free to explore the day-to-day life of the President of the United States and his family. A number of interactive exhibits challenge you to test your knowledge of the Clinton administration’s achievements and the Secret Service.
William J. Clinton was historically one of the highest-rated presidents when he left office, and this is reflected in the vast array of gifts given by dignitaries and people from all over the world.
The library and museum can be enjoyed independently, or you can join one of the regular guided tours around the exhibits.
2. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Nestled in ten acres of land in Boston, Massachusetts, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is also a memorial to the 35th President of the United States. The library holds a number of official papers from during JFK’s presidency, while the museum houses film, photographs, and clothing of the Kennedy family.
As the youngest elected president at the time, John F. Kennedy’s presidency included some ground-breaking events and challenging situations, which are cleverly explored at the library and museum. Here, you can map the president’s personal life from a boy to decorated war hero, right through to the determined and dedicated presidency candidate.
Explore the president’s battles and successes, from the U.S. space race, where JFK set the goal for America to land on the moon before the end of the 1960s to the 1963 civil rights movement, where the young president appealed to Americans to adhere to the principles on which the United States union was founded: that all men are equal.
The museum also features some of the first lady Jackie Kennedy’s iconic clothing, among a collection of 20,000 gifts from people and world leaders.
The library building was designed by the world-renowned I.M. Pei and overlooks the sea that Kennedy loved and the city of Boston where he made his name. The JFK Café at the Library and Museum is a great place to relax and enjoy the spectacular view.
1. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
Simi Valley, California
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is, by far, the most impressive of all the presidential museums and houses some unique exhibits and artifacts. The largest presidential library when it was completed in 1991, (later surpassed by William J. Clinton’s library and museum), the museum houses a Boeing 707 plane that was used as Air Force One during Reagan’s and seven other presidents’ tenures.
Thousands of videos and audio recordings, millions of photographs, and more than 50 million presidential documents are housed here at the most popular presidential library and museum in the United States. Plus, there are full replica sets of the White House, including the American Flag that flew overhead.
The career of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, spanned eight years, prior to which he was a household name as a film actor. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum also includes documents from his eight years as governor of California. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum and Library also serves as the final resting place of the president.