Facebook Twitter

National Archives investigates destruction of historical records

SHARE National Archives investigates destruction of historical records

The National Archives is investigating how it came to destroy thousands of naval records that the Naval Research Laboratory says "chronicle some of the most significant technical achievements in the 20th century."

In a case of mixed signals, the archives, keeper of the government's valuable papers, says they were "pulped beyond recognition.""The historical record of our nation's scientific and technological heritage has suffered a serious and irreparable loss," Rear Adm. Paul G. Gaffney II, chief of naval research, protested to National Archivist John Carlin, and demanded an investigation by an independent group of the archives' "disposal policies and processes."

The archives says it destroyed the records routinely after telling the Navy that would be done unless it heard otherwise. The Navy "raised no objection to carrying out the scheduled disposal of the laboratory material," the archives said.

But Gaffney said the laboratory wasn't told, and did not find out about the destruction until last July, when it asked that some material be sent back.

"The magnitude of this loss cannot be overstated," he said. Lost were 4,200 notebooks kept by scientists, along with 600 boxes of correspondence and technical memos.

These materials, dating from the 1930s through the 1980s, "chronicle some of the most significant technical achievements in the 20th century," Gaffney said.

Among the lost records, he said, were the correspondence of American pioneers in high-frequency radio, work of the inventors of radar "and the war records of the application of these technologies in the campaigns against Nazi Germany and imperial Japan."