The presidential library began with FDR, and one for George W. Bush broke ground last week. JFK's includes a collection from an American novelist.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library/Reuters
EX-President of the United States – it’s a pretty good job to have. You get a lifetime pension (equal to what a cabinet officer gets paid). The US pays for your staff (though none of them can earn more than $96,000 a year). You get $1 million a year for travel and security expenses.
Plus, you get a presidential library, a whole academic institution dedicated to the study of you and your times.
But there’s a catch when it comes to that library thing. Uncle Sam doesn’t pay to build them. Former Oval Office occupants must raise the money for construction themselves. They also have to set up an endowment equal to about 20 percent of the library’s value. Only then will the National Archives accept the facility on behalf of a grateful nation.
That takes a lot of checks.
“I appreciate the 160,000 donors whose generosity has ensured that this building was fully paid for before we broke ground,” said Mr. Bush at his recent Dallas library ceremony.
The whole US presidential library system is relatively new, historically speaking. There are only 13, despite the fact that there have been 44 presidents.
Then Harry Truman decided he’d do the same thing. In 1955, Congress passed a Presidential Library Act that established the basic pattern: Private money pays to build them, then the US government takes them over and runs them. (A 1986 update of the act added the endowment requirement.)
Fun fact: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston contains the world’s largest collection of Ernest Hemingway material, as well as JFK’s stuff. The two men never met but they admired each other, so in 1968 Hemingway’s widow donated his papers to the library.