After three-year delay, Library of Congress begins adding National Historic Vehicle Register information
Photo courtesy Library of Congress.
From the beginning, the architects of the National Historic Vehicle Register intended to not only document some of the country’s most important vehicles, but also place that documentation in the Library of Congress (LoC), making it publicly accessible. More than three years and nearly 20 vehicles later, the Library has posted the first of those documents to its website.
“The situation isn’t one that we like, but we’re just happy that the records are finally starting to appear,” said Richard O’Connor, the National Park Service’s chief of Heritage Documentation Program, which oversees the National Historic Vehicle Register’s entries into the public record.
According to O’Connor, the delay results directly from a backlog at the LoC. “It’s not just the HVA’s materials, but all of our materials,” he said, noting that while the Heritage Documentation Program has worked with the Library since the Thirties, the Library didn’t start digitizing any of the program’s materials until 1997. “And we’re producing archive materials all the time, so the backlog just keeps getting bigger. We work with a good crew of people over there, but these problems are definitely above their pay grade.”
Likewise, the Historic Vehicle Association has continued to add vehicles to the National Historic Vehicle Register regularly since kicking it off with a 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona in January of 2014. Mark Gessler, president of the HVA, said his organization has taken the delay in publishing the records all in stride.
“Digitization has been an on-again off-again priority under the prior LoC leadership and, of course, a victim of scarce funding,” he said. “Each quarter we submit and then its in their mill.”
Records for four Register-listed vehicles — GM Futurliner No. 10, a World War I 1918 Cadillac Type 57, the 1964 Meyers Manx known as Old Red, and the Indianapolis 500-winning 1938 Maserati 8CTF known as the Boyle Special — recently went live on the LoC’s website. Included in those records are each vehicle’s ownership history, documented modifications or restorations, photographs, line drawings, and technical descriptions. The HVA has inducted or announced the induction of 15 other vehicles into the register.
Along with posting the records to its website, the LoC collects photo negatives and paper documents printed on materials designed for conservation and longevity. All physical materials are then stored in “state-of-the-art curatorial facilities” at Fort Meade in Maryland, according to O’Connor.
In addition to the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) — under which the National Historic Vehicle Register technically falls — the Heritage Documentation Program includes the Historic American Buildings Survey and the Historic American Landscapes Survey. The program also sets forth the guidelines for inclusion into all three. Under the terms of the partnership between the HAER and the HVA, the former prepares drawings of cars to be included on the register while the latter prepares the histories and photography and funds the documentation.
According to Gessler, a Senate bill introduced in April proposes to establish the National Historic Vehicle Register as its own separate entity out from under the jurisdiction of the HAER, though O’Connor said that wouldn’t likely speed up the rate at which the LoC adds records to its website.
“And at this rate, I don’t think it would be fair to guess when the rest of the (National Historic Vehicle Register’s) records will be up,” O’Connor said. “We still have one big backlog ahead of us — the Farm Security Administration’s photos from the 1930s, which the Library has wanted to digitize for years.”
Established in March of 2013, the National Historic Vehicle Register includes cars and trucks that meet at least one of four criteria: association with important American historic events, association with important American historic figures, its design or construction value, or its informational value. Inclusion on the Register does not restrict the owner of the vehicle from restoring, modifying, or using the vehicle however they wish.
For more information about the National Historic Vehicle Register, visit HistoricVehicle.org.