“I’m gonna steal the Declaration of Independence.”
From the moment I heard Nicholas Cage utter those words in a preview for “National Treasure,” I knew that the plot was going to be pretty crazy. However, the movie did get one thing right: The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, collectively known as the Charters of Freedom, are among the most guarded treasures on earth. They used to be moved from their usual spots in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to an underground, armored, bomb-proof vault each and every night.
The vault was constructed in 1953 by the Mosler Safe Company. The U.S. government thought they were right for the job after learning that one of their vaults survived the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
Just like in “National Treasure,” there was a special elevator that lowered the documents underground.
In the video below, check out the elevator in action. It took the Charters of Freedom to their secret vault every night when the National Archives closed. It could also be operated at a moment’s notice in case of emergency.
When the Mosler Safe Company presented a model of the vault and elevator, everyone was visibly pleased with their ingenious work.
Richard Nixon, who was vice president at the time, was among those impressed. The real vault weighed 55 tons and was roughly the size of a walk-in closet. A 20-foot scissor jack was used to raise and lower the documents.
The Mosler vault and elevator remained in use until the early 2000s, when it was replaced by something new designed by Diebold. The current security measures are shrouded in secrecy.
David Ferriero, archivist of the United States, said, “We do have a plan, but I’d have to kill you if I told you. Security arrangements for the Charters are not public.”
(via Atlas Obscura)
It’s incredible to see how much thought has gone into guarding America’s most precious documents. Be sure to share this awesome information with your friends and family, as well as anyone who might have been planning to steal the Declaration of Independence!