One Hundredth Anniversary of Pennsylvania State Archives

Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

The term “archives,” derived from the Latin archivum and the Greek archeion, refers to a government house, or the place where public records or historical documents are preserved. The Pennsylvania State Archives, the unit of Pennsylvania’s government responsible for the preservation of the permanently valuable records of the Commonwealth’s local, country, and state governmental bodies, as well as the historically significant documents and manuscripts that shed light on the Keystone State’s political, social, and economic development, currently houses the Commonwealth’s archival treasures, but such was not always the case.

Before 1903, the surviving records created during more than two centuries by the Proprietary Government of William Penn and his heirs, the Revolutionary Government of Benjamin Franklin and his fellow patriots, and the subsequent Constitutional Governments beginning in 1790, were maintained by the Secretary of the Commonwealth and various department heads in their operational areas.

With the creation in 1903 of the Division of Public Records as an organizational unit of the State Library, Pennsylvania became the third state in the nation to establish a formal archives program. Located in the Executive and State Library Building, recently renamed the Speaker Matthew J. Ryan Legislative Office Building, the Division was initially tasked with the responsibility for preserving and making available to the public records created by the activities of state government before 1750 that were deemed to possess permanent historical value. In 1931, the State Archives, with the rest of the State Library, moved to the newly erected Education Building. It remained there until 1964, until it was relocated to the William Penn Memorial Museum and Archives Building.

This year the Pennsylvania State Archives observes its one hundredth anniversary. The past century has witnessed the growth of the Commonwealth’s historical and archival collections from a small room barely filled with seventeenth and eighteenth-century governmental records to more than two hundred and thirty million documents, photographs, maps and drawings, video and audio tapes, and microfilm images of historical and vital records. Each year thousands of historians, genealogists, government officials, title searchers, and researchers of every description write or visit the Pennsylvania State Archives seeking information about government policies, individual Pennsylvanians, and our diverse communities.

The centennial of the Pennsylvania State Archives is a milestone – and a benchmark that, in itself, marks the dis­tance that it – and William Penn’s beloved Pennsylvania that it documents has come. It is reason enough, too, to celebrate the uncommon wealth that has been entrusted to our care.