A library was established in the Navy Department in 1800 at the direction of Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert. Over the years, it became the depository for books removed from libraries of old naval vessels. Following the issuance of General Order 282 by Secreary of the Navy William H. Hunt on March 23, 1882, the Library, with its holdings of approximately 7,000 volumes, was placed in the new Office of Naval Intelligence in the Bureau of Navigation. Professor of mathematics James Russel Soley was assigned to the Library as officer-in-charge on June 9, 1882, and began immediately to make plans for bringing together in the departmental library rare books that were scattered in the various bureaus, acquiring new texts, collecting old prints and photographs of naval battles and U. S. and foreign naval vessels, and classifying and cataloging this material. A year earlier efforts had begun under the leadership of Chief of the Bureau of Navigation John Grimes to collect records of Union and Confederate naval operations during the Civil War, with a view to eventual publication. This work was taken over by Soley after an act of Congress on July 7, 1884, granted the first appropriation, a sum of $2,640, for this work and authorized the establishment of the Office of Library and Naval War Records.
Soley continued in charge of the Office of LIbrary and Naval War Records until his appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in July 1889, a move that coincided with the placement of the office directly under the Secretary's office and the adoption of the additional title of Superintendent, Navay War Records, by the officer-in-charge of the Library. Soley, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, continued his interest in the office and was at least partly responsible for increases made in its staff.
Until 1915 the Office of Library and Naval War Records received separate appropriations for the purchase of technical books, magazines, and other services for the Library and for the collection, duplication, and publication of records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the Civil War. An act of Conress of March 4, 1915, consolidated the two appropriations, and the office title became the Office of Naval Records and Library.
In 1904 and 1906 Congress passed legislation providing for the transfer to the Secretary of the Navy of naval records in the custody of executive agencies pertaining to the Navy in the American Revolution and to the Department from its establishment until the Civil War. World War I, however, transformed the Office of Naval Records and Library from mainly a custodian of books, manuscripts, old official records, and other historical material to a collector of current records that could be used for contemporary as well as future historical and official research.
On July 19, 1918, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels in a circular letter announced the establishment of a "History Section" under the direction of the Chief of Naval Operations, which would be responsible for collecting historical material until the end of the war. Rear Adm. W. W. Kimbull (ret.) was made head of the new section. Similarly, a Historical Section was established in October 1918 at London Headquarters of . S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters on the recommendation of the Force Commander, Adm. William S. Sims. Recognizing their common interests, the Secretary of the Navy on July 1, 1919 ordered the combining of the Historical Section and the Office of Naval Records and Library in the Office of Naval Intelligence under the Chief of Naval Operations. Coinciding with this order was the grant by Congress of the first appropriation for collecting records pertaining to World War I; a separate appropriation was made for the work of the Office of Naval Records and Library.
Despite the incorporation, a line still was drawn between the "old" and "current" records handled by the personnel of the Office of Naval Records and Library and the personnel of the Historical Section. In keeping with this distinction, the Historical Section (which also was known as the World War Section) collected records transmitted to it by the bureaus, naval districts, the commanders-in-chief of the Asiatic, Pacific, and U. S. Fleets; and by ships and situations that had gone out of commission. Its staff copied and classified this material along with books, periodicals, and other publications concerning the war.
The Historical Section was expanded by the establishment on Janaury 1, 1919, of a Pictorial Branch reponsible for the collecting and filing of photographs, posters, and motion pictures illustrating the activities of U. S. and foreign navies. Commodore Dudley W. Knox was assigned to duty on August 1, 1921, as officer in charge of the Office of Naval Records and Library. He received an additional responsibility through the provisions of an act of Congress of April 28, 1930, which appointed him Curator for the Navy Department. As Curator, he was responsible for the collection and preservation of trophies and other artifacts of historical value to the Navy, except for those at the Naval Academy and at other naval stations. Beginning in 1931 naval officers were no longer assigned to the office to serve as Superintendent of the Library and Knox assumed these duties, too.
On January 10, 1924, Knox issued an order that established a Division of Records in the Historical Section to have "cognizance over all material from the beginning of American Naval History to the beginning of the World War Period." The Division of Records and the Historical Section lost their separate identities after 1927, when Knox organized a large part of the office staff to begin the systematic archiving of the pre-World War I records and personal papers that had been received from Navy bureaus, officers, and private donors, and the unarranged World War I materials.
At the outbreak of World War II, the Office of Naval Records and Library consisted of the Library, the Publication Section, the Manuscript Section (which was formed from the Old Records Section and the World War I Section), and the Graphics Section (which was organized earlier as the Pictorial Branch.) As early as December 1937, a part of the Naval Records Collection stored at the Naval Magazine, Bellevue, Washington, D.C., was transferred to the National Archives so that more space could be made available for ordnance storage. The declaration of a limited emergenc on September 8, 1919, signaled a reduction of suitable space in the Navy Department Building for the storage of the Naval Records Collection and the elimination of office space for the staff that serviced these records. Moves of the collection and the staff to the National Archives Building and the Navy Annex at Arlington, Va., followed in the next two years.
The main part of the collection was removed from the Navy Department Building to the Arlington Annex in 1941; a part of it was again moved in 1942 to the Library of Congress, including books belonging to the Naval Historical Foundation. All pictures and artifacts were stored in the Navy Warehouse of South Court House Road in Arlington.
In October 1942 negotiations were begun to transfer a part of the Naval Records Collection for the period prior to 1911 from the custody of the Manuscripts Section to the legal custody of the National Archives. In a letter of November 10, 1942, the Archivist of the United States agreed to the transfer and also offered courtesy storage for the major part of the collection for the period 1911-27. Staff privileges and office space for civil serice naval personnel of the Office of Naval Records and Library were also offered. After the collection was transferred to the National Archives Building, the Office of Naval Records and Library staff located there became known as the Early Records Section. The Early Records Section maintained liaison with the National Archives and also conducted research on behalf of the Navy. Commodore Knox's administrative offices were located at the Arlington Annex. The staff there, engaged in collecting and classifying operational records of World War II, became known as the Operational Archives.
Under the reorganization of September 29, 1945, the Office of Naval Intelligence, to which the Office of Naval Records and Library was still attached, was placed under the newly established Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Administration). In a subsequent reorganization on August 1, 1946, the Office of Naval Records and Library was removed from the Office of Naval Intelligence. The Office of Naval Intelligence was placed under the jurisdiction of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations), but the Office of Naval Records and Library remained under the jurisdiction of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Administration). In this reorganization, the Office of Naval Records and Library was combined with the Office of Naval History, which had been established in July 1944 under the supervision of the Office of the Secretary of the Navy to prepare histories and narratives of naval activities during World War II. since 1952 this unit has been known as the Naval History Division.
Archives System of the Office of Naval Records and Library
On January 10, 1924, Capt. Dudley W. Knox, officer-in-charge of the Office of naval Records and Library, issued an order directing that the work of collecting and filing naval historical documents be expanded. The Historical Section was instructed to continue the collecting and filing of records for the period 1911-27, referred to as the "World War period." The Division of Records was directed to collect and file all material pertaining to the early history of the Navy (prior to the Civil War) and to the Navy between the Civil War and the World War periods, or roughly the years 1867-1910. The collection of materials for the Civil War period was considered by Knox to be "virtually finished."
All collected materials were organized under one archives system, which was primarily subdivided into four general time periods.
Early Period - from the beginning of American naval history to the year 1855.
Rebellion Period - the years 1856-70
Spanish War Period - the years 1871-1910
World War Period - the years ca. 1911-27
The second main subdivision of the collection was the division of files into "Operation Files" and "Logistics Files" for the Spanish War and World War Periods. The Logistics Files were further segregated according to the office and bureaus of the Navy Department.
The Operation Files were further segregated into four classes:
Class 1 consisted of such records as diaries: logs; journals, signal records; books, and watch, station, and quarter bills.
Class 2 consisted of miscellany that could not be filed under other classes, such as serial or docketed material (circular letters, and daily, weekly, and monthly bulletins and notices), minutes of proceedings of commissions and committees, intelligence publications, regulations, and statistics. This material was filed according to subject classification and thereunder chronologically.
Class 3 consisted of general correspondence that was arranged chronologically. For the World War Period, duplicate copies of this class of material were placed in a separate subject file arranged according to the subject classification.
Class 4 consisted of telegrams and cables for the World War Period that were filed by area and thereunder chronologically. Any duplicates were placed in the subject file referred to under Class 3.
The third main subdivision of the collection for the Early and Spanish War periods was according to geographic area. The major subdivisions were Area 4, and 7 in (see description of these areas in Appendix H). The area subdivision was also used for the Rebellion and World War Periods, supplemented by further subdivision (see Appendix H).
None of the bound volumes or the oversized muster rolls and payrolls presently in Record Group 45 are organized according to the archives scheme developed by the Office of Naval Records and Library. They are organized by provenance according to the office that created them, including the Secretary of the Navy's Office, bureaus, stations, yards, and boards. The Area, Subject, and Logistics Files described in entries 500-502, 517, 520, and 522 retain the arrangement scheme imposed by the Office of Naval Records and Library.