It’s been a rough and wild ride for the Declaration of Independence since its 1776 inception. One of the most importance documents in the history of democracy, it leads one to question why efforts to preserve it were largely ignored for 127 years. On display in the rotunda of the National Archives and perused by thousands of tourists daily, the path to its now protected pedestal behind bulletproof glass was unique, to say the least…
During the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence was toted around like an old map via horseback, repeatedly rolled and folded into submission. Later, in 1823, its water-soluble ink was moistened to produce a wet-copy for engraving plates in the creation of a full-size facsimile.
In 1841, the Declaration was tacked up and displayed on a wall in the U.S. Patent Office for about 40 years under strong sunlight, discoloring the ink. In 1903 it was thus suggested to protect it from light and moisture. Good on the sunlight – bad on the moisture protection as parchment requires moisture to prevent cracking.
Evacuated 2 weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to Fort Knox, the Declaration returned to D.C. in 1944. About 7 years later, in 1951, preservation efforts began. And this time, how is the Declaration of Independence preserved? Sealed in a bronze, bulletproof glass case with a UV filter and filled with humidified helium at D.C.’s National Archives building. Clear and strong, the glass served double-duty, sharing the wonders of the Declaration with the American public, while protecting it against attack.
Lock & Key
The following year, in 1952, the Mosler Safe Company took things a step further with a custom-designed fireproof, shockproof, bombproof Cold War-era vault. Each day and night an elevator lifted the 50-ton steel and concrete-reinforced monstrosity through the floor for safekeeping. The Charters of Freedom: The Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are all kept in similar conditions.
A $110-million renovation of the National Archives in the early 2000s includes a complete overhaul of the security system, whose bulletproof glass and other safeguards require upgrades to maintain the safety of the Declaration due to the rapid revolution of weaponry and technology. How is the Declaration of Independence protected today? With the Charters of Freedom, it is housed in a proprietary Diebold vault under revolutionary Starphire bulletproof glass. Over 1,500 square feet of the 3/8-inch thick sheets of glass, weighing-in at a staggering 5.5-pounds-per-square foot, were donated by manufacturer PPG. Laminated with Solutia’s Saflex® PVB and covered with an anti-reflective coating from Denglass Technologies LLC, there’s no way Nicholas Cage is stealing this “National Treasure”!
Layers of Protection
Sandwiched between layers of glass, a layer of polycarbonate material, a tough transparent plastic also known as Lexan, Tuffak or Cyrolon, is inserted in a process called lamination, imbuing the glass with added toughness and flexibility. The thicker the glass, the greater the resistance. If a bullet were to be fired at the glass, this polycarbonate layer would absorb its impact, and distribute it to such an extent the bullet would be unable to exit the glass and damage the Declaration of Independence. (And you thought glass was just for windows and wine!)
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