Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

The Watergate scandal, in which Richard Nixon resigned as president in 1974, made it more difficult to launch a presidential museum for him. The papers of a president were still kept private, but they were frequently handed over so that the documents could be viewed by the general public.

After his resignation, Nixon surrendered his presidential papers, asking that any White House recordings be destroyed after a specific date. In December 1974, the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA) was passed by Congress to safeguard important evidence from being lost in history. The Act of Congress immediately notified the National Archives of all of Nixon’s presidential papers; it does not apply to any other president.

The Richard M. Nixon Foundation near Orange County, CA was established in 1983 to raise money for and operate a Nixon presidential library. Construction of the Richard M. Nixon Library & Museum began in 1988 in Yorba Linda, California, at a cost of $21 million.

The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum were completed in 1990, and it was dedicated during a ceremony attended by Nixon, along with George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan.

The library and museum were hampered from the start by the fact that all of Nixon’s presidential papers were still in federal hands, at a National Archives facility in Maryland. The Nixon Foundation ran the library and museum initially rather than joining forces with the government as previous presidential libraries had done.

In the museum’s displays, the Foundation received criticism for humanizing Nixon in a more sympathetic manner. The original Watergate exhibit was particularly contentious. Critics accused the foundation of implying that Nixon was a victim of a Democratic conspiracy, while supporters argued that it gave an inside look at his position on the issue.

In 2004, the United States Congress passed legislation urging the creation of a presidential library and museum for Richard Nixon. In 2007, the Nixon Foundation authorized the National Archives to take control of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, which was then chartered as a federal institution.

The collection of presidential papers was moved to the library in full as part of the consolidation. The Nixon Foundation served in an advisory capacity, but it frequently clashed with the National Archives over how Nixon is portrayed. Despite stern objections by the Foundation, the original Watergate exhibit was replaced with a revised, more balanced version that included White House recordings, among other sources. The building, which opened in the summer of 1855, has served as a library and museum since its inception. In 2016, it was completely renovated for $15 million to update displays and incorporate more interactive components, including audiovisual media.

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