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Lost and Found: Audiotape Surfaces of President Eisenhower's 1954 Dedication of NIST Boulder

From NIST Tech Beat: September 5, 2012

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Contact: Laura Ost

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Audio credit: Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder, Colo.

Almost exactly 58 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the 1954 dedication ceremony for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus in Boulder, Colo.

Now you can listen to what he and other dignitaries said.

Until recently, there were no known recordings of the ceremony, which attracted an estimated 10,000 people—about half the population of the city of Boulder at the time. Eisenhower was the first sitting president to visit Boulder; President Obama became the second this year.

Schools and businesses closed for the Sept. 14, 1954, dedication of the Colorado campus of what was then known as the National Bureau of Standards. It was built on a former cow pasture donated by the Boulder Chamber of Commerce.

In retrospect it seems a quaint and simpler era: Gas cost 22 cents a gallon, jet airliners were new, and Elvis was just starting his musical career.

Many photographs were taken that day in Boulder, and silent video of some of the day’s events surfaced. Historical records indicate the media planned to audiotape the ceremony, including Eisenhower’s speech, but their recording equipment—primitive by today’s standards—failed.*

President Eisenhower
President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered the dedication address at NIST's campus in Boulder, Colo., in September 1954.
Credit: NIST
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Yet it turns out that a community radio station successfully recorded the entire ceremony, and the pristine original survives.

Piled among eight boxes of yet-to-be-catalogued material, a reel-to-reel magnetic tape recording of Eisenhower’s 1954 speech was found at the Boulder’s Carnegie Branch Library for Local History. The recording was donated to the library as part of a collection from KBOL-AM and KBVL-FM, community radio stations that operated from the late 1940s to the early 1990s.The old tape was spliced together in two places and broke during a replay, but it was successfully converted to digital form.

The 18-minute recording features remarks by then-Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks, an introduction by then-NBS Director Allen Astin (who served as director from 1951 to 1969) and Eisenhower’s speech (listen to accompanying audio clip).

Copies of the recording can be obtained from the Carnegie library at http://boulderlibrary.org/carnegie/. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum (Abilene, Kan.) has a seven-minute U.S. Army Signal Corps audio recording of the President’s speech as well as a 10-minute video with sound from an unknown source.

*An NBS employee’s reminiscence of the 1954 dedication and what happened to the sound system can be found at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/1954.cfm.