Originally, each branch and agency of the government was responsible for maintaining its own documents, which often resulted in the loss and destruction of records. Congress established the National Archives Establishment in 1934 to centralize federal record keeping, with the archivist of the United States as its chief administrator. The National Archives was incorporated into the General Services Administration in 1949, but in 1985 it was made an independent agency as NARA.
The National Archives Building, located immediately north of the National Mall in Washington, DC, opened as its original headquarters in 1935. It houses the original copies of the three main formative documents of the United States and its government: the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. These are displayed to the public in the main chamber of the National Archives, which is called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.
The National Archives Building also exhibits other important American historical documents such as the Louisiana Purchase and the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as collections of photography and other historically and culturally significant American artifacts.
Due to space constraints, NARA opened a second facility in 1994 at College Park, Maryland, where it is now based. There are now a total of nine regional NARA records facilities across the country. The National Archives Building in Washington remains an active NARA office and a major tourist attraction.