On July 4th, 1776, a group of men put forth a document that would forever change the course of human history. The original Declaration of Independence still survives and is one of the most treasured papers in American history.
In 1995, the National Archives began planning for an update of the technology preserving the document. In 2001, conservators finally opened the case for the first time in 50 years. They discovered that the glass protecting the paper was degrading and the ink was fading at an alarming rate.
The project was led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a branch of the US Department of Commerce. The base of the case was created from a 600-pound block of aluminum, carefully carved by a milling machine. The inert gas now being circulated through the encasement would be argon, as opposed to helium.
The new glass is presently an inch above the surface of the paper and the case is airtight, allowing no oxygen to leak in and cause chemical degradation. Now safely at home in its new encasement, the Declaration of Independence can also serve as a wonderful example of how evolutions in technology can change the techniques employed by conservators.