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Archive for April, 2011

The dimes that saved lives

On April 12, 1955, a vaccine against polio was declared safe and effective.

Jonas E. Salk’s great discovery was too late for President Franklin Roosevelt, who had contracted polio in 1921, at age 39, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. But the President, who died in 1945, had been instrumental in funding research that eventually led to the vaccine.

Death and paralysis by polio was a very real threat in the early 20th century. Children could be confined to an iron lung if their muscles could no longer help them to breathe. In 1916 there were 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths. And the epidemic continued to worsen: in 1952 there were 57,628 cases reported.

In 1938 Roosevelt created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. He had already been active in assisting victims of polio through the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, a spa he had often visited to ease his symptoms and that he had purchased in 1926. Roosevelt raised money for this foundation through a series of balls held on his birthday. The first Birthday Ball in 1934 had 4,376 communities joining in 600 separate celebrations, and raised over a million dollars.

But the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was funded in a different way. In 1938, radio personality Eddie Cantor encouraged Americans to give their loose change to the cause, urging listeners to create “a march of dimes to reach all the … [ Read all ]

Get ready for the Genealogy Fair!

Only 9 days left until the seventh annual Genealogy Fair! The fair is free and open to the public, and will take place at the National Archives building in Washington, DC. The Archivist will cut the ribbon at 9 a.m. on April 20 to open the fair.

Need an introduction to genealogy? There’s a session April 20 at 9.30 a.m.

Interested in researching headstone records for military veterans? That’s April 20 at 3 pm.

Looking for African American ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War? Come to the lecture on Thursday April 21 at 2 p.m.

What about the 1940 census? We’ll see you on Thursday April 21 at 2 p.m.

And this is just a small sample of the many lectures–by National Archives staff and expert speakers–going on over the two days of the Fair. You can check out the complete schedule on the Genealogy Fair website.

There will also be guest exhibitors to help you extend your genealogical research out of Federal records, so make sure you visit their booths in the big tent in front of the entrance.

This year will also feature the Female Re-enactors of Distinction: African American Ladies of the Civil War (FREED) who will be walking around the fair in character and in costume.

And, of course, you can check out the Archives Shop, which … [ Read all ]

“You’re Fired!”

Harry S. Truman was never really fond of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, especially after their frosty 1950 Wake Island meeting in the Pacific while the Korean War raged.

Things had not gone particularly well since the North Koreans invaded South Korea in late June 1950. By October, South Korean troops had pushed across the 38th parallel, but there were warnings that the Chinese would enter the war. The general discounted the warnings and predicted he could send large numbers of troops home by Christmas. In late November, hundreds of thousands of Chinese roared into South Korea.

But in early 1951, MacArthur handed Truman a reason to get rid of him. Insubordination—publicly criticizing American policy in interviews and public statements.

MacArthur had even written a letter, in which he criticized Truman’s handling of the war, to Joseph Martin, the House Republican leader. Martin read it on the floor of the House. For Commander-in-Chief Truman, this was the final straw.

The President, suspecting MacArthur might see that his days were numbered and resign before he could act, moved quickly, announcing the dismissal at 1 a.m. on April 11, 1951:

“With deep regret, I have concluded that General of the Army Douglas MacArthur is unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the United States Government . . . military commanders must be governed by the policies … [ Read all ]

Thursday Photo Caption Contest

Congratulations to Marene! Our guest judge Marvin Pinkert, director of the National Archives Experience, felt that your caption best wrapped up the directives of Open Government. Check your email for the code to receive 15% off a purchase at the eStore.

And in the spirit of transparency, we will reveal to you the actual meaning of this bizarre photo: “An Archives staff member shows off the cellulose acetate used for the lamination of documents. (64-NA-464; ARC 3493252)” We hope she had a successful career here at the National Archives–once she was unwrapped, of course.

Our theme of transparency continues in the next photo, which features…well, we’re not sure what it features, but you can see through it. Give us your best caption in the comments below!… [ Read all ]

“The pole at last!”

When Robert Peary wrote “The pole at last!!!” into his diary on April 6, 1909, he had no idea that his claim would be disputed for the next several decades by experts who doubted that he and Matthew A. Henson were the first men to reach the North Pole.

Marie Peary Stafford had no such doubts, but her mission was equally difficult to complete. In 1932 she headed to a remote part of Greenland to erect a monument to her father’s accomplishments.

Marie had been born in Greenland while her father was on an expedition there, and she was now returning to the remote country with her two sons. She had raised the money and had the plans for the monument—56 feet high with decorative marble Ps at the top—created by a Boston firm. They charted the schooner Morrissey, and when they sailed away from the dock, Matthew Henson was on the shore to wave them off.

The expedition was recorded by a cameramen hired to film the events, but Marie’s diary revealed that she struggle to maintain control over mounting problems.

In a her Prologue article detailing Marie’s journey, National Archives preservation specialist Audrey Amidon notes that the five master stonemasons turned out to be “a bricklayer, two stonecutters, a painter, and a carpenter.” When the cement froze and the workers attempted … [ Read all ]