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Tag: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Crafting a Call to Arms: FDR’s Day of Infamy Speech

In the early afternoon of December 7, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt was just finishing lunch in his oval study on the second floor of the White House, preparing to work on his stamp album.

The phone rang, and he was informed that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, shortly before 1 p.m. Washington time, 8 a.m. Hawaii time.

“It was just the kind of unexpected thing the Japanese would do. At the very time they were discussing peace in the Pacific, they were plotting to overthrow it,” he remarked to his assistant.

Roosevelt delivers the "Day of Infamy" speech to a joint session of Congress on December 8, 1941. To the right, in uniform, is Roosevelt's son James, who escorted his father to the Capitol. Seated in the back are Vice President Henry Wallace and Speaker Sam Rayburn.

For the rest of that afternoon, Roosevelt and his advisers were busy at the White House receiving fragmentary reports about the damage to U.S. installations, ships, and planes in Hawaii.

Security was increased around the White House, and plans were under way for a bomb shelter for the President underneath the nearby Treasury Department building. Across the nation, news of the attack spread by radio and word of mouth, and Americans began thinking about what life in a nation at war was going to be like.… [ Read all ]

Eleanor Roosevelt, what’s in your wallet?

The exterior of Eleanor's wallet, which had over 25 cards and notes inside.

Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884. She was the niece of former President Theodore Roosevelt, and later became the wife of future President Franklin D. Roosevelt (her fifth cousin).

She is known for her role as First Lady during the Great Depression and World War II. She was the first woman in that role to hold a press conference, and she was an advocate for minorities, the disadvantaged, and the disabled.

In her post–White House life, she served as chair of the Human Rights Commission for the United Nations General Assembly and as first chairperson of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

But to get a different sense of Mrs. Roosevelt’s many causes, interests, and associations, we can look inside her wallet.

Among the many cards and bits of paper, she had a license from the state of New York to carry a pistol, an expired card to the Newspaper Guild’s Press Club in New York City, a Diner’s Club Credit Card, a health insurance card, a “Bell System Credit Card” with instructions on how to make a collect call, a St. Christopher card for the patron saint of travel, and an air travel card.

The contents of her wallet—cards, photographs, bits of poems—at the time of her death in 1962 are now … [ Read all ]

The dimes that saved lives

FDR pictured receiving a birthday cake decorated with checks for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. January 1942. FDR Library, NPx. 48-49:315

FDR pictured receiving a birthday cake decorated with checks for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. January 1942. FDR Library, NPx. 48-49:315

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 … [ Read all ]

Reverse the (Zero) Curse

President Reagan looking at "Get Well Soon Mr. President" photo while at George Washington Hospital. 4/8/81. (Reagan Library)

President Reagan looking at "Get Well Soon Mr. President" photo while at George Washington Hospital. 4/8/81. (Reagan Library)

When Ronald Reagan survived the attempt on his life on March 30, 1981, and went on to serve two full four-year terms, he broke what some people call “the year-ending-in-zero” curse.

It goes like this: Every President elected in a year ending in zero since 1840 had died in office.

William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840, died after one month in office of pneumonia; he also was our shortest serving President. On his inauguration day, then on March 4, he gave a two-hour speech without hat or topcoat, then rode through the streets of Washington. He was succeeded by John Tyler. (Remember Tippecanoe and Tyler too!)

Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, was assassinated a month into his second term, on April 12, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth. He was succeeded by Andrew Johnson.

President Harrison was the first President to be stricken by the Zero-Year Curse (111-SC-92615; ARC 530961).

President Harrison was the first President to be stricken by the Zero-Year Curse (111-SC-92615; ARC 530961).

James A. Garfield, elected in 1880, was assassinated in 1881 after only 199 days in office, succeeded by Chester A. Arthur. William McKinley, elected in 1896 and reelected in 1900, was mortally wounded in September 1901 and died eight days later, succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt.

Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, died in 1923 of a heart attack … [ Read all ]