FDR and the Dust Bowl

by Paul M. Sparrow, Director, FDR Library

The Pare Lorentz Film Center at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum has produced a new animated video on FDR and the Dust Bowl. This video was created by FDR’s great-granddaughter Perrin Ireland. We hope teachers will use it to help their students better understand this important period in American History.

The Dust Bowl was a man-made environmental disaster. It unfolded on the nation’s Great Plains, where decades of intensive farming and inattention to soil conservation had left the vast region ecologically vulnerable. A long drought in the early and mid-1930s triggered disaster. The winds that sweep across the plains began carrying off its dry, depleted topsoil in enormous “dust storms.” Dramatic and frightening, these storms turned day into night as they destroyed farms.

Once fertile farmlands became barren and dusty wastelands where nothing would grow. In the hardest hit area—covering parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle—hundreds of thousands of people abandoned the land.


“Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange. Iconic shot of a destitute pea picker and her children. NPx 65-593(65)

When Franklin Roosevelt became President in 1933, he faced many challenges but saving America’s farms was one of his most important and difficult tasks. His actions could be considered a blueprint for how a government should respond to an environmental disaster—combining scientific research, community engagement, business incentives, and proven environmental policies including soil and water conservation programs.


Close-up of the harsh soil conditions caused by unchecked erosion. NPx 74-20(263)

FDR’s New Deal attacked the crisis on the Great Plains on a number of fronts. The Farm Security Administration provided emergency relief, promoted soil conservation, resettled farmers on more productive land, and aided migrant farm workers who had been forced off their land. The Soil Conservation Service helped farmers enrich their soil and stem erosion. The Taylor Grazing Act regulated grazing on overused public ranges. Roosevelt’s Shelterbelt Project, created by executive order, fought wind erosion by marshalling farmers, Civilian Conservation Corps boys, and Works Progress Administration workers in an enormous effort to plant over 200 million trees in a belt running from Bismarck, North Dakota, to Amarillo, Texas. This immense windbreak moderated the Dust Bowl’s destructive winds. The Shelterbelt Project remains one of the great environmental success stories of our time.

In his fireside chat of September 6, 1936, FDR said this about the drought:

I saw drought devastation in nine states.

I talked with families who had lost their wheat crop, lost their corn crop, lost their livestock, lost the water in their well, lost their garden and come through to the end of the summer without one dollar of cash resources, facing a winter without feed or food—facing a planting season without seed to put in the ground.

I shall never forget the fields of wheat so blasted by heat that they cannot be harvested. I shall never forget field after field of corn stunted, earless and stripped of leaves, for what the sun left the grasshoppers took. I saw brown pastures which would not keep a cow on fifty acres.

Fireside Chat Reading Copy Page 1 September 6 1936.jpg

Fireside Chat Reading Copy, Page 1, September 6, 1936.


A farmer and his sons caught in a dust storm in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, April 1936. NPx 66-174(32)

In the drought area people are not afraid to use new methods to meet changes in Nature, and to correct mistakes of the past. If overgrazing has injured range lands, they are willing to reduce the grazing. If certain wheat lands should be returned to pasture they are willing to cooperate. If trees should be planted as windbreaks or to stop erosion they will work with us. If terracing or summer fallowing or crop rotation is called for, they will carry them out. They stand ready to fit, and not to fight, the ways of Nature.

To fully understand the devastation of this drought you need only look at photographs from April 14, 1935, a date which came to be known as “Black Sunday.” It is considered the worst dust storm of the era, and is estimated to have blown away 300 million tons of fertile top soil. Oklahoma was hit the hardest but its force was felt in many states and the dirt and dust fell to the ground as far away as New York City.


The “Black Sunday” dust storm approaches Spearman in northern Texas, April 14, 1935.

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A dust storm in Liberal, Kansas, April 14, 1935.

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A dust storm in Rolla, Kansas, April 14, 1935.

Legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie was living in Texas at the time and experienced the storm first hand. He wrote a song about the storm seeming like the end of the world. That song is still well known today, “So Long Its Been Good To Know You.” But its lighthearted reputation hides the truth of its morbid lyrics:

The sweethearts they sat in the dark and they sparked
They hugged and they kissed in that dusty old dark
They sighed and they cried and they hugged and they kissed
But instead of marriage they talked like this: honey
So long, it’s been good to know ya…

The terrible drought did not let up until 1939, when steady rain finally quenched the thirst of the dry and dusty plains. As America transformed into the “Arsenal of Democracy” at the start of World War II, unemployment rates fell and agricultural prices rose. Farmers restored their farms and the new scientifically proven techniques of soil conservation were widely adopted.

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President Roosevelt holding 4-month-old Fala, August 8, 1940.

President Roosevelt’s efforts to help rural Americans pay their mortgages so they wouldn’t lose their farms, plant trees to break the fierce winds, teach them new techniques to preserve their soil and conserve their water were all part of his vision for a fair and just America. One where the government helped people who needed help the most. While FDR is often credited with bringing the United States out of the Great Depression and leading the Allies to victory in World War II, his role as a great environmental champion is sometimes overlooked.

Follow FDR Library Director Paul Sparrow on Twitter: @PaulMSparrow1

Posted in From the Museum | Tagged , , , ,

New Exhibit and Book Spotlight Museum’s World War II Posters

by Herman Eberhardt, Supervisory Museum Curator

When I arrived as the new museum curator at the Roosevelt Library in the summer of 2003 I set to work understanding the museum’s rich collection of over 34,000 objects. My review turned up much that I expected to find. But there were also more than a few surprises.

One of the biggest was inside a row of steel file cabinets that lined one collection storage room. I had assumed that I would find a good sample of World War II posters in the collections of America’s wartime president—perhaps even a few hundred. What I encountered was an enormous treasure trove of over 3,400 posters—easily one of the largest collections in the nation. Even more impressive was the collection’s scope. Having spent much of the previous decade working on museum projects related to World War II, I thought I’d seen just about everything when it came to wartime posters. I quickly realized how wrong I had been.

I knew then that these posters would one day make a great exhibit. This week—after 15 years and many other exhibit projects—that day has arrived. On April 21, the Roosevelt Library will open The Art of War: American Poster Art 1941-1945 in the William J. vanden Heuvel Special Exhibition Gallery. Featuring over 150 posters drawn from our rich collection, this exhibit vividly illustrates World War II’s wide-ranging impact on American society. It includes posters designed by some of the finest American illustrators and graphic artists of the twentieth century.  A partial list includes Norman Rockwell, James Montgomery Flagg, N.C. Wyeth, Ben Shahn, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Steven Dohanos, Martha Sawyers, Herbert Matter, and Leo Lionni. Their work touches on wartime subjects ranging from work, housing, rationing, and conservation to shifting gender and race relations in the military and workplace.

The Art of War exhibit was created on a foundation built by my talented colleagues on the museum staff. Collections Manager Michelle Frauenberger led a multi-year project to inventory every object in the museum collection, including the posters, and enter the records into a digital database. Museum Technician Katherine Sardino worked alongside Michelle and, along the way, photographed all the World War II posters. Their dedicated work made it possible for me and Exhibits Specialist James Sauter to easily access, review, and assess all of the posters before choosing 158 for the exhibit. Michelle, Katherine, and Jim, along with Museum Technician Megan Suzann Reed, also put in long hours during the past three months carefully hinging and framing each poster.

The Art of War will be on display in the Vanden Heuvel Gallery through December 31, 2018. It will appeal to visitors interested in the history of the American Home Front during World War II, as well as those who wish to explore an important chapter in the history of American graphic design. A companion book featuring full color images of over 120 of the posters featured in the exhibit is available in the New Deal Store.

Posted in From the Museum, News & Events | Tagged , ,

Sons of the Commander in Chief: The Roosevelt Boys in World War II

By J. Tomney, FDR Presidential Library volunteer

The sons and daughters of thousands of American families heeded the call to serve their country during World War II. The four sons of America’s First Family were counted among those that served with distinction and honor for the duration of the war. The Roosevelt boys – Jimmy, Elliott, Franklin, Jr., and John — all joined the U.S. armed forces and served overseas, each one having very different service experiences. Jimmy, FDR, Jr. and John followed the family tradition of naval service. Elliott soared with the Army Air Forces. Just like other wartime GI’s, they were away from family and in harm’s way. Just like other wartime GI’s, their parents worried about their safety. These are their stories.

James Roosevelt: Gung-Ho Marine Raider

Being the oldest of FDR’s sons, Jimmy Roosevelt entered military service first, receiving a commission as a Marine Lieutenant Colonel in 1936 at age 29. But as war was brewing in Europe a few years later, his high rank seemed to come without merit, and complaints of nepotism began to be voiced by other Marines. Jimmy chose to take action to counter the rumors. In September 1939 he resigned his commission and reenlisted as a Captain in the Marine Corps Reserves.

Before the United States entered the war, Jimmy Roosevelt experienced two phases of Marine life: he trained hard on the West Coast to master amphibious maneuvers and then served as a military advisor assigned to diplomatic missions in the Far East, the Middle East, and Africa.

James Roosevelt in Marines uniform,
ca. 1942 NPx 48-22:4006(4)

In January 1942, Jimmy found himself stationed at Camp Elliott near San Diego. He spent his time preparing a written proposal for the creation of a Marine Corps commando organization, to be used for swift and surprise actions against the enemy. Soon after, he shipped out to Pacific theater of operation putting into practice many of his proposals.

Major James Roosevelt experienced his baptism of fire in August 1942 when he helped lead the operation against the enemy at Makin Island. Second in command to the famous commando leader Lt. Col. Evans Carlson of the Marine Raiders, Jimmy came under sniper fire and rescued three of his men from drowning, earning him the distinguished Navy Cross and the Silver Star. In a letter to FDR, Carlson wrote that Jimmy “was as cool as the proverbial cucumber and kept the loose ends tied together without a hitch.”

Jimmy’s actions also served another purpose.—they proved to be a morale booster back in the States. Jimmy Roosevelt’s heroic exploits at Makin Island made headlines in the Washington, D.C. and New York newspapers.  His naysayers now honored him in the national press as a “fighting” guy.

After Makin Island, Jimmy returned to Pearl Harbor for a short stay and shipped out on the USS WHARTON arriving at New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in September 1942. He saw further action at Midway and the Aleutian Islands before being assigned to Camp Pendleton, California as Second Marine Raider Battalion Executive Officer. He received appointment as Commanding Officer of the newly formed Fourth Marine Raider Battalion on October 23, 1942.

Jimmy was plagued with stomach ailments which kept him out of combat late in the war. In 1945, after training Marines at Camp Pendleton, Jimmy Roosevelt received orders to Philippines. While there, working as an intelligence officer tasked with helping to prepare for the invasion of Okinawa, he learned of his father’s death.

On August 13, 1945, Colonel James Roosevelt was discharged from active military service with the United States Marine Corps, completing 26 months of wartime combat duty.

After the war, Jimmy joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and retired at the rank of Brigadier General in 1959.

“I imagine every mother felt as I did when I said good-bye to the children during the war. I had a feeling that I might be saying good-bye for the last time.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, This I Remember, Page 292

Eleanor Roosevelt reviews Army Air Corps troops with son Elliott Roosevelt during her visit to England. NPx 75-4(31)

Elliott Roosevelt: Doing All He Can to Get Into the Fighting

Second eldest son Elliott Roosevelt could have avoided serving in World War II, having been classified as 4-F because of poor eyesight. But his love of flying prompted him to petition his case to volunteer for service to General Hap Arnold, chief of the Army Air Force. Before the war, Elliott flew as a private pilot, worked in the aviation industry for a small outfit in California, and edited the aviation section for the Hearst newspapers.

After his first service physical deemed him unfit for combat, Elliott petitioned and signed a waiver for his disability, which allowed him to receive a commission in September 1940. His first assignment, however, had him tied to a desk in the procurement division, which drew criticism from the public that he was dodging combat. Elliott wanted to see action and Captain Roosevelt, after completing a training course in intelligence, received assignment to the 21st Reconnaissance Squadron in Newfoundland doing North Atlantic patrol work.

Elliott volunteered for a survey job to locate air force sites in the North Arctic which could be used as staging points for the delivery of aircraft from US to Great Britain. Elliott and his brother FDR, Jr., joined their father, President Roosevelt, for the August 1941 Atlantic Charter meeting in Newfoundland waters. Elliott recollected that, “I knew that Pop liked to have a member of the family along, somebody with whom he could chat, to whom he could let down his hair, in whom he could confide.” Later in the war, Elliott accompanied his father, as a military attaché, to the Big Three conferences in Casablanca, Cairo, and Tehran.

Elliott’s love of, and skill at, flying exceeded his visual disability and he soon found himself piloting unarmed reconnaissance missions. Mother Eleanor Roosevelt showed concern over Elliott’s flying skills but he wrote her, “Don’t worry about me. I lead a charmed life…I had a crack up the other day and escaped with a sore tail although my ship was demolished.”  He flew a P-38 Lightning (F-5) on photographic reconnaissance missions over North Africa and received promotion to the rank of Colonel in January 1944 when he joined the 12th Air Force.

Photograph of Elliott Roosevelt with “My Faye” airplane. Inscribed to FDR.

The Army Air Force assigned Elliott to command of the 325th Photographic Reconnaissance Wing and charged him with reorganizing all the American Reconnaissance Air Force units of both the Eighth (bombardment, strategic) and Ninth (light bombardment, tactical) Air Forces. He supervised their operations so as to obtain all information necessary to the invasion of Europe and his efforts played an important role in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944 and later for the Battle of the Bulge in 1945.

During World War II, Elliott Roosevelt flew over 300 combat missions, was wounded twice and received the Distinguished Flying Cross He is credited with pioneering new techniques in night photography and weather data gathering, but his career included controversy including accusations of corruption related to the acquisition of an experimental Hughes aircraft. By the war’s end, he had achieved the rank of Brigadier General. As James Roosevelt wrote of Elliott’s exploits in Affectionately, FDR, “Objective war correspondents have praised my brother as among the bravest of the brave.”

“Neither the President nor Mrs. Roosevelt had any more information of the whereabouts or the activities of their son than do the fathers and mothers of other officers or soldiers in the United States armed forces.”

Stephen T. Early, Presidential Secretary, August 22, 1942

FDR with Franklin, Jr. and Elliott Roosevelt on the terrace of his villa at the Casablanca Conference.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr.: Big Pancho of the Mighty May

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. pleased his father greatly by participating in the Naval Reserve Officer Training (ROTC) program at Harvard for four years. He received a law degree from the University of Virginia but left his law practice in March 1941 for active duty as an Ensign with the Navy. His father arranged one of his earliest assignments: FDR summoned his sons Elliott and FDR, Jr. to attend the August 1941 Atlantic Charter meeting with Winston Churchill off the coast of Newfoundland.

Ensign Roosevelt’s first at-sea assignment sent him to  the destroyer USS MAYRANT, later known as the Mighty May for its combat successes. The MAYRANT escorted convoys across the North Atlantic to Europe. A bout of appendicitis and an appendectomy interrupted Franklin Jr.’s military service in February 1942.

FDR Jr. in uniform, from Anna Halsted Collection. NPx 77-55(239)

After his recovery, FDR Jr, returned to sea duty, and received promotion to Lieutenant (jg), and assignment as the MAYRANT Executive Officer. He participated in the North Africa campaign and was decorated for bravery with a Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy after the November 1942 Battle of Casablanca. The USS MAYRANT then participated in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. At Palermo, the ship just missed being hit by a bomb dropped by the German Luftwaffe, however, five crew men were killed and six others wounded. FDR Jr., known affectionately as Big Pancho by the MAYRANT’s crew, put his life at risk by exposing himself to enemy fire, carrying a critically wounded sailor to safety. He also took quick action to limit the damage to his ship. For his bravery, FDR Jr., the Navy awarded him a Silver Star and he received a Purple Heart for sustaining a shrapnel wound in his shoulder.

In March 1944, FDR Jr. received promotion to Lieutenant Commander and assumed command of the destroyer escort USS ULVERT M. MOORE, moving to the Pacific theater of operation. Under Franklin Jr.’s command The USS MOORE participated in the Philippines, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima campaigns. He received the Legion of Merit Combat ‘V’ for the MOORE’s successful sinking of a Japanese submarine during the Philippines campaign. The MOORE also was credited with shooting down two Japanese planes in combat. Standing six feet four inches tall, Lieutenant Commander Roosevelt earned the nickname, the “Big Moose” from his the crew on the MOORE.

After victory over Europe, on May 8, 1945, FDR Jr. left the combat zone to attend the U.S. Naval War College’s Preparatory Staff course as a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve in July 1945, graduating in December 1945. Fellow NWC graduates included some his commanders, Admirals Ernest J. King, Chester W. Nimitz, and Howard Stark. Upon his discharge from the US Navy in January 1946, Franklin Jr. resumed his law career and eventually entered politics. He served as a US Congressman and, like his father, ran for the Governorship of New York.

John A. Roosevelt: “I Don’t Care What the Ship Looks Like Or Is”

The President’s youngest child, John Aspinwall Roosevelt was 25 years old when he joined the US Navy in early 1941. After graduating from Harvard, John began a career in retail, a set of skills that led to his assignment to the Navy Supply Corps after his enlistment. At the US Naval Air Station in San Diego, young Roosevelt applied for sea duty in early 1942. Hearing of his son’s application, FDR ordered that the request be denied. John wrote to his father, “I don’t care what the ship looks like or is, as long as she at least floats for a while,” John’s perseverance eventually led to sea duty in the Pacific combat zone.

Lieutenant John A. Roosevelt, San Francisco Base. John Roosevelt far right second row. August 12, 1943.

In June 1942, John was promoted to Lieutenant (jg). He served on the aircraft carrier USS WASP for 15 months. For his actions on the WASP, under heavy fire from the Japanese, John earned a Bronze star and received a promotion to Lieutenant Commander.

Although he never commanded a military unit as did his brothers, John’s service was no less diminished. In early 1945, he transferred to the staff of Admiral Joseph “Jocko” Clark as the Task Group Supply Officer.

Both John and his brother FDR Jr., upon learning of their father’s death in April 1945, declined to return home for the funeral, remaining at their posts in the Pacific war zone.

Right after the war, John settled in California and resumed his career in retail. He continued his military service as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. While he never pursued a career in politics, he supported many political candidates, including Dwight Eisenhower, and worked as an investment banker.

Suggested Reading

Eleanor Roosevelt, This I Remember (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949).

Elliott Roosevelt, As He Saw It (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1946).

James Roosevelt and Sidney Shalett, Affectionately, FDR: A Son’s Story of a Lonely Man (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1959).

James Roosevelt with Bill Libby, My Parents, A Differing View (Chicago: Playboy Press, 1976).

The service records for all four Roosevelt sons have been digitized and are available through the National Archives and Records Administration: https://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/public/persons-of-prominence.html#R

Posted in Found in the Archives | Tagged , , , , , , ,

A Veterans Day to Remember: 11/11/42

By Paul Sparrow, Director FDR Library


Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. By Sgt. Erica Vinyard, U.S. Army

Every year on November 11th people all over the world honor and thank those who served their country. Today in the United States November 11th is known as Veterans Day, but until 1954 it was Armistice Day, honoring the millions who had served or been killed in World War I.  The killing had ended on the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

Seventy-five years ago, November 11th, 1942, Armistice Day fell right in the middle of World War II.  It was a remarkable day, in one of the most extraordinary weeks of the war. It was the week that marked a decisive turning point in favor of the Allies. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had suffered through years of defeats and setbacks at the hands of Adolf Hitler. President Franklin Roosevelt and the United States had finally joined the battle after Japan’s “dastardly attacks” but the Axis powers seemed unstoppable.

Near Algiers, “Torch” troops hit the beaches behind a large American flag “Left” hoping for the French Army not fire… – NARA – 195516

The week began on Sunday the 8th with Operation Torch, the landing of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops in North Africa. President Roosevelt wrote a letter that was delivered to every solider and sailor in the U.S. Expeditionary Force as they were about to storm the beaches of North Africa. He told them:

“You have embarked for distant places where the war is being fought.

Upon the outcome depends the freedom of your lives: the freedom of the lives of those you love – your fellow- citizens – your people.

Never were the enemies of freedom more tyrannical, more arrogant, more brutal.”

Operation Torch was a massive undertaking and the first real test of the combined British and American forces against battle-hardened Nazi’s. From Casablanca on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, to Oran and Algiers on the Mediterranean, Allied troops and tanks poured ashore. It was a great relief to Roosevelt and Churchill when the hundreds of thousands of French Troops stationed in Morocco turned against the Vichy French and their Nazi overlords and joined the Allies.

Halfway around the world U.S. Marines won a series of land battles and gained the upper hand against the Japanese on Guadalcanal. A decisive naval battle would force Imperial Japan to withdraw from the island.


General Bernard L. Montgomery watches his tanks move up. North Africa, November 1942. Photograph from Imperial War Museum

At the same time British General Bernard Montgomery and his army were attacking Gen. Rommel at El Alamein, avenging their earlier defeat and driving the Germans out of Egypt. Before the end of the week the British would recapture Tobruk, squeezing Rommel between two Allied armies.

Churchill referred to himself as “Former Naval Person” in his top secret messages to FDR. His message #187 arrived at the White House on November 7thth.. In it he reveals some details of the stunning victory underway at El Alamein – 20,000 prisoners, 350 tanks captured, 400 artillery pieces.

President Roosevelt replies on November 11th, “I am very happy with the latest news of your splendid campaign in Egypt, and of the success that has attended our joint landing in West and North Africa.”

Winston Churchill

For Winston Churchill, after three years of bloody battles and blistering defeats from Dunkirk to Singapore, this was finally a sweet victory. His heroic rhetoric has inspired a nation in its darkest hours– after the evacuation from Dunkirk, when all seemed lost, Churchill bravely declared:

”We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills: we shall never surrender!”

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, as a ragtag Royal Air Force held off the mighty German Luftwaffe he proclaimed: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

It sums up his deep devotion and respect for those in uniform who came to their countries aid in its time of need. It is the essence of what Veterans Day stands for – thanks from the many to the few.

Now finally, on November 10th, 1942 he stood before his countrymen at the Lord Mayor’s Luncheon describing the rout of Rommel and proudly declared: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

On the other side of the Atlantic President Roosevelt was preparing his own speech, one that while often overlooked, ranks among his best. It was the first Armistice Day since Pearl Harbor, the first November 11th since America had gone to war.  A devoted student of history, Roosevelt understood the importance of this moment. Seven million American boys were now in uniform, fighting and dying in distant lands, from South Pacific islands to African deserts.

Franklin D. Roosevelt giving an Armistice Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. November 11, 1941

At 10:45 am President Roosevelt left the White House and traveled to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. His paralyzed legs encased in steel braces, he stood at attention next to the legendary General John Pershing, hero of World War I, as the wreath was laid at the tomb. Moments later, wearing his naval cape, he stood at the podium surrounded by thousands of veterans and widows, servicemen and anxious families. He spoke to them and to millions around the world listening on the radio. He began softly.

“Here in Arlington we are in the presence of the honored dead. We are accountable to them – and to the generations yet unborn for whom they gave their lives.”

He connected the fight against German militarism in World War I to the fight against the Nazis and the Japanese, accusing them of using

 “…all the mechanics of modern civilization to drive humanity back to conditions of pre-historic savagery. They sought to conquer the world, and for a time they seemed to be successful in realizing their boundless ambition. They overran great territories. They enslaved – they killed. But, today, we know and they know that they have conquered nothing. Today, they face inevitable, final defeat.” 

Roosevelt had a deep personal connection to his words that day. Not only had he served as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, but all four of his sons were serving in active duty that day. His son James was leading the Marine 4th Raider Battalion and had been involved in a commando raid near Guadalcanal in which he almost lost his life.

FDR’s closing words ring true today:

“We stand in the presence of the honored dead. We stand accountable to them, and to the generations yet unborn for whom they gave their lives. God, the Father of all living, watches over these hallowed graves and blesses the souls of those who rest here. May He keep us strong in the courage that will win this war, and may He impart to us the wisdom and the vision that we shall need for true victory in the peace which is to come.”

The final scene from that remarkable week 75 years ago took place on Sunday morning, November 15th. For nearly three years, since the Battle of Britain, England’s church bells had been silent – they were to be used only to warn of a German invasion. Finally, in celebration of the great victories in North Africa, bells rang out once again all across the land.

The lessons we can learn from World War Two are both profuse and profound. Today we are once again engaged in a global war, not against sovereign nations but against rogue states and terrorist organizations. However, whether we will be able to find the “wisdom and vision that we shall need for true victory in the peace which is to come” remains the burning question of our time. What stands without question is our duty and commitment to honor all those who served.

Posted in Found in the Archives, This Week in Roosevelt History | Tagged , , , ,

The Adventures of Fala, First Dog: The Case of the Dog Who Didn’t Bark on the Boat

By Paul M. Sparrow, Director, FDR Library

Fala is without doubt the most endearing and adorable character in the drama that was the Roosevelt White House during World War Two. The little Scottish Terrier was given to President Roosevelt as an early Christmas gift by his cousin and “closest companion” Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley in November, 1940.

FDR named him after a Scottish ancestor, the “outlaw” John Murray of Falahill. This was soon shortened to Fala and like his outlaw namesake his legend grew.

Immediately popular with both the press and the public, Fala’s antics received extensive media coverage, including a role in an MGM film about life at the White House.

Fala traveled with FDR extensively, but his most mysterious and controversial voyage took place in 1944 and led to one of the most famous campaign speeches in American political history. Thanks to a recent donation to the Library we now have a first person account from U.S. Navy seaman Douglas MacVane who was serving on the USS Baltimore.

The Case of the Dog Who Didn’t Bark on the Boat – begins in the summer of 1944. After supporting the attack on Iwo Jima, the USS Baltimore steamed at full speed back to Pearl Harbor under a cloak of utmost secrecy. It then traveled to San Francisco for highly secret modifications, and then on to San Diego. Finally on the evening of July 22 there was a surge of activity – and President Roosevelt came on board amidst much pomp and circumstance. He was accompanied by his faithful Scotty Fala.

U.S. Navy photo NH 52422

This was the start of an historic voyage shrouded in secrecy but intended to generate an enormous amount of press. FDR was going to Hawaii to meet with Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz, the two men responsible for the war in the Pacific. It was also just a few months before the Presidential election, and FDR wanted to show the voters that he was up to the challenge of an unprecedented fourth term in office.

On the voyage to Pearl Harbor FDR spent most of his time resting in his quarters. According to FDR’s speechwriter Sam Rosenman, who was with him, “Fala like his master, loved people: and would quickly begin to fraternize in almost any company. It was his custom, as soon as he was permitted on deck in the morning, to scamper forward and find his way below to the seamen’s quarters. This was not just natural curiosity. He had learned quickly that little scraps of delicacies would be fed to him on these forays below. “

Douglas MacVane notes that “My only distraction during this time was occasionally sighting the President’s dog Fala. It was he who was causing the stir and getting all the attention now.”

It seems that the ‘walking officer’ assigned to keep track of Fala had been distracted and lost track of the celebrity canine. MacVane says that after much searching “Fala was located at one of the deck division’s gear lockers. He was missing numerous curly fur ringlets, of which he fortunately had an abundance.”

Sam Rosenman provided some additional details. “One day a sailor got the idea that his younger brother back home would be pleased to receive a small lock of the famous dog’s hair. With his scissors, he snipped off a little bit of Fala’s shaggy black coat. Other sailors had little brothers too, and followed suit.”

Needless to say President Roosevelt was not amused, and strict instructions were given to the crew to “confine their demonstrations of affection to petting.” But the mystery remains, why Fala never barked when he was dognapped and shorn of his luxurious mane. But this is not the end of Fala’s adventures.

Upon arrival in Hawaii, FDR met with MacArthur and Nimitz and agreed on their plans to launch a two pronged attack, Gen. MacArthur’s forces retaking the Philippines and striking Japan from the south, and Adm. Nimitz and the Navy continuing to island hop across the mid-Pacific and pressure Japan from the east.

FDR left Hawaii aboard the Baltimore on July 29th headed for the Aleutian Islands off of Alaska. Several of the more remote Aleutian Islands had been captured by the Japanese earlier in the war and FDR wanted to assert American control.  He went fishing and met with local leaders and then headed back to the mainland landing in Seattle then taking a train back to Washington.

It is unclear exactly how the rumor got started, but Rep. Harold Knutson (R) Minnesota, announced on the floor of the House of Representatives that he had heard that Fala had been left behind in the Aleutians and that a destroyer had to be sent from Seattle to pick him up. He complained of the waste of taxpayer money and accused the President of spending $20 million on his Pacific excursion.

Portrait of Harold Knutson, in the Collection of U.S. House of Representatives, painted by Thomas Stephens.

The following day the Democratic House Majority Leader John McCormack denied the reports and quoted Admiral Leahy as saying “the story about Fala, the president’s dog, is made out of whole cloth. The dog was never lost. “The following week on Sept. 12th, Knutson accused the President of sending a plane to pick up Fala. This was also denied by the Navy and the White House. Fala was big news for weeks.

On September 23rd FDR gave his first official campaign speech at a Teamster’s dinner in Washington D.C. It has come to be known as the Fala speech and is a fitting end to Fala’s adventure. You can see FDR’s reading copy of the speech here

Speaking to a national radio audience of millions, FDR pulled no punches.

“These Republican leaders have not been content to make personal attacks upon me – or my wife or my sons – they now include my little dog Fala. Unlike the members of my family, Fala resents this. When he learned that the Republican fiction writers had concocted a story that I had left him behind on an Aleutian Island and had sent a destroyer back to find him – at a cost to the taxpayer of two or three or twenty million dollars – his Scottish soul was furious! He has not been the same dog since. “

The speech was a spectacular success and some historians credit it with turning the election in FDR’s favor. It certainly reassured the electorate that the old FDR still had some fight in him, and he was re-elected once again.

Fala was as devoted to his master as FDR was to him. After FDR died in April, 1945, Fala went to live with Mrs. Roosevelt. He is buried next to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt here at the home and Library in Hyde Park.  Fala is also immortalized at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C. and will live forever in the hearts of dog lovers everywhere.

Photograph Photograph of a bronze sculpture by Neil Estern of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (in his wheelchair) and his dog Fala in Room Three of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, D.C. LC-DIG-highsm-17901 (digital file from original) LC-HS503-6375 (b&w film transparency)

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75th Anniversary of the Battle for Guadalcanal

By Paul Sparrow, Director, FDR Library

Marines landing on the beach at Guadalcanal

August 7th, 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the Marine landing on Guadalcanal. It was the start of one of the most important campaigns in World War II. There were smashing victories and bitter losses, acts of incredible heroism and unspeakable carnage. And at a critical moment, President Roosevelt demonstrated his remarkable capacity for leadership and decision.

Guadalcanal is part of the Solomon Islands, 3,000 miles from Tokyo and nearly 6,000 miles from San Francisco. But this unknown swampy speck would soon become the most famous island in the world as the U.S. Navy and Japanese Imperial forces engaged in a nightmarish and bloody battle for control of a tiny airstrip in the South Pacific. A battle that lasted six months.

The summer of 1942 was a dire time for the Allies. Germany had inflicted massive loses on the Red Army and were on the outskirts of Moscow and Stalingrad. Rommel and the Africa Korps had taken Tobruk and the British were in retreating is disarray. The Japanese were preparing to invade Australia. The Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the Chinese were in desperate need of weapons, planes and supplies, and their only hope for survival was the industrial might of the United States. The fate of the free world was in the hands of Franklin Roosevelt.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1942

Roosevelt had agreed to a Germany First strategy, meaning defeating the Nazis would take priority over the Japanese. While Americans wanted to avenge the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States simply did not have enough ships, tanks and planes to fight effectively on three fronts. But the Navy had uncovered Japanese plans to build an airstrip on Guadalcanal, the southernmost point on their pathway to Australia. The time had come to shift from defense to offense.

By mid-July the orders had been given and the fleet set sail for Guadalcanal on July 31st. The Japanese enjoyed a significant advantage in ships, men and airplanes, and were undefeated. The American armada arrived at Guadalcanal on August 7th undetected and the Marines landed and quickly took control of the island.

The Japanese were caught completely off guard and the small detachment on Guadalcanal was no match for the 10,000 U.S. Marines backed up by heavy cruisers and F4F Grumman Wildcats. The area around the airfield, renamed Henderson Field, was taken the next day and the Marines established their perimeter and dug in. The nearby islands of Tulagi and Florida were also captured. This was the first American military ground offensive of World War II, taking place eight months after Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese quickly launched a counter attack. Over the next six months there would be three major land battles and seven major naval battles and almost daily firefights, dogfights and bombing raids. The Japanese brought reinforcements in at night on destroyers in what the Marines called the Tokyo Express.

By early October the Tokyo Express had brought thousands of fresh troops to the island. On the night of Oct. 14 Japanese battleships and destroyers bombarded Henderson Field for hours. They then launched a massive ground and naval attack, sinking the US carriers Hornet and Wasp and badly damaging the Enterprise in a stinging naval defeat for the Americans. The ground attack was ferocious, and the Japanese broke through the line several times only to be driven back by the Marines. The Japanese suffered terrible losses, but news reports in the U.S. described how the Marines had nearly been overrun and were exhausted and desperate.

N. Tanambago Island is a picture of desolation after a heavy bombing attack delivered by American airmen. Note the blased pier in the foreground and the wrecked fronts of building. The attack occurred during the American drive on the Solomon Islands.

At that moment 9,000 miles away President Franklin Roosevelt was in Washington overseeing an increasingly complex global conflict. Tens of thousands of American and British troops were secretly crossing the Atlantic on their way to the invasion of North Africa. Stalin was demanding more tanks and trucks to keep the Nazi’s from capturing Moscow. But it was Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands that concerned FDR the most. On Oct. 24th he sat down with his closest advisor Harry Hopkins and wrote an extraordinary message to his Chiefs of Staff. In the first draft, hand written by Hopkins, it says:

 “My anxiety about the Southwest Pacific is to make sure that every possible weapon gets into that area to hold Guadalcanal, and that having held it in this crisis that munitions and planes and crews are on the way to take advantage of our success.”

The last line, in Roosevelt’s own hand, says:

“Please also review the number and use of all combat planes now in the continental United States.”

This is one of the clearest and most revealing examples of FDR’s wartime leadership. Most of his instructions to the military took place in face to face meetings for which there is scant documentary evidence. But in this memo he clearly states his concern, acknowledges the global issues and asks what critical military resources can be redirected to Guadalcanal.

President Roosevelt ordered twenty more ships to Guadalcanal immediately along with troops and supplies. At the Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo Guadalcanal became THE decisive battle for control of the Pacific. They believed that with the recent loss of the American carriers and a battleships the balance of naval power had shifted in Japan’s favor.

The Japanese launched a massive ground, air and sea attack in mid-November, with the intention of driving the Marines off of Guadalcanal and retaking Henderson field. But because FDR had sent ships, troops and planes, the Americans were prepared. The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal raged for three days, including one of the most intense, nighttime battles of the war, with ships firing broadsides at point blank range in the pitch darkness. The Americans suffered staggering loses, but the Japanese invasion was thwarted. Within weeks the Japanese realized they could not win and began their withdrawal. By early February the evacuation was complete, marking the first time Imperial Japan lost territory it had conquered.

Guadalcanal was a major turning point in the Pacific. The Americans remained on the offensive and the Japanese were never able to fully recover from the loss of their ships and especially their highly trained pilots. Ultimately the campaign was a test of American leadership and the fighting prowess of the Navy and the Marines. They all rose to the challenge.

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FDR’s Commitment to the Hudson Valley

by Paul M. Sparrow, director FDR Presidential Library and Museum

On July 1st, the Trustees of the FDR Library and Museum will present the first Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Hudson Valley Vision Award to Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro for his work championing the ThinkDIFFERENTLY Campaign. The award seeks to recognize those working to improve the future of the Hudson Valley for ALL residents, through engagement and inclusion.  This recognition is in keeping with the lifelong commitment that both President and Mrs. Roosevelt had to supporting and promoting Dutchess County and the Hudson Valley.

“All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River…”

FDR at his home Springwood in Hyde Park, 1931


President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote those words on July 11, 1944 as he reluctantly agreed to run for a fourth term. Even as he put words to paper, perhaps he sensed he would not live long enough to fulfill the dream of retiring to his beloved Top Cottage. His deep commitment to Dutchess County and the Hudson Valley are the reasons why his Presidential Library and Museum is in Hyde Park and not Washington, D.C.

FDR at Top Cottage with Ruthie Bie and Fala, Feb. 1941

Franklin Roosevelt’s deep roots in the native soil of Hyde Park started growing when he was very young. His idyllic childhood included exploring his family’s estate searching for arrowheads, ice boating on the Hudson River, collecting birds and planting trees.

FDR ice boating on the Hudson River aboard the Hawk, 1905

His efforts as President to solve the Dust bowl environmental crisis of the 1930s were a direct result of his passion for trees and soil conservation.

On Saturday, December 10, 1938 FDR first announced his plans to donate all of his papers, art, ship models and books to the American people and to build a Presidential Library to house them. At the press conference that day he said:

“It is my hope that during my lifetime I will continue to live at Hyde Park, and if a period collection of this kind is permanently domiciled on what is my own place, I will be able to give assistance to the maintenance of the collection during my lifetime. … It is almost imperative that they should be placed in Hyde Park, and at the same time the ownership and title of all the papers, books, et cetera, should be in the federal government itself.”

This was an unprecedented act of generosity and patriotism – and he did it so that people could learn the lessons of the past to make a better world in the future.  He also noted that he had paintings, books, and historical records, “…relating to the Hudson Valley and the town of Hyde Park.”  His collection includes hundreds of books on the history of New York, many focused on Dutchess County.

FDR’s local history book collection is available for Museum visitors to view in visible storage.

FDR knew the Library and Museum would have a lasting impact on the region’s economy and he added a positive spin on the area’s tourism:

“I may mention that the place at Hyde Park is located on the New York – Albany Post Road – two hours from New York City by train or motor, and four and one-half miles from the City of Poughkeepsie, which has good hotel and other accommodations.”

The assembled press greeted that remark with laughter – perhaps the reporters had other views of the local accommodations – but FDR insisted “…don’t slam that last statement.”

It did not take long for FDR’s critics to voice their opinion. In a letter to the president dated December 13, 1938, Mr. Clarence Boothby wrote

“The decent citizens of this country are not all interested in perpetuating your memory to future generations, — in fact, we are only anxious to forget the stench of your egotistical, incompetent, unscrupulous and unspeakable costly administration as quickly as we can get you out of office.”

The President originally called it the “Hyde Park Library” but the Library Committee, made up of noted historians and scholars, felt that name was not distinctive enough.  The “Crum Elbow Library” was suggested, referring to the original tract of land on which library would be built.  FDR thought this idea was “swell.”  However, he was the only one who thought so and was again overruled by the Committee who selected the name as the “Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.” R.D.W Connor, then Archivist of the United Sates, noted that “the President of the United States found himself unanimously overruled by a ‘packed’ court of his own choosing.”

A bill was put before Congress for the Library to be built with privately raised money and then turned over to the National Archives to run it. Of course not everyone supported this piece of legislation.

Rep. Hamilton Fish III

Republican Congressman Hamilton Fish, who represented Hyde Park, argued that “no bill should be brought before the House for the erection of a monument to a living man… It is utterly un-American, utterly undemocratic.”   He wanted to know if there was to be a yearly maintenance cost limit on the project, and he proposed to limit annual maintenance to just $12,000, but it was rejected.

The loudest debate concerned WHERE the papers should be located.  Republicans insisted that the papers should be housed at the new National Archives building in Washington, D. C., so “statesmen of the future may go over the papers and learn how not to run a government.”

US National Archives

But FDR insisted that the library be built in Hyde Park. The intensity of the opposition can be found in the words of the Republican Congressman from Missouri, Dewey Jackson Short, who said “I submit in all fairness, that there has never been such a public display of colossal conceit or such an unblushing parade of swashbuckling egotism as is contained in this measure….Only an egocentric megalomaniac would have the nerve to ask for such a measure, and yet it is going to be crammed down our throats this afternoon by an appeal to blind partisan prejudice.”

The Republican response was so vitriolic because they knew that passage was inevitable and would require only a simple majority. And indeed the final bill was passed on July 18th, 1938.  Construction started in early 1939.

Library Construction

For FDR it was essential that his papers be housed next to his home. It was at Springwood that FDR found the strength to deal with his personal and political challenges.  It was his belief that the Library would attract researchers and historians from around the world, and that they would only truly understand him if they experienced the beauty and magic of the Hudson Valley. During the laying of the cornerstone on November 19, 1939, FDR expressed those sentiments.

“It has, therefore been my personal hope that this library, and the use of it by scholars and visitors, will come to be an integral part of a country scene which the hand of man has not greatly changed since the days of the Indians who dwelt here 300 years ago.”

On June 30th, 1941, as war raged in Europe, President Roosevelt officially opened his Library and Museum.  The poet Archibald McLeish captured FDR’s life-long ties to the Hudson River Valley in his remarks during the dedication:  “They (the papers) belong by themselves, here in this river country, on the land from which they came.”

President Roosevelt said it best when he said:

“To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men living in the future, a nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgement for the creation of the future.”

Since that day in 1941, more than 13 million people have visited the FDR Library and his home, including Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, Queens, politicians and Hollywood celebrities. Of course people are not the only thing FDR brought to the Hudson Valley. His Civilian Conservation Corps built the Beaverkill Bridge, FDR State Park, Harriman State Park and the Pine Meadow Lake, Sam’s Point Preserve and of course the Taconic Parkway.  He also helped build multiple Post Offices, schools and roads in the region. Perhaps most importantly Franklin Roosevelt inspired the people of Dutchess County to take pride in knowing that one of our greatest presidents chose their community to house his legacy.

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FDR’s Ship Models – Part 3: Other Interesting Models

By Paul M. Sparrow, Director

Many of the ships in FDR’s collection are historically significant vessels. Others fall more into the unique and unusual category.

USS Potomac O.C. Chapman and D.L. Fernald , Early 1940s Wood, string, fabric MO 1942.250.1

Originally a United States Coast Guard patrol boat, the USS Potomac served as the presidential yacht from 1936 until 1945. FDR spent many relaxing days aboard the ship as it cruised the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay, and other locations.  After his death, the Potomac was decommissioned and returned to the Coast Guard. It was later sold and fell into disrepair. Eventually a non-profit organization in Oakland, California acquired the ship. It is preserved there as a national historic landmark.

This model of the Potomac was built by O.C. Chapman, D.L. Fernald, and engineers from the ship. The ship’s officers and crew presented it to Roosevelt.

USS Wabash Frank Walters and John Colbert 1922 Wood, string, metal, fabric MO 1941.7.93

Two retired sailors at Sailor’s Snug Harbor—a home for elderly seamen in Staten Island, New York— made this model of the Civil War screw frigate Wabash as a gift for FDR in 1922.  Frank Walters and John Colbert were longtime friends of Roosevelt who wanted to express their gratitude for his service to sailors during World War I. Roosevelt helped the men (“a couple of old deep water, square rigged sailormen, friends of mine”) by obtaining copies of the ship’s plans from the Navy. He prized this model “not only for the historical interest, but because it had been made by men who actually sailed on, and lived on these old ships.”

USS Macedonian Ca. 1825 Wood, string, fabric, metal MO 1941.7.90

FDR purchased this model of the USS Macedonian in New York City in March 1922. He paid $210 (about $2600 in current dollars) for it. He later displayed it in the family quarters in the White House before putting it on exhibit at the FDR Library. Roosevelt believed the model dated to around 1825. Originally a British ship, the Macedonian was captured by Commodore Stephen Decatur during the War of 1812 and refitted for service in the American navy. It was the first British Naval ship to become part of the US Navy. FDR had a special interest in the Macedonian and also collected a number of prints and paintings of it.

USS Raleigh Wood, fabric MO 1941.7.98

FDR purchased this model during his first hectic weeks as president while he was busy enacting emergency legislation to overcome the Great Depression. The Raleigh was one of thirteen frigates ordered by the Continental Congress during the early days of the United States Navy. FDR purchased this model in April 1933 for $125 (roughly $2000 in current dollars) from the S&G Gump Company of San Francisco. Franklin Roosevelt’s ability to relax with his hobbies amid great crises became a hallmark of his presidency.

HMS Bounty O.G. Haines ca. 1935 Wood, metal, string LJR 1941.7.89

This model was created by O.G. Haines of Palms, California for a “Mutiny on the Bounty” model contest designed to help promote the 1935 MGM feature film starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable. The film recounts the famous mutiny that occurred during Vice-Admiral William Bligh’s 1787 expedition to transport breadfruit trees to the West Indies. The model was presented to President Roosevelt in August 1935.

Cutty Sark A.L. Lawbaugh ca. 1938 Wood, fabric, string LJR 1941.7.71


This is a particularly beautiful model, with delicate sails and painted hull. A.L. Lawbaugh of Jefferson City, Missouri presented FDR with this model of the clipper ship Cutty Sark in May 1938. Launched in 1869, the Cutty Sark was among the fastest ships involved in the China tea and Australian wool trade.

In addition to ship models FDR also collected books about naval history, ships, and even books about ship models.

Many of the books are rare first editions, some of them have both the author’s signature and FDR’s. They are typical of the kinds of books FDR collected- special versions of books on subjects he was very interested in.

There are a number of unique and unusual models in the collection. This Viking model is based on Leif Ericson’s ship and was given to FDR by the Washington State Federation of Scandinavian-American Democratic Clubs in Sept, 1937. The ship is named the FDR.

Sometimes it’s the people who give the model who are interesting. This outrigger canoe carved from highly polished brown wood is quite charming.  It has a tall mast and a brown and black fiber sail of Fijian design.  It was presented to President Franklin D. Roosevelt by Boy Scout  Troop 13 from Honolulu.  FDR included this model in the Naval Exhibition Gallery when it first opened in 1941.

We are going to end with one of my favorite models, although it is unusual in a number of ways. It is made of varnished wood and has a metal tip and a small engine that actually works.  Stitched on the floor of the back seat on red fabric: the letters F.D.R. Its about three feet long and really quite exquisite.

A 48-foot working replica of the ship is located at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY, in one of the rare instances when a real boat was based on a model. It is said to be the world’s largest and fasted runabout, powered by a Packard V-12 1,800 horsepower engine that can hit 70 miles an hour.

The model was made over several years by a prisoner of Sing Sing Prison in New York and given to Roosevelt when he was Governor of New York.  We don’t know the prisoners name, but the ships name : Pardon Me.

Special Thanks to Herman Eberhardt and the museum staff who curated the Treasures of a President: FDR and the Sea   exhibit at the South Street Seaport from which much of this information is derived.

FDR’s Ship Models Part One: Sailing Ships

FDR’s Ship Models – Part Two : 20th Century Naval Ships

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An Artist, a Mobster, and a Mother’s Day Gift

By William A. Harris, Deputy Director

By most accounts, Sara Delano Roosevelt was a force to be reckoned with, and by all accounts, she doted on her only child, indulged him even, but most certainly loved him dearly. She had a definite way of making her presence known. FDR and his family made their home at her Hudson Valley estate, Springwood. In Manhattan, Mrs. Roosevelt constructed adjoining townhouses on East 65th as a wedding gift for her son and his new wife, a gift that kept her close to her son, but often too close for his young bride. So it isn’t surprising that for Mother’s Day 1934, Sara determined to give a special gift to her beloved son, one that would remind him of his mother each day they were apart. The gift: a portrait of herself!

Portraits and talk of them had been a regular topic of conversation within the family for the past year. Only the previous August, the eminent artist Ellen Emmet Rand had been commissioned to paint the President’s official portrait. She had been working on the project, which required visits to Springwood and the White House into the early months of 1934. Aside from her talent and reputation as an artist, which was estimable, she could also boast family connections to FDR through her cousin Grenville Temple Emmet, FDR’s former law partner, and family associations through Eleanor Roosevelt and the Delanos. In fact, it was a Delano cousin who took Rand for her first visit to Springwood.

Tade Styka, mid-1930s. Credit: National Library of Poland

When selecting her portraitist, however, Sara Delano Roosevelt went in an entirely different direction. She eschewed a safe and traditional East coast portraitist like Rand for the chicest of chic society artists, the fashionable Tade Styka, a favorite of the European and entertainment set, a purveyor of glamor without question, but a respectable one, too, for the most part. Styka split his time between New York City and Paris. In Manhattan, the bachelor artist maintained a studio on tony Central Park South. He also led an active social life. Papers reported him crossing the Atlantic on grand liners and mixing with a clientele of the rich, famous, and infamous. He had painted France’s Marshall Foch and actress Marion Davies and a bevy of naked beauties.

To appreciate Mrs. Roosevelt’s surprising choice, one must first get a sense of the portraitist himself. Born in 1889, Styka first came to the United States in 1904 along with his father, himself an acclaimed artist, who was exhibiting at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. A child prodigy, the younger Styka was featured in newspapers across the United States for his extraordinary talent, especially at rendering animals and fur. Though the trip proved a disaster for his father, some of whose work was destroyed in a fire or seized by customs, Styka must have found America a place of immense opportunity, for he returned again and again, garnering attention for his bravura brushwork and virtuosity and for the names and likenesses of his clients.

Credit: National Library of Poland

During the 1900s and 1910s, Styka developed from a precocious child with undisputed ability to a prodigious young artist with obvious talent. He possessed an easy natural style that seemed casual and unforced, derivative many said of Giovanni Boldini, the Italian portraitist with whom he was sometimes compared. His work evidences a keen eye for then current styles, and he adapted his art to the times. By his early thirties, he possessed an air of old European exoticism that played well in 1920s America. He could have stepped out of an Elinor Glyn novel with his head of wavy brown hair; sturdy, athletic build; aristocratic bearing; and whiff of Ruritanian romanticism.

Styka garnered widespread notice in 1923 for a scandal involving movie stars and romance in an innocently decadent way, the kind often flamed by studio flacks. The entire business began with his daring portrait of screen siren Pola Negri—a naked back, furs sensuously screening eager eyes from moral disaster. A torrid affair ensued, of course, but Negri decamped for Hollywood. He followed. The melodrama played out in headlines across two continents. Newspapers recounted the drama in appealingly sensational reports, the kind involving copious adjectives and adverbs and wild speculation.

The story grew even more reportable when Negri became engaged to comedian Charlie Chaplin, perhaps the biggest star in the world at the time. The pair had met in Europe, and the obligatory high octane affair had followed. It was expected of movie stars. Theirs was an equally tempestuous relationship—the talented being inherently prone to intense passions, or so the papers held. Though Styka didn’t win Negri’s heart, he won a great deal of news coverage that wasn’t bad for business. As one paper observed, “Styka finds the portrait he painted of the film beauty too full of fond memories for any eyes save his.” It was soon on exhibit for everyone to see.

Styka traveled back and forth to the United States throughout the 1920s, painting subjects as varied as storied French leaders and Hollywood starlets. He became a chevalier in the French Legion of Honor and exhibited publicly in New York and Paris. He also painted his share of well-heeled Americans such as Senator William A. Clark. Styka became something of the family portraitist for the immensely wealthy Clark family doing multiple likenesses of the senator, his second wife, and their daughter, Huguette, whom he befriended and took as a student. He spent extensive time at their Santa Barbara mansion and apartments in New York City.

Styka also garnered a reputation as a master painter of women and frequently offered his views about women to the press. “It is ridiculous,” he stated, “…to say that smoking, eating candy or drinking is detrimental to beauty…In smoking I like to see a woman use a cigaret (sic) holder. She should hold it gracefully, avoiding any jerky motions or any contractions of the face in exhaling.” He remarked “that with regard to stature and features American women have not their equals in the whole world” for which he credited “the dry climate” as women “in countries with much damp weather without exception are more heavily built and have thicker features.”

Credit: National Library of Poland

By the end of the decade, Styka was well known enough that no less a sage than Walter Winchell, whose gossipy, often mean-spirited column appeared in papers nationwide, reported that the artist, “who charges them 10 Gs for their portraits, is here [New York] from Paree looking for chumps.” As for critics, their reviews were often filled with hyperbole more in line with automobile ads. The Chicago Tribune gushed “If there is genius in the world today, Styka is possessed of it.” Even the august New York Times reported that his “canvases shriek with vitality” describing them as “nervous, keen, theatrical” though “they savor of magazine covers.”

The stock market crash of 1929 didn’t initially impact Styka’s career. He continued to paint and travel back and forth to Europe. But by 1933, with banks collapsing daily, he needed money and entered into an arrangement with furniture designer and decorator James Mont, described as “the George Raft of American design, with a carnation in his button hole and brass knuckles in his pocket.” Though an acknowledged talent, Mont had a violent temper and an unseemly reputation for doing business with organized crime. He was known to have crafted art deco bars for speakeasies in Atlantic City and the homes of notorious mobsters.

Aside from the mob, Mont’s clientele included a range of celebrities, such as rising star Bob Hope, who served as best man at Mont’s wedding. The swank St. Moritz hotel provided an elegant location for his business, Salon Moderne. He described himself as a “Decorateur-Artiste” with locations in “Paris, Venice, and Egypte (with an E)” as one columnist teased, adding that his coat of arms was “a cocktail shaker rampant on a field of what looks like standing ash trays.” Mont was an unlikely partner for the artist. Times must have been tough indeed.

Mont sold a variety of stylish wares at his boutique. Styka admired Mont’s design aesthetic and had patronized the establishment. He may have also known Mont from the New York social scene, most likely nightclubs and speakeasies where Mont courted clients, including well-known mobsters, such as Frank Costello and Joe Adonis. Mont and Styka became friendly and the designer promoted Styka to his varied clientele. In mid-1933, Mont established a gallery in Atlantic City, and Styka consigned $100,000 worth of art to Mont. For any paintings sold at list price he would get a 25% to 30% commission.

Credit: National Library of Poland

Styka left for Europe shortly thereafter. Unfortunately for both men, the venture proved unsuccessful. Mont lost his entire investment. Styka lost no money out of pocket, but the lack of sales must have been disappointing. The failure of the Atlantic City venture did not end the business relationship as Mont continued promoting the artist’s paintings. In December 1933, Styka returned from Europe, and his prospects were improving. In early February, the Wildenstein and Company Gallery at 17 East 64th Street hosted an exhibit of his work. Included were his recent portraits of the crown prince and princess of Italy, painted in Turin.

The New York Times published a generally favorable, if slightly tongue-in-cheek review. Of note was a portrait of “a small boy in a white silk suit … companioned and amply guarded by a magnificent black Greenland dog.” “Tade Styka could become famous as a painter just of dogs,” the writer observed, with canines in his canvases “here and there, tucked away as engaging accessories.” He described “two dazzling nudes” as “the most incredible feats of brush gymnastics exposed in New York in a long while,” but added that “this fashionably resourceful artist does not paint all of his subjects with a brush that has been dipped into the heart of a gilded marshmallow and that has plundered the orchid of her beauty.”

Clearly in search of a plundering brush fresh from a gilded marshmallow, Mrs. Roosevelt commissioned Styka in early 1934 to do her portrait. How this came about, one can only surmise. Perhaps she had heard of him during her European travels or through her sister who lived much of the year in Paris. Or perhaps she had happened around the corner from her home to the Wildenstein Gallery and discovered Styka’s portrait of Mrs. A. O. de Kernell, “sumptuously dark, and cunning in its treatment of fabric textures.” Regardless, the estimable Mrs. James Roosevelt commissioned Styka to paint her portrait, a gift for her only child on Mother’s Day.

This is where a mobster comes into the story, and not just any mobster, but none other than Joe Adonis. An intensely vain man, hence his name, Adonis possessed a high regard for his looks and preened constantly in front of any available mirror. He was also purportedly a rapist and murderer who controlled the rackets, from prostitution to gambling, throughout Times Square and Midtown Manhattan, not to mention his home turf, Brooklyn. There, he ran his many, illegal and nefarious concerns out of an Italian restaurant. Lucky Luciano considered him a trusted lieutenant, and Adonis held a leadership position in the National Crime Syndicate.

Adonis was James Mont’s biggest client, and he had been decorating the gangster’s Brooklyn home to the tune of $50,000. Adonis also sold cars, his front, and Mont drove around New York City in a gleaming new Cadillac purchased from the gangster who also reportedly forced customers into buying “protection” insurance. Mont lobbied Adonis to commission a Styka portrait for his fancy new dining room. The gangster demurred at first. Why did he need a $4,000 painting? Mont persisted, and Adonis later recalled that Mont had gone on and on “always around Styka, the great artist he was.” The crime boss eventually relented.

Joe Adonis. Credit: NYPD

The painting would be of Mrs. Adonis and their infant son. Mont was also savvy enough to know that “more faces” in a portrait meant more money for the painting. Adonis visited Styka at his Central Park South studio one day in March 1934. There, amongst bibelots and object d’art, he made arrangements for a series of sittings. Styka was now in business with a mobster, with Mont as his agent. To seal the deal, Adonis invited Mont and Styka to a spaghetti dinner at his Brooklyn home. When asked later if he enjoyed it, Styka responded without hesitation, “yes, indeed.”

Styka began painting Mrs. Roosevelt on the same day that Adonis first visited his studio. The contrast must have been mind-numbingly jarring. He would alternate sittings between the President’s mother and Adonis’ wife and son. One can imagine Styka gossiping in French with the worldly Sara Delano Roosevelt, who had lived in Asia and Europe, about current events and common acquaintances in New York and abroad. One can just as easily picture him perhaps self-consciously, and nervously, dabbing at his palette with not only Mrs. Adonis and junior looking on, but also Adonis himself and his coterie of protectors and loyalists.

Mont was certainly pleased with the arrangement. The $4,000 fee would result in a healthy commission. Like Styka, Mont lived large. Styka would get some much needed funds, too. He required the best suits, the finest restaurants, and the most sumptuous accommodations. He had an image to maintain for his rich and famous clientele. He dined with them, entertained them, and mingled with them. As for Adonis, he would get a fine portrait from an internationally acclaimed artist that would fit perfectly in his glamorous Brooklyn dining room where spaghetti dinners were without doubt regularly served.

Styka likely completed both paintings in mid to late April. Mrs. Roosevelt’s lacks some of the flair usually associated with his portraits. Her painting, after all, could hardly “shriek with vitality,” but his touch is deft. She peers from the canvas with loving eyes, the warmth emanating from her delicately painted face focused squarely on her son. She emerges from a rich, brown background draped in Styka’s signature sables, his technique with fur as fine on Mrs. Roosevelt as it was with the crown princess of Italy. Sara Delano Roosevelt must have been pleased indeed. Unfortunately, no image exists of the Adonis work.

Styka’s portrait of Mrs. Roosevelt appeared in the press in early May 1934. It was covered extensively with photographs and stories playing up the Mother’s Day angle. No one mentioned the rather curious notion of a mother giving a portrait of herself to her son on Mother’s Day. On Sunday, May 6, 1934, Mother Roosevelt surprised her son with the painting. He had spent the day on the Presidential yacht, Sequoia, and returned to the White House to find his wife and her guests, along with his mother and Styka, at tea on the south portico. Mrs. Roosevelt allowed Styka to make the presentation.

The tea must have been a curious affair what with Eleanor Roosevelt’s guests, two women reporters and two progressive educators, mingling with Sara Delano Roosevelt and the Polish high society portraitist. The President was delighted by the gift, and the painting was hung in a prominent place in the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt must have been pleased, too, for soon thereafter Styka attended the Navy Ball Group luncheon at the Ritz Tower Hotel in New York City where the President’s mother was the guest of honor and speaker. That crowd was entirely different from the speakeasy set to be sure. Perhaps Styka netted a few new commissions.

White House Study

Alas, the Adonis portrait proved a troublesome thing. The mobster refused to pay. Mont gave Styka five hundred dollars on account. He was heading to Europe and needed the money. From Poland, the artist continued to seek final payment but found no money on his return in March 1935. Styka first threatened to sue Mont. But then, surprisingly, he told an angry and horrified Mont that he would sue Adonis! In a chance encounter on 6th Avenue in Manhattan, Styka repeated to Mont that he would sue the mobster. Mont menacingly warned, “then try, you will see what you get.” Perhaps the import of his words was lost on Styka, but that seems doubtful. Yet the artist did the unthinkable. He sued Joe Adonis. And, shockingly, he won.

The trial played out in a Manhattan courtroom. Styka wanted the $3500 he claimed was owed by Adonis. The mobster asserted that he had paid Mont for the painting. Styka argued that Mont had not served as his agent, but merely as an informal middle man and that he himself had contracted with Adonis. Thus any payment made to Mont was irrelevant. Mont sounded nervous on the stand. Adonis came across like a gangster being sued—all bewilderment and innocence and probably wondering how he’d gotten mixed up in a lawsuit with an artist who had painted the President’s mother. He didn’t need that kind of heat. To complicate matters, Mont had gone bankrupt in late 1934.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s name came up in testimony, but it is obvious the judge, and most likely Adonis, didn’t want to draw attention to the connection. Styka’s attorney used her commission to set the date on which the deal with Adonis had been struck. His attorney hammered away at Mont and Adonis over timelines. That his client had also painted the President’s mother certainly gave Styka added credibility. The judge found in the artist’s favor. The suit cost Mont Adonis’ business. Fortunately, it cost neither Mont nor Styka their lives. The verdict was upheld on appeal. Styka received the balance due and interest, but no more spaghetti dinners in Brooklyn.

Styka’s career seemed to sputter for a period afterwards. A 1936 joint exhibit with his brother Adam earned the pair a terrible review in The New York Times. “The adjective slick,” the writer observed, “seems inevitable.” Styka’s works were described as “pyrotechnic” and “very chic and mostly in the treble cleff.” Yet ultimately the reviewer wasn’t impressed, considering one study in particular “one of the most unpleasant pictures ever painted.” Styka’s brother suffered harsher criticism. The reviewer suggested that “the artist might learn some perhaps pertinent lessons in chromatic restraint” by seeing the new Technicolor, Marlene Dietrich picture, The Garden of Allah.

By 1937, he was exhibiting paintings with his brother at Eaton’s Department Store in Winnipeg, Canada. He still lived in his Central Park South studio, and on his last trip abroad before the war, cameras caught him strolling with the Duke and Duchess de Nemours in Deauville. Yet on his return to New York, he travelled in second class on the once grand Aquitania. Regardless, he rarely economized. He made the men’s best-dressed list that same year and remained active on the New York social scene, hosting teas in his studio with a steady stream of guests that included aging society dowagers, a variety of Polish counts, and Huguette Clark, whom he continued to teach and escort around town.

Styka, Ilka Chase, and Jimmy Durante, Polish Relief Fund, 1940. Credit: NY Public Library

In his fifties, he married a model. The union produced a daughter, who became Huguette Clark’s goddaughter, and ultimately her heir in a much publicized controversy following Clark’s death at age 104. Always active within the Polish community, he supported war relief efforts after Germany invaded Poland in 1939. He also became an American citizen and registered for the draft. And in a nod to his connections in the Polish community, in the election year 1948, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of President Harry S. Truman. He did so at the White House to the approval of Mrs. Truman. He died in 1954 at age 65. Unfortunately, his reputation has languished. He is perhaps best known for his painting of Theodore Roosevelt as a Rough Rider from which the Roosevelt Room in the White House takes its name and for his association with the reclusive heiress Huguette Clark. He needs a proper re-appraisal.

Styka’s portrait of Mrs. Roosevelt continued to hang in the White House after her death in 1941. As for Adonis, he played a major role in organized crime for the rest of his life. He returned to Italy in the 1950s and died in police custody in 1971. Mont revived his business, but eventually served prison time for assault. His designs have enjoyed renewed appreciation. Styka is little known today. Perhaps he was too much of his times, not timeless. He lives on at the Roosevelt Library. The portrait of Mrs. Roosevelt—her Mother’s Day gift to her son—is part of the permanent collection. It was most recently exhibited in 2016. Draped in sables, she still possesses that loving gaze for her beloved little boy, the President of the United States.

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FDR’s Ship Models – Part Two : 20th Century Naval Ships

By Paul M. Sparrow, director

Franklin Roosevelt’s ship model collection is truly remarkable for its size and for the variety of models. During the latter part of his presidency he received many models of war ships.

Having served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in WWI, President Roosevelt became the Commander in Chief of the largest and most powerful Navy ever assembled during World War II.

USS North Carolina ca. 1937, Wood MO 1942.119.10

Secretary of the Navy Claude Swanson presented this model of the battleship USS North Carolina to FDR as a Christmas gift in 1937.  The ship was then under construction as part of Roosevelt’s naval expansion program. FDR wrote Swanson that he was “thrilled” with the model. “It makes me long to go for a cruise on her just as soon as she is commissioned,” he noted. Roosevelt kept this model in his White House study before putting it on display at the FDR Library. The North Carolina was commissioned in 1941 and participated in operations throughout the Pacific during World War II.

One of the most interesting models comes from one of FDR’s least favorite people.

France, Early 1940s Metal, fabric, glass, wood MO 1945.70.4

Based loosely on a French submarine called the Surcouf, it can submerge, fire its guns, and launch its torpedoes. The model was built by an unknown French petty officer in Bizerte, Tunisia while it was under German occupation. General Charles DeGaulle gave FDR this model submarine while visiting Washington in July 1944. A delighted Roosevelt tested the model in the boat basin at the Taylor Naval Research Center near Washington D.C. He later gave it to his grandson, Curtis Roosevelt.

When Eleanor Roosevelt noted that he couldn’t give away a state gift, FDR said DeGaulle was only president of the French Committee for Liberation, not a head of state.

It was not the first model given to FDR by the French. This photo shows Admiral Raymond Fernard presenting the President with a model of the battleship Richelieu, on March 19, 1943. This is a detailed wooden model that is still a part of the collection, although it needs conservation.

USS Wichita Frederic A. Craven Ca. 1941 Wood, metal MO 1941.7.83

The USS Wichita was a 614-foot heavy cruiser constructed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Commissioned in 1939, the ship was part of the naval expansion program undertaken by President Roosevelt during the 1930s. Frederic A. Craven of La Porte, Indiana built this model of the Wichita and sent it to FDR in January 1941 as a gift.  It delighted the President, since he did not own any models of this class of cruiser. “Your gift,” he wrote Craven, “will have an honored place in my collection in the Library at Hyde Park. . . . I consider it a distinct addition to my collection.”

Motor Torpedo (PT) Boat, Higgins Industries, Inc. 1944 Wood, brass, glass MO 1945.8.1

Some of FDR’s ship models were gifts from defense contractors. This model of a motor torpedo (PT) boat was presented to him on June 1, 1944 by Andrew Jackson Higgins, president of Higgins Industries of New Orleans, Louisiana. Higgins built thousands of specialized boats and landing craft for the military during World War II.

These vessels made it possible to stage massive amphibious invasions in Europe and the Pacific. Five days after Higgins gave this model to FDR, thousands of American soldiers came ashore on D-Day in Normandy aboard Higgins landing craft. Roosevelt quickly put the model on display at the FDR Library.

USS Benham, George H. Maynor, 1941 MO 1943.190.8

This 50” inch model of the destroyer USS Benham was placed in front of a mirror.  It was built by George Maynor and sent to FDR by Maynor’s grandfather. The president invited George to the White House but he had already enlisted in the Navy.

George Maynor was on the deck of the USS Hornet on April 18th, 1942 when the Doolittle Raiders took off on their bombing run to Tokyo. He survived its sinking in October 1942 at the Battle of Santa Cruz.

There are several aircraft carriers in the collection. This model of the USS Casablanca was presented to FDR by Henry J. Kaiser on March 18, 1943. The actual Escort Carrier was christened the following month by Eleanor Roosevelt, the first of 50 Casablanca-class carriers built during the war.

One of the largest models is this World War 1 German Light Cruiser of the Emden Karlsrule Class. It was sent to FDR in Oct. 1944 by Lt. Gen. George Patton after his troops discovered it during the Battle of Metz near the Moselle River. Its slightly over TEN feet long.

Special Thanks to Herman Eberhardt and the museum staff who curated the Treasures of a President: FDR and the Sea exhibit at the South Street Seaport from which much of this information is derived.

FDR’s Ship Models Part One: Sailing Ships

FDR’s Ship Models – Part 3: Other Interesting Models

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