The new museum galleries will feature two immersive Fireside Chat Environments. Each of these environments will have a radio and period furnishings, inviting visitors to sit and listen. After the Chat audio concludes, visitors can hear readings of actual letters — representing a variety of opinions — giving the visitor a chance to hear how Americans felt about the president’s leadership during the Depression and World War II.
Controversial issues are part of every presidency. As a four term president Franklin D. Roosevelt had his share and as our exhibit design team and historians committee planned our new permanent museum exhibits we talked at great length about how to deal with them. Our decision was to address these issues head on. “Confront the Issue” are ten interactive touch screens strategically located throughout the exhibition that offer visitors the opportunity to explore digital “flipbooks” that contain documents, photographs, and excerpts from historians — with multiple viewpoints — related to controversial issues during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. Topics include “Japanese American Internment,” “FDR and the Holocaust,” “FDR’s Health,” and “Did the New Deal Really Work?”
The Confront the Issue interactives allow visitors to more deeply explore documentation from the Library’s archival collections and to read excerpts from all sides of the historical debate about these difficult subjects. Rather than telling the visitor what to think, the Confront the Issue interactives allow them to draw their own conclusions and to gain a deeper understanding of the historical and political context in which FDR did or did not make decisions or took or failed to take action. There are no easy answers to these questions. Our hope is that after exploring the Confront the Issue interactives is that the visitor will walk away from them with greater understanding and a desire to learn more about it.
Putting together a brand new 12,000 square foot museum exhibit has been quite an adventure. There are countless components that go into the design and fabrication of an exhibit. Currently, we are working with a design company, an interactive contractor, a fabrication company and an audiovisual production company.
One of the highlights of the experience came on May 6th when museum curator Herman Eberhardt and I traveled to New York City to meet our audiovisual contractor, Monadnock Media, to record the narration for our Legacy film. There are 17 audiovisual productions in our new exhibit ranging from silent film treatments to immersive theater experiences. But there is no more important film than the one which will be shown in the Legacy Theater, the very last thing people experience in our exhibit. Here our visitors should understand that the world we live in today is still very much the world that Franklin Roosevelt envisioned and fought for.
Our team struggled with the script for this important theater. Nothing seemed to hit the mark until our audiovisual producer found an essay that President Bill Clinton had written about FDR back in 2000. As soon as we read it we knew it was our script. Clinton captured the essence of FDR and his legacy.
I reached out to President Clinton through his staff and my dear colleague, Terri Garner, director of the Clinton Presidential Library. I was not only asking to use Clinton’s essay but I wanted him to read it as the narration for our film. A lot to ask one of the busiest former presidents in our country’s history.
I knew the one thing I had in my favor was that Clinton loved FDR. He had visited the Roosevelt Library three times during his presidency and once after leaving office. Fortunately for us he agreed to record – our last hurdle was working with his staff to find the time in his busy schedule.
We did the recording at a New York City hotel after he attended a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. He seemed a bit tired after a very long day but he was charming and gracious and the minute I heard him reading his words I knew we were going to have an amazing experience for our museum visitors. Our heartfelt thanks to President Clinton for his amazing generosity with his time and his words and to Terri Garner, director of the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, and Elizabeth Bibi, senior communications associate for the Clinton Foundation, for their assistance in making it all happen.
The installation of the new exhibits is continuing at a very quick pace! Here are some of the latest things things to be installed.
A Bold and Persistent Staff
by Lynn Bassanese, Director, FDR Library
The renovation project that began at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in 2010 is the first renovation of the Library building since it opened to the public on June 30, 1941. It is also the first complete renovation of any presidential library. While it will not change the historic exterior of the building, the project brings its infrastructure up to National Archives standards for the long-term preservation of historic collections. The renovation also includes an exciting new permanent museum exhibit that delivers “A New Deal to a New Generation”. From the beginning of the project, our two major goals were that we always had something interesting and significant for our visitors to see and that we never close down researcher operations.
As wonderful and exciting as the renovation has been, the work has placed enormous challenges on the Library’s entire staff. We relocated staff and we moved 35,000 museum objects and 17 million pages of documents multiple times to accommodate renovation phasing. We moved research room operations into our Visitor Center and never closed to researchers and there were always museum exhibits for the visitor to see in the midst of demolition. We continued to loan museum artifacts and never missed a deadline on our many obligations to internal and external customers. And we tweeted, facebooked, and blogged about our adventures.
At the beginning of the project in 2010, the Library’s archival staff and collections had to completely vacate the Library building to make way for the renovation. The archives staff coordinated the packing and move of offices, researcher operations, and most of the Library’s historical materials to spaces in the Wallace Visitor Center (and back again) without ever closing to researchers. Additionally, nine tractor trailer loads containing 162 pallets of additional books, audio-visual materials, and ephemera were shipped to warehouse storage in Texas. Throughout the moves, the archives staff continued to respond to research requests, assisted other Library program areas, and expanded digital and online content for the Library’s website and social media platforms.
The Library’s museum staff and collections remained within the Library building throughout the renovation, requiring the move of staff and collections multiple times to accommodate the project’s various phases and the endurance of renovation noise and vibration. Additionally, the staff continued its collection re-inventory project, responded to requests for information, loaned museum objects, designed and installed an outstanding temporary photograph exhibition for museum visitors to enjoy during permanent gallery renovation, and designed and oversaw the fabrication and installation of the Library’s new permanent exhibitions.
Despite also being displaced from their offices during the renovation, the Library’s administrative and facilities staff continued to meet or exceed reporting and financial deadlines, kept visitors informed of changes in services, directed questions or issues about the renovation to the proper Library officials, oversaw staff training, supervised upgrades to computer hardware and software, and implemented changes to timekeeping and accounting systems. Meanwhile, the Library’s New Deal Museum Store and ticketing operations staff stabilized the Library’s revenue stream during the project by ensuring that the public was fully informed of the opportunities to experience the Roosevelt site during the renovation and by providing a full line of new and quality store products to extend the visitor experience at home.
Finally, throughout the renovation the Library’s public programs and education staff managed all visitor notices, signage, and publicity relating to the renovation. The programs staff prepared the Wallace Center storage spaces to accept the archival collections and reconfigured many aspects of programs and facility use operations to accommodate necessary changes. They also redesigned education programs to complement the temporary photograph exhibit. In the last phase of the renovation the programs staff designed and developed new programs, visitor experiences, and marketing strategies to prepare for a seamless transition from renovation-to-rededication on June 30, 2013.
In 1932 Franklin Roosevelt was running for the office of the presidency. Our country and the world were in the midst of the Great Depression. In a campaign address in Atlanta, Georgia FDR proclaimed to the crowd: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
The Roosevelt Library staff has been bold and persistent throughout our renovation. They have had to experiment and just keep trying. And their teamwork, collegiality, and pride in their collective accomplishment and our mission have made the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum truly a great place to be. We look forward to our rededication and the opening of our new permanent museum exhibits on June 30, 2013.
The installation of the new museum exhibits has started! Here are some photos of what has been done so far.
80th Anniversary – Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 Presidential Inauguration
Eighty years ago, on March 4, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as President of the United States for the first time. As he approached the rostrum to take the oath of office at the Capitol, he braced himself on his son James’s arm. Breaking precedent, he recited the entire oath, instead of simply repeating “I do.” Then, as the crowd grew quiet, he opened his inaugural address.
The new President was addressing a nation that was struggling amidst the greatest economic depression in its history. Roosevelt offered his fellow Americans reassurance: “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive, and will prosper.” Then, in bold words that reverberate in public memory, he proclaimed, “. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
This now-famous line got little reaction. The greatest applause came when Roosevelt declared that if Congress didn’t act, he would ask for “broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency. . . .” Americans were ready to grant FDR sweeping power. As he proclaimed, “This nation asks for action, and action now.”
Roosevelt took all four of his presidential oaths of office on this leather bound, Dutch language Bible. The Bible was made in 1686 and contains Roosevelt family records from the early 18th century.
The slideshow below shows images of President Roosevelt taken on March 4, 1933.
Roosevelt and Lincoln
“I live, temporarily, in the same house and the same rooms once occupied by him. The very window from which he gazed in the dark days is the same.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarks on Visiting the Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
June 24, 1936
President Roosevelt was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln. He often cited the revered nineteenth century president in speeches, evoked his image in campaign material, and collected or received over 100 pieces of Lincoln related ephemera.
These objects from the FDR Library’s Museum collection reflect the connection between President Roosevelt and President Lincoln.
Both FDR and his opponents referred to Lincoln in their campaign material. The poster on the left was used during Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign. The button on the right was used by Republicans in 1940 to criticize FDR’s attempt to seek a third term.
Henry Weber of Oakville, Indiana, made this desk piece from the wood of a 350 year old white oak tree that stood beside the trail leading from the Lincoln cabin to the grave of President Lincoln’s mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln in Spencer County, Indiana. Mr. Weber’s son, Horace, was a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the area and sent the stump of the tree to his father in 1933. The granite piece at the bottom was taken from Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Webers sent the completed piece to FDR as a gift in 1937.
President Lincoln gave this pair of Colt pistols to Kıbrıslı Mehmed Emin Pacha, Governor of Adrianople, Turkey, in 1864. The gift was presented in acknowledgement of his services in securing the assassins of Reverend William Ward Merriam, an American missionary. Rev. Merriam was killed when his caravan was attacked during a return trip from Constantinople to his post at Phillipopolis. In March 1945, the pistols were presented to President Roosevelt by Baron Francis J. Solari of Izmir, Turkey, and Rome, Italy, through Myron C. Taylor, the Personal Representative of the President to Pope Pius XII. The firearms are Model 1862 .36-caliber Colt police pistols, with silver handles by Tiffany, serial numbers 25513 E and 25514 E.
Dr. John E. Washington, author of the book, They Knew Lincoln, a history of the President’s White House staff, gave this photograph of historic pieces to FDR in 1942. Fixed to the photo is a small “Lock of hair removed from Pres. Lincoln’s head by Wm. Slade his messenger while preparing the body for burial,” and a small “Piece of dress worn by Mrs. Lincoln the night of the assassination showing blood of Pres. Lincoln. Given by Mrs. Slade to her cousin Mrs. Brooks.”
The Birthday Balls and the Fight Against Infantile Paralysis
FDR contracted polio in 1921 at the age of 39, and was paralyzed from the waist down. For the rest of his life, FDR was committed to finding a way to rehabilitate himself as well as others afflicted with infantile paralysis.
In 1924, FDR visited a rundown spa in Warm Springs, Georgia where it was said that the buoyant mineral waters had therapeutic powers. After six weeks, he was convinced that he had made more progress in his rehabilitation than at any time in the previous three years. He built a home for himself at Warm Springs.
In 1926 when the spa faced hardship, he purchased the facility for $200,000, creating a therapeutic center called the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. It opened its doors to patients from all over the country, providing medical treatment and an opportunity to spend time with others suffering the effects of polio.
FDR returned to politics, serving as Governor of New York from 1929-1932, and elected President in 1933. Even with the burdens of office, he regularly visited Warm Springs for treatment and rest, becoming known to the patients as “Dr. Roosevelt.” But the growing demands on the facility, and the increasing number of patients being treated there, required more money than FDR alone or a small number of contributors could provide.
At the suggestion of a public relations consultant, business magnate and FDR political ally Henry L. Doherty launched the National Committee for Birthday Balls that sponsored a dance in every town across the nation, both to celebrate the President’s birthday but also to raise money for the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation.
The first Birthday Ball was held in 1934, with 4,376 communities joining in 600 separate celebrations that raised over one million dollars for Warm Springs. Future Birthday Balls continued to raise about a million dollars per year, with contributions split between Warm Springs and the local communities where the balls were held.
In 1938, FDR created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, not only to help Warm Springs but also the victims of polio throughout the country. To increase awareness of the campaign, radio personality and philanthropist Eddie Cantor took to the air waves and urged Americans to send their loose change to President Roosevelt in “a march of dimes to reach all the way to the White House.”
Soon, millions of dimes flooded the White House. In 1945, the annual March of Dimes campaign raised 18.9 million dollars for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Ultimately, the March of Dimes (as the National Foundation became known) financially supported the research and development of a polio vaccine by Jonas Salk in 1955, eradicating the disease throughout most of the world by the 1960s.
Franklin Roosevelt’s dedication to finding a cure for polio benefited millions of children worldwide. But it was the participation of Americans across the nation in Birthday Balls that made the campaign a success. Their hard work and financial support supported the development of new methods of treatment to improve the lives of those stricken with polio and the creation of a vaccine to protect future generations from its devastation. Although the Birthday Balls ended in 1945 with the death of President Roosevelt, both of their legacies live on in the March of Dimes.
70th Anniversary of the Casablanca Conference – January 14-24, 1943
From 1942 to 1944 one subject dominated Allied strategic debate—the creation of a Second Front in Europe. This thorny issue caused friction between America, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. It topped the agenda of the January 1943 summit meeting between FDR and Winston Churchill at Casablanca, Morocco, held shortly after the Allied invasion of North Africa.
Though Soviet leader Stalin didn’t attend this meeting, his feelings were clear. For 18 months, the Soviets had single-handedly resisted a massive German invasion. Stalin demanded that his allies strike quickly at the heart of Hitler’s empire in northwest Europe, establishing a “second from” to draw off some German forces from the USSR.
FDR’s military advisers favored the earliest possible assault on northwest Europe. But Churchill argued that a large buildup of forces was necessary to ensure a successful invasion. Because this was unlikely in 1943, he pushed for a more limited, “peripheral” strategy of attack along the edges of the Axis empire, starting with an assault on Sicily. Meanwhile, a buildup of forces in Britain for an invasion of northwest Europe would begin. Roosevelt, eager to keep the American public focused on the fighting in Europe, agreed.
To ease Stalin’s disappointment, FDR offered a signal of Anglo-American resolve: he announced the Allies would only accept an “unconditional surrender” from the Axis Powers.
Below is a series of objects, photographs, and documents from the FDR Library’s collection related to the Casablanca Conference.
This flag of the President of the United States was handmade on board the U.S.S. Memphis by five sailors at FDR’s request and flown from that ship while at anchor in Bathurst, Gambia, West Africa, in January 1943. The Memphis had been ordered to anchor off Bathurst in order to provide safe quarters for FDR and his party en route to and from the Casablanca Conference. This was the first time the President’s flag had ever been flown from an American warship in an African Port. Upon seeing the flag for the first time, President Roosevelt stated that “No ship has ever made a President’s flag is such record time, and it is a darn good flag.”
These pages from the guestbook at the Casablanca Conference include the signatures of Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco, Churchill, Roosevelt, advisor to the President Harry Hopkins, Minister to French North Africa Robert D. Murphy, General George S. Patton, naval aide to the President Admiral John L. McCrea, Elliott Roosevelt, and co-President of the Free French Forces General Henri Giraud. From the Roosevelt Family, Business & Personal Papers.
FDR used this U.S. Army mess kit and canteen at a field luncheon during his visit to Rabat, Morocco, to review American troops on January 21, 1943.
Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill with their Chiefs of Staff, January 22, 1943. NPx 66-104(20)
On the evening of January 22, the Sultan of Morocco hosted Roosevelt and Churchill to dinner. During the dinner he presented these gifts to the President. The dagger is fitted with a gold hilt and sheath and is encased in a teakwood box inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The gold tiara encrusted with semi-precious stones from the Atlas Mountains and a pair of gold bracelets from the Sultan’s collection of family jewels were presented as gifts for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.