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FDR’s Wild Kingdom

FDR and ER received a lot of interesting and sometimes strange gifts.  But these are the strangest we’ve come across so far.  In 1934 and 1937, two brothers in the import/export business, Benjamin and Raymond Lepow, gave FDR live rare African animals! The first set of animals, a lynx kitten and a serval felis kitten, were presented to FDR in 1934.  The inspiration for the gift?  The fact that FDR’s cousin and predecessor as president, Theodore Roosevelt, had been unable to capture these species on his big game expeditions. The native Kenyans with whom the Lepows traded had guided TR on his safaris and wanted to bestow these gifts on FDR, “The New Chief”.  The White House accepted the kittens and sent them to the National Zoo in Washington, DC.  Unfortunately, the poor kitties came down with a case of rickets, so could not be exhibited right away.  Three years later, Benjamin and Raymond again sent African animals to FDR–this time a pair of midget Tropical Porcupines.  These prickly little guys also found a home in the National Zoo. The correspondence relating to these four-legged favors is in the President’s Personal File 9: Gifts, “L”.  You just can’t make this stuff up!

Portion of Royal Wedding Cake (MO 1948.80.10)

As the world prepares to celebrate the wedding of His Royal Highness Prince William to Catherine “Kate” Middleton, we reflect on the wedding of the Prince’s grandparents that took place over 60 years ago. On November 20, 1947, Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II) was wed to His Royal Highness Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh, at Westminster Abbey in London. England was still recovering from the physical devastation and economic effects of World War II, and the Princess had to set aside her ration cards in order to buy the material for her gown, designed by Norman Hartnell. The nine foot tall, 500-pound wedding cake reflected the significance of the event with four tiers of sculptured sugar made by McVitie and Price, Ltd., from ingredients given as a wedding present by the Australian Girl Guides. The Duke used his Mountbatten sword to cut the cake during the wedding reception. Pieces of cake were later given as gifts to friends and British schoolchildren.

One such gift was sent to Eleanor Roosevelt soon after the Royal wedding. This piece of chocolate wedding cake arrived in a white box with silver-tone embossed lettering on the top that reads, “BUCKINGHAM PALACE, 20TH NOVEMBER 1947.” A card enclosed inside the box reads, “With the Best Wishes of Their Royal Highnesses The Princess Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh.”

April 27, 1937: The nation’s first Social Security checks were distributed.

Social Security poster of a woman leaning on a fence post.
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 53-227(1733).


Did you know:

  • On April 30, 1939, FDR appeared on television opening the New York World’s Fair.

April 27, 1937

“HYDE PARK, Monday…I have been thinking a great deal about the peace meetings which young people held all over the country on the 22nd of April, and from the letters which I receive and the talks which I have had, there is no question in my mind that young people are definitely determined to do away with war, but they really are very indefinite as to the way in which it shall be done.

I often wonder if they realize that every new form of government, fascist, communist or our own democracy had originally for its purpose the making of a world in which people could be happy and content. As individuals, people felt helpless to accomplish their desires and so in different places they were led by different types of people to believe that these desires could be accomplished in different ways. To me the real strength of the democratic theory in opposition to the fascist or communist is that the fascist frankly states that certain people will tell other people what they shall do to be happy, and those other people have little or nothing to say about it.

In theory the communists were to do everything in common, in practice a small group there also tells other people what they shall do to achieve their objectives. So far more nearly than any other form of government, the democratic form has allowed people to shape their own government, and while people have arisen who have been more important leaders here and there, still on the whole the controls have been in the hands of the majority of the people. That, it seems to me, is more truly in keeping with the fundamental desires of the people who are groping for something which will give them a security from war and from want, and a chance to work out their little happinesses.

If these young people are going to really get anywhere, they must realize that inveighing against a thing is all very well, but their future success lies in controlling democracy. Only if democracy makes the individuals better able to attain their ideals will it survive the test of today. What the young people must do is to find out how their government can meet the demands of the people. Find out how business and invention and what we call modern civilization can bring a greater degree of freedom from fear of any kind, and therefore a greater degree of happiness to the average individual…”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

Infantile Paralysis Wishing Well (MO 1943.161.5)

In 1921, at the age of 39, Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio and became 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 1934, Roosevelt began using the occasion of his birthday each year  to encourage Americans to throw “Birthday Balls” to help raise funds for his Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, which facilitated polio rehabilitation at the center he had established in Warm Springs in 1927.

In 1938, FDR created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to support the rehabilitation center at Warm Springs and also to aid the victims of polio throughout the country. To increase awareness of the Foundation’s 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 for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. 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.

This copper wishing well was a birthday gift to the President that celebrated his philanthropic efforts. The roof of the little well house is inscribed: “Celebrate The President’s Birthday, Fight Infantile Paralysis, ‘Make A Wish, It’s Sure To Come True’.” Its base is inscribed: “To The Greatest Fighter Of All, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Whose Example Has Been An Inspiration To Thousands Of Victims Of This Dreaded Scourge”; “A Gift From Dan Marovich, Director Northern California Committee, To Celebrate The President’s Birthday.”

To learn more about the March of Dimes Foundation, please visit:

April 18, 1942: An air squadron from the USS Hornet led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle raided Tokyo and other Japanese cities.

President Roosevelt bestows Congressional Medal of Honor on Brigadier General James Doolittle for a successful raid on Tokyo.
May 19, 1942
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 65-696.


Did you know:

  • On April 18, 1938 FDR pardoned Dr. Francis E. Townsend, the originator of the Townsend Plan, who had been found guilty of contempt of Congress after walking out on the House of Representatives committee meaning dealing with his old-age pension plan.

April 21, 1945

“WASHINGTON, Friday—There is always a certain emotional strain about the last time for anything. When you have lived twelve years in a house, even though you have always known that it belonged to the nation, you grow fond of the house itself, and fonder still of all the people connected with your life in that house…

…I have always looked out at the Washington Monument from my bedroom window the last thing at night, and the little red light at the top of it has twinkled at me in friendly fashion. That simple shaft, so tall and straight, has often made me feel during this war that, if Washington could be steadfast through Valley Forge, we could be steadfast today in spite of anxiety and sorrow…

…I wonder if others have been thinking, as I have, of the rather remarkable way in which our people and our Government have passed through this major period of change. Ordinarily, when there is a change of Administration, there is a period between election and inauguration during which the outgoing President and his family prepare for their departure, while the incoming President and his family prepare to assume their new responsibilities.

Never before has a sudden change of Presidents come about during a war. Yet, from the time that Mr. Truman, followed closely by Secretary of State Stettinius, walked into my sitting room and I told them of my husband’s death, everything has moved in orderly fashion. There was consternation and grief but, at the same time, courage and confidence in the ability of this country and its people to back new leaders and to carry though the objectives to which the people have pledged themselves.

That this attitude established itself so quickly is a tribute to President Truman, to the members of the Cabinet, and to the Congress. But above all, it is a tribute to the people as a whole and it reaffirms our confidence in the future.”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Commemorative Stamp Cover (MO 1950.101.7)

In the early afternoon of April 12, 1945, just 83 days into his fourth term of office, President Roosevelt died suddenly from a massive cerebral hemorrhage in his cottage at the presidential retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia. The President’s casket was placed on a funeral train that carried him to Washington D.C. Thousands lined the tracks in silent tribute as the train passed through towns and cities on its journey. After a solemn procession through Washington and a White House funeral, the President’s train continued north to his home in Hyde Park where FDR was buried near his beloved Hudson River on April 15, 1945.
This U.S. stamp cover was created by one of FDR’s admirers on April 12, 1945 to commemorate the President’s death. It features a hand-drawn watercolor cachet by artist Sturgill. The illustration depicts the Hudson River and a snuffed-out candle bearing Roosevelt’s date of death, an American flag, and a book symbolizing the end of FDR’s life. The book includes part of a famous FDR quotation from 1944: “All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson”.
The stamp cover bears a bright red violet 3¢ Florida Centennial Statehood Issue stamp. The envelope is not addressed and has no return address, but it is postmarked, “Victory, Vermont, April 12, 1945.”

April 12, 2011 marks the 66th Anniversary of the death of FDR.


In April 1945, America and its allies were nearing victory in World War II. In Europe, Germany was on the brink of defeat, while in the Pacific plans for the invasion of Japan were

Three long years of wartime leadership took a grim toll on Franklin Roosevelt. By spring 1945 he was suffering from hypertension and heart disease. On March 29 he left Washington for a vacation at Warm Springs, Georgia. For years he had sought to restore his health at the rehabilitation center he founded there in 1927.

In the early afternoon of April 12, 1945 the President was in his private cottage at Warm Springs signing papers and sitting for a portrait painter. Suddenly, he raised his hand to his head, complaining of a headache. He slumped forward, losing consciousness.

At 3:35 P.M. the President was pronounced dead from a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Americans soon learned the news: the man who had led them through years of economic crisis and war was gone.

FDR’s sudden death stunned the nation. Few had known of the severity of President Roosevelt’s health problems. The public’s shock was magnified by the fact that Roosevelt had been America’s chief executive for over twelve years. Young Americans had no memory of any other President. The timing of his death, at a moment when victory in World War II seemed at hand, added to the country’s grief.

The final photograph of President Franklin D. Roosevelt - taken at Warm Springs, Georgia on April 11, 1945 - the day before his death

For more on the anniversary of President Roosevelt’s death, read the following pdf from the 60th Anniversary of FDR’s death. April 12, 1945 Anniversary

April 12, 1945: FDR dies in Warm Springs, Georgia.

Telegram from Eleanor Roosevelt to son John Roosevelt informing him of Franklin D. Roosevelt's passing.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral service in the East Room of the White House.
April 14, 1945
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 72-18:422

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral at Hyde Park, New York.
April 15, 1945
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 77-144(1)


Did you know:

  • On April 12, 1933, Ruth Byran Owen, FDR’s nominee for minister to Denmark was confirmed by the Senate. Owen was the first female American diplomatic officer.
  • On April 14, 1939, FDR asked Hitler and Mussolini for a pledge not to attack or invade nations of Europe and the Middle East.
  • On April 13, 1943, FDR spoke at the dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

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