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FDR’s Bedside Note
In the early morning hours of September 1, 1939, President Roosevelt was awakened in his bedroom at the White House by a telephone call from his Ambassador in Paris, William C. Bullitt, who advised the President that Germany had invaded Poland and that several Polish cities were being bombed. After FDR gave orders that all Army commands and Navy ships be notified at once, the President wrote this unique “bedside note” documenting for posterity how and when he had received the news of the outbreak of World War II.
This document is also part of our Significant Documents Collection – a selection of documents from across the holdings of the FDR Library that contains some of the most historically significant documents in our collection. This collection of documents is now available on our website as well! You can find more about the collection as well as links to the finding aid and the documents here: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/collections/documents.html.
In the summer of 1939, a group of physicists, including several who had fled Hitler’s Germany, met to discuss their fears of Germany developing a uranium-based weapon. It was decided that the best course of action was to inform President Roosevelt immediately of their concerns.
Because Albert Einstein had a previous personal relationship with the Roosevelts and was internationally well-known for his expertise, a letter informing the President about the dangers of a nuclear chain reaction bomb was drafted for Einstein’s signature.
This August 2, 1939 letter was personally delivered to the President on October 11, 1939 (the outbreak of the war intervened) by Alexander Sachs, a longtime economic adviser to FDR. After learning of the letter’s contents, President Roosevelt told his military adviser General Edwin M. Watson, “This requires action.” The action FDR required would evolve into the Manhattan Project.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s Engagement Ring (MO 1974.375)
On November 22, 1903, 21-year-old Franklin Roosevelt asked 19-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt to be his wife. Eleanor accepted, but Franklin’s mother, Sara, opposed the match, believing her son was too young to marry. She convinced the couple to keep their engagement secret for a year—hoping their ardor would cool. It was nearly a year before Eleanor received this engagement ring on her birthday, October 11, 1904, and several months more before she and Franklin announced the engagement.
In a letter to her fiancé written shortly after her birthday, Eleanor wrote:
“I am longing to have my birthday present from you for good, and yet I love it so I know I shall find it hard to keep from wearing it! You could not have found a ring I would have liked better, even if you were not you! This sounds odd but is quite sensible.”
The ring is special for more than sentimental reasons. It is one of the earliest known examples of the Tiffany style setting, which revolutionized jewelry design by raising the diamond above the ring band to allow light to hit the stone from all angles. The center diamond is very slightly imperfect and weighs approximately 3.40 carats. The six diamonds at the sides weigh about .30 carats each.
The New Deal is all around us!!!
On a recent trip to New England, a Roosevelt Library staff member couldn’t help but notice the enduring and ubiquitous legacy of the New Deal all around.
Between 1935 and 1938, the WPA built the very sidewalks being walked on by today’s Rhode Islanders.
In a side trip to the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University, a behind the scenes tour revealed an apple crate with the placard “New Deal Northwest Apples” produced by the Adams Fruit Company.
And the enduring legacy of the New Deal can even be found in Kennedy country. The beautiful Post Office in Hyannis, Massachusetts, was built by the Treasury Department’s public buildings program in 1937 and is still in use today.
So wherever you go, look for the impact that the New Deal still has on our infrastructure and popular culture. You’ll be surprised at how much there is and let us know what else you find!
FDR Quarterback Postcard (MO 1976.47)
Like other presidents, FDR sometimes used sports analogies to help explain his political and economic agenda. During a press conference on April 19, 1933—just six weeks after he entered office— FDR likened himself to a football quarterback when he responded to a question about his administration’s evolving policy on inflation:
“It is a little bit like a football team that has a general plan of game against the other side. Now, the captain and the quarterback of that team know pretty well what the next play is going to be and they know the general strategy of the team; but they cannot tell you what the play after the next play is going to be until the next play is run off. If the play makes ten yards, the succeeding play will be different from what it would have been if they had been thrown for a loss. I think that is the easiest way to explain it.”
The image of FDR as a quarterback became a popular metaphor in political cartoons and presidential ephemera. Seen above is an example—a postcard made by Hilborn Novelty Advertisement entitled, “Our President” showing FDR’s head superimposed over a football player’s body. The player is aptly given the number 32, for the 32nd president.
October 2, 1951
“NEW YORK, Monday…A verse in the Bible we very seldom hear was used as a text in the morning sermon. Evidently back in Bible days there were people who thought the “good old days” were better than the present. This must always have been a way of escape for some of us. If life seemed particularly hard, all we had to do was to say how much better it used to be, and how dreadful it was to be born in a generation that had to endure all the modern horrors.
On all sides we often hear: “The young people are worse today than ever before”; “We used to get on well without all these modern inventions, which get out of order to make our lives hideous”; “When there weren’t any automobiles you could not go dashing around the country at high speed and suffering accidents”; “We did not have a crime wave or dope rings in the old days—they are all the product of the modern age.”
Yet, in spite of the low estate into which politics has fallen I have found that almost anything said by anyone of our modern candidates against his opponent can be matched in the “good old days” by things said against Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, for instance, and certainly attacks on a woman were never lower than those leveled against Rachel Jackson.
There are fewer drunken men reeling around the streets today than there were when I was a child. It seems to me that each age has its own drawbacks and they have to be met by the people confronting them. If you look back over several decades you can usually see how some people have done a good job in meeting the difficulties of their particular time and how some have failed.
So, I think it is a good idea to follow the advice our minister gave us yesterday morning. That was that we should not indulge in looking backwards with envy to the past, but to keep our eyes ahead of us with hope for the future.”
October 5, 1937: FDR gives a campaign speech in Chicago calling for a “quarantine” of the aggressor nations.
Did you know:
- On October 7, 1942 FDR announced his plan to try war criminals after the war.
- On October 5, 1944 FDR called for an end of poll taxes during a radio address.