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FDR’s “Lucky” Campaign Hat (MO 1945.58.20)

This hat is one of several distinctive “lucky” felt hats Franklin D. Roosevelt wore during his four presidential campaigns. As you can see in the photos below, these trademark fedoras were a common sight on the campaign trail.

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After the 1940 election, Roosevelt generously donated this hat to be auctioned at a fundraiser for the Motion Picture Relief Fund (MPRF). Well-known actors Edward G. Robinson and Melvyn Douglas—both strong FDR supporters—jointly purchased the hat for $3,200 (roughly $50,000 in today’s dollars). This act by the President was a surprise to some, including the First Lady. “The President is very superstitious about that hat, I never expected him to part with it,” she told Jean Hersholt, actor and President of the MPRF.

During the summer of 1944, as Roosevelt campaigned for a fourth term as president, Robinson and Douglas returned the hat to the President. At the time, Robinson was entertaining troops overseas and Douglas was serving as a captain in the US Army. “I believe most men have a special affection for their old hats,” wrote Grace Tully, FDR’s secretary, in her response.

Letter from Mrs. Edward (Gladys) G. Robinson to FDR. August 3, 1944.

 

Copy of the response letter from FDR’s Private Secretary Grace Tully to Mrs. Robinson. August 24, 1944.

After winning the 1944 election, FDR gave this hat to the Roosevelt Library. The hat will be on display in the Library’s new permanent exhibit, opening June 30, 2013.

1940 Wendell Willkie Campaign Buttons

The 1940 election was the most challenging and divisive of FDR’s political career. The President’s decision to seek an unprecedented third term inflamed his opponents—and some former supporters—who charged he wanted to become a dictator. And his efforts to aid countries fighting the Axis Powers led to charges he would drag America into war.

These issues made the 1940 election a particularly colorful one for campaign memorabilia. FDR’s Republican opponent in 1940 was Wendell Willkie, a business leader with no experience in political office. Willkie and the Republicans focused considerable criticism on Roosevelt’s attempt to win a third term. While there was no constitutional barrier to a third term in 1940, no president had ever exceeded the two-term precedent established by George Washington. The fifteen Willkie campaign buttons seen above include many with a “third term” theme. There are also buttons aimed at Eleanor Roosevelt—reflecting the First Lady’s high profile in Washington.

Despite an often bruising campaign, Willkie and Roosevelt became allies after the election. A committed internationalist, Willkie supported FDR’s controversial efforts to aid the Allies and later traveled the globe on behalf of the President during World War II. He also worked with Eleanor as an advocate for human rights. Undeterred by this cordial relationship with the Roosevelts, Willkie ran a brief campaign in 1944, failing to obtain the Republican nomination. He died just a month before FDR was elected for a fourth term.

After President Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Republicans mounted a campaign to pass an amendment to the Constitution placing a cap on the number of terms a president could serve. The 22nd Amendment, limiting presidents to two terms, was ratified in 1951.

1936 Podium (M.O. 2007.125)

MO 2007.125 Podium Used by Franklin D. Roosevelt

This aluminum and steel podium was specially designed for use by FDR during a 1936 presidential campaign stop at the new Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri—an immense structure built with funds from the New Deal’s Public Works Administration (PWA).  A plaque inside the podium reads, “Presented by the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri/ to the honorable/ Franklin Delano Roosevelt/ President of the United States of America/ on the occasion of his dedication/ of the new Municipal Auditorium/ October 13, 1936/ H.F. McElroy, city manager.” Following the President’s speech the podium was shipped to the White House. It was later transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration.

With considerable physical effort, using specially designed podiums such as this one, FDR was able to deliver his speeches from a standing position while supporting himself with his arms. Wearing leg braces, the President would approach a podium like this one with the aid of a cane and the strong arm of a companion. They supported his weight while he pitched his body forward.  He then placed his hands on the arm rails at the back of the podium and, using his arms to hold his weight, moved himself forward the last few steps.

Though it appears to be an ordinary podium from the front, this one has thigh-high extensions in the back, providing the necessary stability to support the President’s weight. The podium’s six feet could be bolted to the floor to add further support. With its raised panels and modern materials, this podium is particularly attractive and well-built, in keeping with its intended use at the dedication of a newly minted building. It includes two handsome presidential seals on the front.  Other podiums FDR used were more utilitarian in design and materials (see photo below). But all served to allow the President to stand while delivering his speeches.

FDR speaks at a wooden podium, August 11, 1938.

FDR’s stop at the new Kansas City auditorium was part of a ten-day campaign tour that began on Thursday, October 8, 1936 when he, Eleanor, and a delegation of family and close political associates left Hyde Park by train. During this tour the President visited eleven states. Traveling by train, he made speaking stops in Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, and New York before returning to Hyde Park on October 17.  

The Kansas City stop on October 13 was the fifth of six train stops on that date. Roosevelt’s day began with a speech in Wichita, Kansas. Next he gave three “rear-platform remarks” from the back of his train in Florence, Emporia, and Olathe, Kansas.  After his speech at the auditorium in Kansas City he returned to the campaign train and gave one last talk from back of the train in Carrollton, Missouri.

FDR at the podium, Municipal Auditorium October 13, 1936.

In Kansas City, FDR spoke to a packed house, including a large group of young people seated in the front rows. He directed his remarks toward this new generation, who were growing up during very difficult economic times:

“As we take stock, we recognize that the most priceless of our human assets are the young men and women of America–the raw material out of which the United States must shape its future.… And so, the highest duty of any Government is to order public affairs so that opportunities for youth shall be made ever broader and firmer.”

FDR touted his administration’s investment in institutions that served youth, especially schools. “The school,” he noted, “is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.” He also extolled New Deal initiatives like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Youth Administration (NYA) which were helping young people find direction, work, and education and giving them hope for the future.

The Municipal Auditorium was designed in the then popular
Art Moderne/ Decco style and was hailed at the time as an
architectural triumph. Today the beautifully preserved and
maintained building is a city landmark, hosting sports events,
musical acts and other cultural events.

1932 Presidential Campaign

Franklin Roosevelt’s nomination for President by the Democratic Convention in Chicago in July 1932 led to one of the momentous campaigns in American political history.

Saddled with responsibility for the Depression, President Hoover would have been vulnerable to almost any opponent in 1932.  FDR’s advisors were unanimous in urging him to play it safe and wage a front porch campaign; his running mate, John Nance Garner of Texas, told him, “All you have got to do is stay alive until election day.”

FDR campaigns in Atlanta, Georgia.
October 24, 1932

But from his first political venture in upstate New York, FDR had personally exulted in active campaigning, and in 1932 he felt the times and the mood of the country required no less.

Accordingly he campaigned the length and breadth of the land, carrying his message into forty-one states and making a score of major addresses as well as hundreds of whistle-stop appearances.  It was the most active presidential campaign to that time.

Some of the positions FDR advocated for during the campaign, such as a commitment to lower taxes, balance the budget, and cut the Federal bureaucracy by 25%, came back to haunt him later.  But his energy and personal charm nevertheless carried him to a sweeping victory on November 8, winning forty-two of the forty-eight states, an electoral vote margin of 472 to 59, and a popular vote of 22.8 million to Hoover’s 15.7 million.

Telegram, Herbert Hoover to FDR, November 7, 1932

Roosevelt Campaign Posters

 

Franklin Roosevelt is the only American president elected to four terms. The campaign posters seen above represent all four of his presidential campaigns—1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944. Before the era of television and the internet, campaign posters were one of the primary visual tools used by presidential candidates. These posters reflected key messages associated with the candidate. The Roosevelt Library’s collection of political campaign posters suggests some of the prominent themes employed by FDR’s campaign team during four very different political years.

1932
During Roosevelt’s first campaign in 1932, his poster designs were simple with little color and an understated, straightforward message. This election took place at the lowest point of the Great Depression and FDR campaigned as a “Progressive Candidate” promising to be a “Man of Action” with policies to combat the economic crisis.

1936
By 1936, the economy was improving and unemployment was down. Roosevelt entered his first re-election campaign stressing a message of continuity. The nation was encouraged to continue moving “Forward with Roosevelt.” Another poster with a photograph of FDR working at his desk— simply entitled “Re-elect ROOSEVELT”— aimed to resonate with Americans eager for the President to continue what he had started.

1940
The threat of American entry into World War II was a key issue when Roosevelt ran for an unprecedented third term in 1940. Many of his 1940 campaign posters have an overtly patriotic design. Stars along with red and white and blue colors are more prominent. The campaign placed greater emphasis on voting “Straight Democratic” to “Protect America.”

Throughout his presidency, FDR supported policies that increased the ranks of organized labor. Labor’s growing importance to the Democratic Party is reflected in the union label’s presence on the President’s campaign posters. In 1940, for the first time, the label appeared on all of Roosevelt’s posters.

1944
With America at war, the 1944 campaign varied significantly from the previous three. War, victory, and peace became major poster themes. James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic Uncle Sam image was translated into a Roosevelt campaign symbol. A poster produced by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) touted FDR as “1A In Our Draft.” A “Vote Democratic” poster employed a large “V”—associated during the war with the popular slogan “V for Victory.”

The FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the Roosevelt Institute are pleased to announce “FDR’s 4 CAMPAIGNS,” a free public forum on October 21, 2012. The forum will consist of two afternoon panel discussions beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the Henry A. Wallace Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Home. Both panels will feature leading scholars and authors discussing Franklin Roosevelt’s historic four presidential campaigns.

In addition to house seating, these programs will be webcast live (linked from the Library’s website) with online viewer participation. Registration is required. Call (845) 486-7745 for information. For a printable agenda visit the Roosevelt Library website’s events page at: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/publicprograms/calendar.html.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to the presidency four times in the midst of the two greatest crises of the 20th century. Each campaign was unique, reflecting Roosevelt’s evolving vision for the Nation and its place in the world.

The first panel discussion, beginning at 1:30 p.m., will focus on FDR’s first two elections. His First and Second campaigns took place during the Great Depression. In 1932, he campaigned to bring a New Deal to the American people. The 1936 election was a referendum on Roosevelt’s vision of a progressive government playing an active and positive role in the American economy. This first panel will be moderated by Mary E. Stuckey, Professor of Communication, Georgia State University and author of “Defining Americans: The Presidency and National Identity.” Panelists will include Donald A. Ritchie, Historian of the United States Senate and author of “Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932;” and Gregory E. Geddes, Professor of History, State University of New York – Orange and specialist in the history and literature of labor and the American left.

The second panel, beginning at 3:15 p.m. will discuss FDR’s last two elections. During FDR’s Third and Fourth campaigns, the world was at war. In 1940, the major issues were Roosevelt’s run for a Third Term and whether America would remain isolationist. The 1944 campaign was the first wartime election since the Civil War, and a weary FDR ran for a Fourth Term in order to win the war and ensure the peace. This panel will be moderated by Richard Aldous, Eugene Meyer Professor of British History and Literature, Bard College and author and editor of nine books, including “Reagan and Thatcher.” Panelists will include Charles Peters, founder and former Editor-in-Chief, “The Washington Monthly” and author of “Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing ‘We Want Willkie!’ Convention of 1940 and How It Freed FDR to Save the Western World;” and Stanley Weintraub, Professor Emeritus of Arts and Humanities, Pennsylvania State University and author of Final Victory: “FDR’s Extraordinary World War II Presidential Campaign.”

 

October 23, 1944

“HYDE PARK, Sunday—Yesterday I accompanied my husband on his trip around New York. It is a long time since we have done anything of this kind. In spite of the bad weather, it was an interesting experience, and I was glad that the President had this stimulating drive and could attend the rally for Senator Wagner.

The luncheon Friday for the Democratic National Committee was made really delightful by Clifton Fadiman, who presided and, in addition, made a very eloquent speech. In the afternoon, I enjoyed the exhibition at the Vanderbilt Gallery very much. There are some very interesting portraits and pieces of sculpture included. Jo Davidson has made a tremendous head of the President which faces you as you go in, and is enlarged from the small one. Both are remarkable likenesses. The whole back of the room is a photographic story of the nearly twelve years that now lie behind the Roosevelt administration. For once, statistics are not dry, since they are accompanied by very illuminating and interesting photographs.”

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