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First President to Fly in/Steer a Blimp?

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first sitting president to ride in an airplane, an occasion marked by a very long overseas flight to attend the 1943 Casablanca conference. FDR’s distant cousin, Theodore, was the first president ever to fly, a trip that took place back in 1910 shortly after he had left the presidency.

FDR may have set an additional aviation first – we think he may have been the first president to fly on-board a dirigible airship (also known as a blimp or zeppelin)!

During World War I, serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, FDR traveled to Europe to inspect US Navy facilities. Several weeks into his trip, on August 17th, 1918 he visited a base in Paimboeuf, Western France where he was offered a ride aboard a French-built airship.

Here is FDR’s own account of his visit to Paimboeuf, France:

Log showing 8/16-17, 1918

Log, continued











“I tried my hand at running the lateral stearing[sic] gear and also the elevating and depressing gear. The sensation is distinctly curious, less noise than an areo.[sic] and far more feeling of drifting at the mercy of the wind.”

Here is a photograph showing FDR aboard what we believe to be the deck of the French dirigible:

FDR in Paimboeuf, France. August 17, 1918.

Considered too vulnerable for use on the front, airships were primarily used for scouting missions and mine clearance throughout Western Europe during the war. The use of airships later declined as airplane technology advanced and after several high profile accidents. FDR was serving his second term as president when the infamous Hindenburg crashed in New Jersey in 1937.

Do you know of an occasion in which a sitting, former, or future president traveled aboard such an aircraft before 1918?

Armistice Day, November 11,1941

On November 11, 1941 – seventy years ago – President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his Armistice Day Address at the Amphitheater at the sacred site of Arlington National Cemetery. Although this annual event was a presidential tradition, the speech this year took on special meeting, for the world was again aflame in war. Most of Europe was now under occupation by Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union was valiantly fighting against the German armies. Here at home, FDR’s efforts to render aid to Britain and to build up America’s defenses were opposed by isolationists in Congress and out.

President Roosevelt used his Armistice Day Address to remind the American people why our soldiers had fought and died in World War I: “to make the world habitable for decent and self-respecting men and women” and “to make the world a place where freedom can live and grow into the ages.”

This document is the third draft of the speech from the President’s Master Speech File. FDR received drafting assistance from Archibald MacLeish, the Librarian of Congress. The handwritten changes you see were made by Roosevelt himself.


To read the full text of the speech, please go to the following link:

August 6, 1918: FDR finds himself under fire on the Verdun front with General de Haye.

FDR at La Citadelle in Verdun, France.
August 6, 1918
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 47-96:4802(83).

Excerpt from FDR's 1918 Diary.


Did you know:

  • On August 1, 1933, the NRA blue eagle made its official appearance.
  • On August 2, 1939 FDR signed the Hatch Act which prohibited federal officeholders from active participation in political campaigns.

November 12, 1942

“LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland—The flight to Ireland yesterday morning was smooth and uneventful, but there was just enough mist to prevent our seeing a great deal below us. We arrived in time to lunch with the Governor General, His Grace, the Duke of Abercorn and the Duchess of Abercorn. We then hurried on to visit a hospital in Belfast and the American Red Cross headquarters. They were so afraid that the weather might prevent our flying to Londonderry that they hurried us as much as they could. I missed seeing a number of the wards in the hospital, which I regretted, because any change, I think, is diverting to people who are in bed and seeing someone who has recently come from the United States, is naturally a great excitement to any of the American boys.

This particular hospital is undoubtedly efficiently run, and meets the needs of the Forces, but I cannot say that it seemed to me a particularly cheerful spot, and I think the nurses must do most of the bringing of sunshine into those wards for they tell me that there has been very little good weather for months past…

…Today is Armistice Day. When I think of the rejoicing which we all felt on this date in 1918, I cannot help having a sense of futility. There is just one thing for which I pray on this day—that as a nation we will not fool ourselves again into believing that which is pleasant but will accept reality and grasp the fact that we are part of a world which cannot be divided and treated in sections.”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

August 6, 1918: FDR finds himself under fire on the Verdun front with General de Haye.

FDR at La Citadelle in Verdun, France.
August 6, 1918
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 47-96:4802(83).

Excerpt from FDR's 1918 Diary.

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