Day 69: FDR Rides a Dirigible, 1918

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.

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.

FDR writes about the flying experience in his log of the trip saying:

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.


Day 35 - Cairo Conference

From November 22-26, 1943 FDR met with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and the Anglo-American combined chiefs of staff for the Cairo Conference. This meeting preceded the Teheran Conference and was primarily held to discuss Far Eastern military operations, to enhance the symbolic importance of China in the war effort and postwar planning and to provide for a U.S.-British meeting before the Teheran Conference with Stalin.

In addition to meeting on war strategy, FDR and Churchill visited the pyramids and had a traditional American Thanksgiving meal - including two turkeys FDR had brought from home.


Day 49 - Eleanor in Great Britain

In October 1942, Eleanor traveled to Great Britain on a goodwill trip to help foster Anglo-American relations. While there she toured the country - meeting with American servicemen, British women defense workers, Prime Minister Churchill, members of Parliament and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Eleanor talked about the trip in her autobiography saying:

The next event of real importance to me was my husband’s decision that I should accept Queen Elizabeth’s invitation to go to Great Britain to see the work the women were doing in the war and to visit our servicemen stationed there. I did not know that one of the reasons my husband was eager to have me go over there was that those men would shortly be leaving for North Africa for the invasion…

The trip to Great Britain seemed to offer me a chance to do something that might be useful…I visited universities and innumerable factories, stayed on estates where the grounds were now being used for agricultural purposes and in country houses whose owners, now living in one small part of them, had turned them into nurseries for evacuated or wounded children. I saw the way the Women’s Voluntary Services had organized to perform innumerable duties, from moving into a town which had just been bombed and needed everything from food to laundry service, to looking after the billeting of workers who had been moved from one factory to another.


Day 67 - Eleanor’s Childhood Trips to Switzerland

Between 1899 and 1902, Eleanor spent three years at Allenswood, an elite boarding school for girls near London. During holidays she frequently travelled throughout England and continental Europe visiting friends and relatives, including a trip in 1900 to St. Moritz, Switzerland.

From Eleanor’s autobiography:

As the summer holidays came nearer my excitement grew for I was to travel to Saint-Moritz in Switzerland to spend my holiday with the Mortimers.

My first view of these beautiful mountains was breath-taking, for I had never seen any high mountains. I lived opposite the Catskill Mountains in summer and loved them, but how much more majestic were these great snow-capped peaks all around us as we drove into the Engadine. The little Swiss chalets, built into the sides of the hills and with places under them for all the livestock that did not actually wander into the kitchen, were picturesque, but strange to my eyes with their fretwork decoration…

The hotels [in Saint-Moritz] all bordered the lake, and the thing that I remember best about my time there was the fact that Tissie and I got up every morning early enough to walk to a little café that perched out above the lake on a promontory at one end. There we drank coffee or cocoa and ate rolls with fresh butter and honey, the sun just peeping out over the mountains and touching us with its warm rays. I can still remember how utterly contented I was!


Day 74: Eleanor Roosevelt and the United Nations

“We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind… . This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt, Speech to U.N. General Assembly on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 9, 1948

In December 1945, seeking to signal America’s commitment to the new United Nations organization— and cement his ties to a powerful Democratic party figure— President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to America’s first delegation to the General Assembly.

Eleanor quickly became a major force on refugee and human rights issues. From 1946 to 1951 she chaired the U.N. Human Rights Commission leading the effort to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  An able and determined negotiator, she clashed frequently with Soviet delegates over the definition of human liberties. In the process, she pushed the State Department to recognize that human rights are not only civil and political rights, but social and economic rights too. The Declaration was Eleanor’s proudest achievement at the U.N. It created the modern definition of human rights. Today it is the standard for establishing norms governing international behavior regarding the rights of individuals.

Eleanor’s duties as a delegate to the United Nations included many trips abroad to London, Paris and Geneva. Eleanor received several gifts during these trips including:

  • A tortoise shell box presented to ER by an English woman as a token of appreciation in the winter of 1946.
  • A color print of the painting by Frank Beresford of Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the United Nations in London, England, on February 12, 1946. Inscribed and presented to ER by the artist.
  • A University of Lyon Academic Stole and Cap presented to ER in November 1948 when she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Lyon, France.
  • A silver United Nations medallion presented to ER by the government of France.
  • A watercolor of the Rue des Corps-Saints in Geneva’s Old Town by Harry Urban. Presented to ER by the artist in April 1951. The painting hung in the living room of ER’s NYC apartment until her death.
  • A group of French commemorative medallions, including one for FDR, from the government of France given to ER during her 1951-52 trip.
  • A lithograph of The American Church of Paris by Frank Milton Armington. Presented to ER by the church’s minister, Clayton E. Williams, in December 1951. The print hung in the living room of ER’s NYC apartment until her death.

Day 54: Quebec Conferences

FDR and Winston Churchill held two wartime conferences in Quebec. The first conference took place on August 17-24, 1943. The two discussed topics concerning the future operations in the Mediterranean and Operation Overlord. Conversations on atomic energy were also on the agenda, with FDR and Churchill agreeing that neither would communicate any information about atomic development to third parties, namely the Soviet Union, without each others consent.

The second Quebec Conference was held on September 11-16, 1944. The central topics of this conference were postwar policy towards Germany and postwar economic assistance to Britain.

Two silver models of a Whale and a Phoenix were presented to President Roosevelt by Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Second Quebec Conference in September 1944. These are small scale models representing installations devised and built as part of the artificial harbor constructed off the beaches of Normandy in June 1944.

A Whale was an 80 foot long pontoon bridge causeway, which connected the Lobnitz pier to the shore.

A Phoenix was a hollow concrete caisson 200 feet long by 60 feet wide by 60 feet high. Laid end to end they formed a breakwater near the beach for landing craft to unload their cargo.

The Roosevelt Library plans quite a trip for Summer 2014! Join us as we journey to seven continents and 95 countries for Around the World in 80 Days with the Roosevelts. Look for hundreds of internationally themed photographs, museum objects, and historic documents on the Library’s Tumblr – – and other social media accounts beginning Memorial Day weekend and culminating with the August 9th opening of our special exhibit, Read My Pins - the Madeleine Albright Collection

80 consecutive days of special online features explore two lifetimes of travel and the Roosevelts’ common commitment to diplomacy and human rights. These posts draw on rich historical collections housed in both the Archives and Museum of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, and show the Roosevelts’ unique relationship with people and leaders across the globe. Learn how an American president worked directly with towering international figures, became the first to fly overseas while in office, and created the United Nations. Find out how Eleanor Roosevelt’s support of Allied troops in World War II and her advocacy for universal human rights inspired her famous moniker, First Lady of the World. We hope you’ll join us for this fascinating journey through the lives and work of two extraordinary global figures of the 20th century. Bon Voyage!


Day 26: Eleanor Roosevelt in India

In 1952 Eleanor made a significant trip to Asia – a month of which was spent in India. Having been invited by Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Eleanor chronicled her trip through her “My Day” columns and later in her book India and the Awakening East. Through her writings she worked on educating Americans on what was a little-known country at the time.

Her “My Day” column from March 3, 1952 talks about her excitement at finally visiting India:

It is very exciting to be in India after reading my father’s letters of many years ago, which told of his trip under very different circumstances 89 years ago. Meeting people from here and reading books about it are not quite the same as seeing with one’s own eyes. It is really a joy to feel that I have accomplished something I have talked about and hoped for, but really did not ever expect to see. My impressions are becoming very well crystallized in my mind as I go forward on this trip, and it is certainly most interesting to see the difference that a landscape takes on when it is peopled by so many more inhabitants than one would see at home in the same area of space.


Day 37: Teheran Conference

“[W]e have concerted our plans for the destruction of the German forces. We have reached complete agreement as to the scope and timing of the operations to be undertaken from the east, west, and south.”
-Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Teheran Declaration, December 1, 1943

In November 1943 FDR journeyed to the Middle East to attend his first wartime conference with Joseph Stalin. The “Big Three”—Roosevelt, Stalin, and Winston Churchill—gathered at Teheran, Iran. The decisions they made there shaped both the war and the peace that followed.

The issue of a Second Front commanded the greatest attention. Impatient with Anglo-American postponements, Stalin demanded a firm commitment to a date for the invasion of northwest Europe. Churchill favored further delay—arguing instead for new military initiatives in Italy and the Balkans. But FDR sided with Stalin and the three leaders agreed to a spring 1944 invasion. Stalin then pressed his allies to quickly name the invasion’s commander. Shortly after the conference, FDR selected General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

While in Teheran for the conference with Churchill and Stalin, FDR met with Mohammad Rezâ Šâh Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. The Shah presented FDR with this Isfahan Persian rug designed by acclaimed Iranian artist Imami. The piece took 10 years to make and has 50 knots per square inch.

FDR had the rug installed in his private study at the FDR Library, where it still resides today. The photo above was taken last year after the piece had been cleaned and conserved.


Day 19: Visits by Winston Churchill

“It is fun to be in the same decade with you.”
-Franklin Roosevelt to Winston Churchill, January 1942

The friendship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill formed the core of the Anglo-American alliance during World War II.

On September 11, 1939—ten days after Germany invaded Poland— FDR wrote a confidential letter to Churchill, who had just entered the British cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty. Roosevelt wanted to open a direct line of communication with him. He encouraged Churchill to “keep me in touch personally with anything you want me to know about.”

FDR’s note was the start of an extraordinary six-year correspondence between the two men that totaled almost 2000 messages.

Between 1941 and 1945, they would also spend 113 days together, beginning with an August 1941 meeting in the North Atlantic and ending at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Churchill made visits to the United States in 1941, 1942, 1943 & 1944, including a trip to Washington, D.C. shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.


Day 61: FDR’s Childhood Trips to Germany

FDR made a number of trips to Europe with his parents during his childhood, including numerous trips to Germany. The Roosevelts often traveled to Germany to visit several ancient springs in hope that they would help Mr. James’ health.

Roosevelt historian Geoff Ward recounts a story of one of these German trips in his book Before the Trumpet. During a trip in 1896 FDR and his tutor Mr. Dumper “found themselves under arrest four times in one busy day of bicycling – for picking cherries along the roadside, for wheeling their bicycles into a railroad depot, for riding into Strasbourg after dusk…and finally, for inadvertent slaughter of a panicky goose that had thrust its long neck between the spokes of Mr. Dumper’s front wheel.” FDR managed to get them out of the first three violations without a fine, but in the end they did have to pay five marks to the owner of the goose. “Franklin always maintained the bird had really ‘committed suicide.’”


Today we begin “Around the World in 80 Days with the Roosevelts.” Follow along as we journey around the world chronicling two lifetimes of travel and the Roosevelts’ common commitment to diplomacy and human rights.

Day 1: Eleanor Roosevelt in the South Pacfic

From August 17-September 24, 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt undertook a 25,000 mile trip to the South Pacific as a representative of the American Red Cross. During her trip she made 17 stops in Australia, New Zealand and a number of small Pacific Islands, including Guadalcanal, Bora Bora, Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia and Christmas Island.

Eleanor spent most of the trip visiting about 400,000 servicemen at military bases, hospitals, nursing homes and American Red Cross recreation clubs. She chronicled her experiences in her “My Day” columns, the proceeds from which she donated to the Red Cross.


Day 32 - FDR and Stamps

FDR began to collect stamps as a child.  The far-flung business interests of his Delano relatives provided the young collector with a steady supply of foreign stamps. From his stamps he gained an invaluable knowledge of peoples and of geography. The green stamp album above was young Franklin’s first stamp album. In it he carefully stored the stamps from his well-traveled relatives.

This hobby persisted with Roosevelt his entire life and he was well-known for his collection. As a result, he was often presented with stamps, stamp covers, and stamp albums as gifts from foreign Heads-of-State and governments. Here you can see a few of the stamp-related gifts from all over the world FDR received during his presidency:

  • Album of postage stamps of the U.S.S.R. Cover painted by the Handicraft Artists of Palech, U.S.S.R. Gifted to FDR on the occasion of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
  • Painted leather stamp album cover from Kyösti Kallio, President of the Republic of Finland, in 1938.

  • Carved leather stamp album commemorating the opening of the Nuevo Laredo—Mexico City Highway in 1936. A gift from President Lázaro Cárdenas of Mexico.