In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a lifelong sailor and former assistant secretary of the Navy, sent Winston Churchill a handwritten note, in which he included a quotation from an 1849 William Longfellow poem, “The Building of the Ship,” which began “Sail On, O Ship of State!” His use of a ship’s metaphor to describe the battle then being waged between Great Britain and Germany, and to fortify the spirits of the British, reflects his fascination with the sea, but also suggests the degree to which Roosevelt saw himself as a captain of his own ship of state. It is no accident, therefore, that during his presidency, companies mass produced images of Roosevelt at the helm, steering the American state. Imposed on clocks and lamp bases, Roosevelt’s image and figure reminded Americans that a strong leader would guide them through troubled seas.
Artifacts such as the ones in this collection, located in the Joseph M. Jacobs and Lowery Collections of FDR memorabilia at the Roosevelt University Library, illustrate the extraordinary popularity of America’s 32nd president. Through these artifacts, we see the way in which Franklin D. Roosevelt and New Deal liberalism influenced the public careers and private lives of Americans in Chicago and across the nation.
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