The year: 1940. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was residing in the White House; a 14-year-old Fidel Castro was studying at a boarding school, Colegio Dolores in Santiago, Cuba. Fidel read about Roosevelt’s re-election and, on a whim, decided to drop one of the most powerful men in the world a line. (In the letter, he says he's 12.) At the time, Fidel's allowance was only 80 cents a month and he apparently saw an opportunity to increase his income.
“My good friend Roosvelt [sic],” the note begins rather chummily, and then goes on to say, “If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.”
Maybe hoping to entice FDR to include that coveted bill, Castro added a postscript: “If you want iron to make your ships I will show to you the bigest minas of iron of the land. They are in Mayari Oriente Cuba."
As most presidents do, Roosevelt had staff specifically assigned to answer low-priority correspondence such as this.
So Castro did receive a response. It briefly thanked the young Cuban for his “letter of support and congratulations.” Though Fidel was pleased that “FDR” (it was really the U.S. Embassy in Havana) responded accordingly - he even posted the letter on a bulletin board at his school - he was annoyed that no cash was included.
Something tells me he’s seen plenty of those green bills since then.
Obviously, the President of the United States receives thousands and thousands of letters from children every year. So how was this innocuous, nearly 40-year-old letter discovered in 1977? The official story is that a researcher was combing through a bound volume of State Department documents that were about to be declassified. The signature caught his eye, he realized the historical impact, and the letter was made public.
Check out the whole handwritten letter (Castro's cursive is pretty impressive) over at Letters of Note.