11 Presidential Facts About Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The official campaign portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The official campaign portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. / Leon A. Perskie/FDR Presidential Library & Museum, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Most people know that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only U.S. President who served more than two terms. And that he was in office for most of the Great Depression—and later, World War II. His New Deal Coalition, fireside chats, and the paralysis that restricted his movement are just as famous as the lasting quote from his first inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Here are some other Franklin Delano Roosevelt facts they might not have covered in your history classes.

1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an avid collector.

Born on January 30, 1882, Roosevelt had a life-long love affair with postage stamps. He started collecting them as a child and later attended stamp shows, bought rarities from stamp dealers, and joined stamp clubs. He even designed a few stamps himself. “I owe my life to my hobbies—especially stamp collecting,” FDR once remarked.

Ornithology—and collecting birds—was another passion of his. Young Roosevelt received a BB gun on his 11th birthday. He then shot, stuffed, and mounted birds of about 300 different species in his native Dutchess County, New York. FDR also loved to go birdwatching, even while president.

2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt could have run on the same ticket as Herbert Hoover.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt touring the construction site of the Boulder (Hoover) Dam.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt touring the construction site of the Boulder (Hoover) Dam. / FDR Presidential Library & Museum, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Roosevelt took part in the 1920 Presidential Election, running as James M. Cox’s vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket. They were roundly beaten by Republican nominee Warren G. Harding and his chosen vice president, Calvin Coolidge.

But things could have been different. Earlier in 1920, some Democrats actually considered nominating FDR for president—and Hoover for vice president. At that time, Hoover was a popular young statesman who had yet to choose a political party. Of course, he’d later join the GOP, become America’s 31st President—and then lose his office to Roosevelt in the Election of 1932.

3. Maine and Vermont were the only two states that never voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Landslides became FDR’s specialty. When Roosevelt defeated Hoover in the 1932 presidential election, he earned 472 Electoral College votes to Hoover’s 59. The next race was even more lopsided; 531 electoral college votes were up for grabs that year, and Roosevelt claimed 523. He scored two more blowout victories in his 1940 and 1944 re-election campaigns.

Of the 48 states that existed at the time (Alaska and Hawaii didn’t join the Union until 1959), 46 voted for FDR at least once. But he never won Maine or Vermont; they backed the Republican nominee in all four races.

4. When Fidel Castro was 14 years old, he petitioned Franklin Delano Roosevelt for $10.

“My good friend Roosvelt [sic] I don’t know very English, but I know as much as I write to you.” So begins a handwritten letter the White House received from Cuba’s eventual dictator back in 1940. Castro was a teen at the time, but already ambitious. He asked FDR for “a ten dollars bill green american [sic]” because “I would like to have one of them.” As a postscript, Castro offered to show Roosevelt “the bigest minas [sic] of iron” in Cuba.

5. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was almost assassinated.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivering his First Inaugural Address in Washington, D.C.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivering his First Inaugural Address in Washington, D.C. / FDR Presidential Library & Museum, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

During a Miami rally held on February 15, 1933—less than a month before Roosevelt’s first term began—former bricklayer Giuseppe Zangara fired at FDR with a cheap revolver. “I like Roosevelt personally, but I don’t like presidents,” he claimed. Zangara shot five people attending the event, including Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, before he was subdued. He missed Roosevelt entirely.

6. Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the White House’s movie theater.

Ever watch The West Wing? The movie theater at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen) uses in season two is 100 percent real. It’s called the White House Family Theater and FDR had it converted from an old cloakroom in 1942. (Records show Dwight D. Eisenhower watched more than 200 westerns there.)

7. Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest son opposed Franklin Delano Roosevelt in two elections.

The 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, left office in 1909. While he and FDR shared many opinions, the Bull Moose and his family were Republicans, while Franklin—TR's fifth cousin—was a lifelong Democrat. Naturally, that produced some tension when FDR entered politics. TR’s oldest son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., spoke out against his office-seeking relative in the elections of 1920 and 1932. “Franklin is such poor stuff,” said the younger Theodore, “it seems improbable that he should be elected president.”

8. Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave Major League Baseball the “green light” in World War II.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan. / Abbie Rowe/National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Japanese forces suddenly attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The unexpected blow propelled the U.S. into World War II—and left baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis with a tough decision. Now that the country was at war, should he suspend America’s pastime and put pro baseball on hold for the duration?

FDR didn’t think so. Writing Landis on January 15, 1942, the president said, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” Noting that, “there will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before,” Roosevelt believed Americans deserved “a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off work.”

Known as “the Green Light letter,” this dispatch from FDR emboldened Major League Baseball to carry on for four seasons during the war—although hundreds of players left to join the military.

9. Franklin Delano Roosevelt considered Japanese internment camps long before Pearl Harbor.

Executive Order 9066, signed by the president on February 19, 1942, authorized the removal of some 110,000 to 120,000 Japanese-Americans from their homes. They were forcibly detained in remote camps scattered across the U.S. Very few politicians voiced any opposition to the mass internment while it was happening (a congressional panel would eventually denounce it as a “grave injustice” in 1989).

Roosevelt had considered the idea for years. Believing a war between the U.S. and the Empire of Japan was likely, he suggested making a “special list” of Japanese citizens and non-citizens on the Hawaiian island of Oahu “who would be the first to be placed in a concentration camp in the event of trouble” in 1936. Intelligence agencies monitored Japanese-Americans throughout the late 1930s.

10. Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed the first woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet.

Frances Perkins was sworn in as the new Secretary of Labor on March 4, 1933, and retained the position for 12 years. Perkins, an architect of the New Deal, had already been working for Roosevelt. She was appointed Commissioner of the New York Department of Labor in 1929 during FDR’s tenure as that state’s governor.

11. Franklin Delano Roosevelt set up a polio rehab center in Georgia.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt swimming in Warm Springs, Georgia.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt swimming in Warm Springs, Georgia. / FDR Presidential Library & Museum, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Roosevelt was just 39 years old—and less than a year removed from his vice presidential campaign—when he was diagnosed with poliomyelitis (polio) in the summer of 1921. The virus left him paralyzed from the waist down; he was fitted for leg braces the next year. Putting ambition aside, Roosevelt temporarily retired from politics to focus on his health.

One day, philanthropist George Foster Peabody told him about a resort he owned in Warm Springs, Georgia, whose pools had allegedly cured a young polio victim. FDR soon became a regular guest. Then he bought the property off Peabody for $20,000 in 1926. On-site, Roosevelt established the nonprofit Warm Springs Foundation—cited by the National Parks Service as “the first, and for many years, the only hospital devoted solely to the treatment of poliomyelitis victims in the world.”