By Edward Steichen, 1933. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution;
reprinted with permission of Joanna T. Steichen
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the product of a powerful political family
that had already sent one of its members, Theodore, to the White House.
Bred for public service, his career began early with forays into New
York State politics. In 1921, a bout with polio paralyzed his lower
body, a condition with which Roosevelt would struggle, mentally and
physically, for the rest of his life. Despite this setback, his political
star continued to rise with his election to governor of New York in
1928 and president in 1932. Roosevelt's immediate task upon entering
the White House was to grapple with the Great Depression, which, to
the relief of American citizens, he tackled enthusiastically, if not
always effectively. Together with his "Brain Trust" of top policymakers
and his influential wife Eleanor Roosevelt, he enacted a multitude
of government programs designed to shore up the economy and provide
relief to millions of destitute Americans. One controversial result
of this activism was a much-enlarged and empowered federal government.
Though not universally liked, Roosevelt nevertheless proved popular
enough to be elected to an unprecedented four terms.
By 1941, early in Roosevelt's third term, the looming world war was
commanding more attention; but the United States was caught flat-footed
by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt rallied the country once
again, creating a wartime industrial machine that helped clinch the
war for the Allies, revive the American economy, and thrust the United
States into a new status as a world superpower. By the war's end,
Roosevelt's health was failing, and he died in 1945. He will long
be remembered as one of the country--and the world's--most powerful
and influential statesmen.