Franklin D. Roosevelt   (1882-1945)

By Edward Steichen, 1933. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; reprinted with permission of Joanna T. Steichen

Thirty-second President, 1933-1945

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.