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Lot 113: Franklin D. Roosevelt Signed Letter 1927 +

Sarasota Estate Auction

February 12, 2023
Sarasota , FL, US

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This bundle consists of a letter signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and three accompanying letters that involve a business executive with connections to Tammany Hall in New York, personal loss for FDR, and the establishment of the Warm Springs Foundation and the March of Dimes, causes related to polio and FDR’s own life. The first letter was signed in script in black ink by Franklin D. Roosevelt before he became President of the United States, and it’s dated May 12, 1927. It was typed or dictated by FDR and signed by him afterwards, and the contents are as important as his signature here. At the time the letter was written, he was working at Fidelity Deposit Company and had just returned from the funeral of his older half-brother, James Rosy Roosevelt, and was thanking someone for contributing to the Warm Springs Foundation, which was organized by FDR to help people who had polio. Roosevelt himself had been struck with polio in 1921, and he traveled frequently to Warm Springs in Georgia in the 1920’s for therapy in its waters and established a polio treatment center there. James had died on May 7 at the family home in Hyde Park, New York, as a result of complications related to bronchitis and asthma, and the sense of FDR’s personal loss comes through in the letter. FDR had received three pieces of correspondence from C.D. Armstrong at the end of April, hoping that Roosevelt would intercede on his behalf on a business matter that concerned the company which Armstrong worked for, and it’s possible that the generous gift Armstrong sent to the Warm Springs Foundation was an attempt to curry favor with Roosevelt to get a favorable ruling on a matter Armstrong was concerned about. The first letter by Armstrong also mentioned Tammany Hall, a group long known for political graft and corruption, and that’s why we wondered about Armstrong’s intentions. The correspondence is included with Roosevelt’s letter here too. We believe the letter here was typed by his long-time personal secretary, Margaret “Missy” LeHand, but we are not sure. FDR ran for Vice-President in 1920, and Missy worked for his vice presidential campaign in New York. Following his loss at the polls, FDR's wife, Eleanor, invited Missy to join the family at their home in Hyde Park, New York, to clean up campaign correspondence, and FDR hired Missy to work for him on Wall Street, where he was the partner in a law firm and worked for a bonding company, (Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland). After FDR was stricken by polio in August 1921 and became partially paralyzed, Missy became his personal secretary and daily companion. We believe she typed a copy of the letter for Basil O’Connor and Roosevelt signed it afterwards. “R/B” appears in the lower left corner, and the B probably stands for Basil O’Connor, a close friend of Roosevelt’s who helped him buy Warm Springs in July 1927, just a month after this letter was written. Eventually Warm Springs became the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to help people who had polio; O’Connor became the foundation's president, and the Foundation became the March of Dimes in 1938. The letter signed by Roosevelt reads: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vice President, Fidelity And Deposit Company Of Maryland, 55 Liberty Street, New York City, At Hyde Park, N.Y., May 12, 1927, Charles D. Armstrong, Esq., Armstrong Cork Company. Pittsburgh, Pa. My dear Mr. Armstrong: I have not had an opportunity to thank you before this for your awfully kind letter because I had to come north very suddenly last week on account of the death of my brother. It is indeed good of you to help so generously in the organizing of the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, and some day I very much hope that you will be able to come there and see the work we are doing. This summer we shall be able to take care of fifty patients, most of them cripples from infantile paralysis, and in nearly every case which we have had so far we have been able to help in restoring them to useful activity. Of course everything is being done under the best medical advice and with the approval of the leading leading orthopedic surgeons of the country. I have very few contacts with the Pittsburgh doctors and I know that you and our friend Shriver will be good enough to tell some of your doctor friends about us. My partner, Basil O’Connor, and Shriver had a satisfactory talk last week and I will meet with them both in New York next Tuesday. Apparently the linoleum matter has been taken up in too belligerent a way by both sides, but I hope that it has not gone too far to straighten out. I shall of course do everything possible. Very sincerely yours, Franklin D Roosevelt [in his own handwriting] R/B The paragraphs are indented deeply and that is not displayed here, but can be seen in the photographs. The three pieces of correspondence from C.D. Armstrong to FDR are included here. The first reads: CDA/HJW April 25, 1927 Dear Son: I received your letter of April 18th at New Brunswick telling us about Shriver’s decision to go to Warm Springs to see Franklin Roosevelt. Shriver is active and does not drop anything until he has put it through or made every effort to do so. Hugh Clarke tells me that he thinks this case is in pretty good shape at present. They have a number of men connected with the Tammany organization working in our interest, and the prospect for the successful outcome appears to be good. We could probably buy our way through, but that is an expensive and also a dangerous thing to do. Once work like this is begun it is hard to see where the end may be. What they are aiming to do is to have an amendment made to the code to specifically permit the use of linoleum, rubber tile, and similar products for use in floors of high buildings. If that can be done, the whole question is settled definitely and in a proper way. Hugh told me that he talked with one Tammany lawyer who said that he would accept our case for a re- tainer fee of $10,000 and $40,000 additional to be paid when a law was enacted permitting the use of linoleum, etc., in high buildings. Hugh’s impression was that the lawyer would get $10,000 and four other people would share the $40,000 between them. It doesn’t sound [second page] April 25, 1927, Mr. C Dudley Armstrong good to me, although from what we hear of Tammany, business of this kind is generally handled that way. There are lots of money-hungry people in that organization. Yours, as ever, CDA Sr. [in script] Mr. C. Dudley Armstrong, Armstrong Cork Company, Pittsburgh, Pa. C.D. Armstrong was vice-president of Armstrong World Industries in the 1920’s, a company which started out in the late 1800’s as a business carving cork bottle stoppers in downtown Pittsburgh; by the 1890s, Armstrong had emerged as the largest supplier of cork-related goods throughout the world, and gradually its manufacturing of cork gave way to insulated corkboard and fiberboard, then linoleum became its main product, and by mid century, the Armstrong Cork Company had become one of of the most powerful corporations in the United States, with strong ties to home building and flooring in the U.S. It seems Armstrong was trying to get a favorable ruling from FDR on a linoleum matter that wasn’t going his way, so he wrote a check to the Roosevelt Foundation at Warm Springs in Georgia, ostensibly to help people who suffered from infantile paralysis - polio - but we wonder if Armstrong was really trying to buy off the future president. (See Roosevelt’s letter and the two other letters from Armstrong.) The Tammany organization, also known as Tammany Hall, was a New York City political group with a checkered past. It became a political machine for the Democratic Party and played a major role in controlling city and state politics from the late 1700’s to the 1960’s; it typically controlled Democratic Party nominations and political patronage in Manhattan. In 1928 a Tammany favorite, New York Governor Al Smith, won the Democratic presidential nomination. But Tammany Hall also served as an engine for graft and political corruption. Tammany’s influence waned from 1930 to 1945 when it engaged in a losing battle with FDR, New York’s state's governor from 1929 to 1932 and later U.S. President. In 1932, New York Mayor Jimmy Walker was forced from office when his bribery was exposed, and Roosevelt stripped Tammany of federal patronage. The second letter from C.D. Armstrong reads: April 26, 1927, Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Warm Springs, Ga, My dear Mr. Roosevelt: Our mutual friend, Mr. V-L. P. Shriver, was kind enough to volunteer to go to Warm Springs to interview you in regard to a crisis in our contract business brought about by a ruling of the New York Building Department concerning the use of linoleum in high buildings. Mr. Shriver tells me how courteous you were and how willing to do what you could to help unravel the tangle. It seems to us that the ruling itself is unfair, and we and other people in similar lines of business are doing what we can to try to right matters in an orderly way. I thank you sincerely for what you have done, and hope that some day I may have the pleasure of making your personal acquaintance. Yours sincerely, President Home address: 300 S. Lexington Street, Homewood Station, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the last letter from Armstrong to FDR reads: April 29, 1927, Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Warm Springs, Ga. My dear Mr. Roosevelt, I returned to Pittsburgh this morning and saw our mutual friend Shriver at the Board Meeting of the Union National Bank. He was telling me about his visit to Warm Springs and of the wonderful work the Roosevelt Foundation is doing there for people suffering from infantile paralysis. His story impressed me so much that I felt we should do something for this foundation, the same as we are doing for the American Red Cross today. Kindly accept the enclosed check with my best wishes. Yours sincerely, President. Dictated by C.D. Armstrong, JWY Missy’s personal letters were double-spaced and indented … the letter here is single spaced and indented, apparently far more than she usually did in her own letters, so we’re wondering if Roosevelt typed the letter himself, but he was probably very restricted in his movement because of his polio, so it’s possible that Roosevelt dictated the letter and signed it afterwards. The consignor of these letters was also a first or second cousin to FDR and grew up on land in Marion, Mass. given to the family by FDR in the 1920’s. He also grew up on Delano Road and lived in the Delano House in Marion, Mass., so these letters had a personal connection to the family. (FDR’s middle name was Delano.) A side note: FDR wanted to visit the family and take a three-month vacation on land across from the Delano estate in the 20’s, and he offered to visit the consignor’s family for an afternoon tea. Unfortunately, the consignor’s family was made up of staunch Republicans and refused to let FDR set foot on the land, with a few choice words to deter FDR from advancing to their home, basically saying “I won’t let that so and so Democrat in this house”. So the letters have been in the family for three or four generations and provide a unique insight into the life of President Roosevelt, as well as great provenance. The letter signed by FRD is 10 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. wide and kept in archival plastic, and it’s the first time we’ve ever seen a letter to the future President openly stating there were ties to Tammany Hall.

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