Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1913- 1920). Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 90-105, Image No. SIA2009-2467.

Remembering the Exhibitions Celebrating the Centennial of FDR's Birth

In 1982, the Smithsonian Institution paid homage to the birth of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, through six new exhibits. 

In 1982, the Smithsonian Institution paid homage to the birth of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, born January 30, 1882, through six new exhibits. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt sitting at his desk in the Executive building.

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) centennial celebration exhibition, FDR: The Early Years, which ran from January 28 to July 25, provided a glimpse into the life of one of the most well-known presidents. This exhibition focused on the people— his parents, school leadership, his cousin and wife, Eleanor, and cousins Theodore and Louis Howe—who influenced FDR’s life and political career. The exhibition featured photographs, including an original of FDR with his father, James Roosevelt, cartoons, letters between his family, and other memorabilia.

Roosevelt exiting building with his wife and son, applauded by citizens.

Additionally, Mary McLeod Bethune and Roosevelt's Black Cabinet, which ran at Anacostia Museum, now known as the Anacostia Community Museum, from January 24 to September 30, centered on FDR’s creation of New Deal programs specifically for African Americans.  It highlighted the work of Bethune, who was appointed director of the National Youth Office of Minority Affairs, becoming the first African American woman to lead a federal agency. 

Five Distinguished Alumni: The WPA Federal Art Project at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, on display from January 21 to February 22, highlighted the works of five artists who contributed to the Federal Arts Project, a New Deal Program to fund the visual arts.

Another exhibit that featured art related to the New Deal was Roosevelt's America: New Deal Paintings at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 30 paintings created from the New Deal's art projects were exhibited.

At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: The Intimate Presidency, on display from January 30 to August 1, explored the man behind the presidency, his accomplishments, and his effective use of media communications to reach the American people. Featured materials included FDR’s broadcasts, replicas of the broadcast room, New Deal historical images, and art. 

Did you know that FDR was the first first presidential candidate to fly and the first president to receive a presidential plane? At the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, the The Flying Roosevelts highlighted the relationship between FDR and flight on a personal and presidential level. 

Typed Letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy thanking the then fourth

Here at the Archives, we hold various objects related to the president’s role in Smithsonian history. In 1918, during World War I, when Franklin D. Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he sent a letter to Smithsonian Secretary Charles D. Walcott thanking he and ornithologist and curator Dr. Charles W. Richmond for providing names of water birds that the military used to name new mine sweepers. Another collaboration between Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Smithsonian Institution came during the Presidential Cruise of 1938, which routed through the Galapagos Islands, Panama Canal, and Caribbean Sea. Serving as a fishing cruise for the president, Roosevelt also invited Smithsonian staff for botanical and marine specimen collections. Along for the expedition as the cruise naturalist was marine zoologist Dr. Waldo L. Schmitt. There were new species discoveries including Sirielli roosevelti, a palm tree named for President Roosevelt. Transcripts of correspondence from the Presidential Cruise aboard the USS Houston are available through the Smithsonian Transcription Center, thanks to digital volunteers.

President Roosevelt sitting on a stool, leisurely dressed holding a fishing rod next to his large ca

And the Smithsonian continues to explore and preserve FDR’s legacy. Currently on view at the National Portrait Gallery is an oil painting of Franklin D. Roosevelt by Douglas Chandor. The painting features a cloaked Roosevelt holding a cigarette, a few images of Roosevelt’s hands, and an unrealized portrait of FDR, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin in peace talks. The Smithsonian Institution has many photographs, letters, coins, and other items including stamps from his collection. Smithsonian Magazine explains how he evolved from collecting stamps as a child to adulthood in the video “FDR: Stamp Collector in Chief.” 

Oil based portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt profile wearing a blue suit and tie, signed Secretary Ro

Related Collections

  • National Portrait Gallery, Office of Public Affairs, Publicity Records, 1968-988, Accession 96-013, Smithsonian Institution Archives
  • National Portrait Gallery, Exhibition Records, 1974-1999, Accession 01-102, Smithsonian Institution Archives

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