< All Articles

10 things you didn't know about Roosevelt

Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin discuss post WW2 plans at Yalta

Franklin Delano Roosevelt – or FDR, as we like to call him – was one of the most beloved and influential presidents in American history. Helping carry the country through the Great Depression, he's cited as having restored hope to a flailing nation, all while maintaining his unique brand of optimism and determination.

This, we all know. But there are a few things you may not know about The New Deal creator, so consider this the light shed on a few mysteries.

1. FDR's nickname was The Sphinx

While FDR is already on-point in terms of a nickname, journalists stepped up their game in the late 1930s and branded him The Sphinx since he refused to say whether he'd run for a third term in 1940. As a result, an eight-foot paper-mache sculpture of FDR as The Sphinx was made in 1939 and was the centerpiece for the White House Press Correspondents Dinner. (And it still exists!)

2. He designed a special car that allowed him to drive without the use of his legs

After polio paralyzed him from the waist down, FDR headed to recover in Warm Springs Georgia where he designed a mechanism for his car that would allow him to drive without the use of his legs. Also included? An automatic cigarette dispenser that puts our satellite radio systems to shame.

3. His (alleged) affairs were likely more emotional than physical

As reminded by Hyde Park historian David Woolner, FDR's condition likely prevented him from having any physical affairs with anybody, including his cousin Daisy, who he was quite close with. There is no evidence in the historical record of a physical relationship with those women, he said. None. Zero.

Related video: Mini-biography of FDR

4. Fala was not FDR's dog's original name

As if part of the Internet generation, FDR's dog was almost more famous than he was. However, Fala (1940-1952) was actually originally named Big Boy, then Murray, the Outlaw of Falahill after a Scottish ancestor. Finally, they went with Fala (because you'll never get Internet famous with three names, let's be serious.)

5. His put our book collections to shame

At the time of his death in 1945, FDR owned upwards of 21 000 books, having started collecting serious during and after his time at college. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum houses all of them now, if you're tired of your current reading list. His childhood favourite? Cast Up by the Sea by Sir Samuel White.

6. He considered his law clerk job to be his gateway to politics

Evidently, it was the success of his cousin Theodore Roosevelt that lured FDR into a life of politics. So, after he graduated from Columbia, he scored a job as a law clerk, which he later cited, as the start of his political career. (And I mean at the actual job: he was bragging about his future before it even happened. Lucky for him, it turned out okay.)

7. His relationship with the press is still untouchable

FDR knew how to play the media game, and he set the tone at his first press conference on March 8, 1933 when he shook hands with all 125 reporters present, bantered with them for 40 minutes, and gave them absolutely nothing concrete. It worked: the press adored FDR, and he held a record 998 press conference during his terms as president. (Obama, are you reading this? Let me help you.)

8. His favourite cake was fruitcake

Proving that he and I could never share Christmas dessert, FDR's favourite cake was fruitcake. Fortunately, if you also like fruitcake (and don't want to share Christmas dessert) you can channel the late president's tastes: his housekeeper, Henrietta Nesbitt wrote a cookbook called The Presidential Cookbook – Feeding the Roosevelts and Their Guests, and you can check it out online.

9. FDR showed his gratitude through cufflinks

If you were a man on FDR's good side, you were likely to walk away with a set of cufflinks – a tradition that began during his 1920 bid for the vice-presidency. As a way of saying thank you, he gave each man on the campaign a set from Tiffany's, then the tradition continued, and soon anyone who'd earned their accessories met up every year for FDR's birthday. (In other news, women were still trying to be seen as people.)

10. That said, he was the first president to name a woman to cabinet

It's something you can say about FDR: he didn't completely buy into gender roles. The late president was actually the first to name a woman to his cabinet: having appointed Frances Perkins as the Industrial Commissioner of the State of New York in 1929, he offered her the role of Secretary of Labor in 1932. She stepped down in 1945, resigning after Roosevelt's death in 1945.

Anne T. Donahue
Anne T. Donahue is a pop culture and comedy writer originally from Cambridge, Ontario. You can find her on Twitter and Tumblr.