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Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, c. 1913

Franklin D. Roosevelt

New York State Archives, NYSA_A3167-78A_B5_WWI_RedCrossPortraits_Roosevelt
Document Description
Red Cross photograph portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, c. 1913.
What characteristics of FDR listed here would be things Americans looked for in a president? Explain.
Based on his early years in the government, what type of person do you think FDR was?  List some characteristics that would describe his personality.
How did FDR’s WWI experiences help prepare him for the presidency?
Historical Challenges
What was the platform of the Democrats during the 1920 Election? Why do you think Harding and the Republicans were able to win?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Art: Make a propaganda poster that FDR would have approved of that pushes for naval preparedness.
Black, Allida June Hopkins, et. al."World War I." Teaching Eleanor Roosevelt. (Hyde Park, New York: Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, 2003). Retrieved from:
Smith, Jean Edward. FDR. 2007.


About this Activity


Lesson Topic:

Historical Context
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president to be elected four times, gained fame during the World War I years while serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920.  He had been serving as a New York Senator after being elected in 1910, but decided to accept the post after Wilson’s election, following directly in the footsteps of his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt.  At 31 years old, he was the youngest Assistant Secretary of the Navy that the nation had ever seen.  An early supporter of US entry into World War I and a lifelong admirer of the sea and ships, Roosevelt helped push ship production and the drafting of sailors in an attempt to better prepare our navy for action.  He didn’t believe in neutrality and did what he could to prepare the nation for war.  At one point he even released a memorandum explaining the navy’s deficiencies (much to the annoyance of the Wilson administration.) As months passed, FDR found ways to get his opinion and agenda out, while staying within the boundaries set by Wilson and Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy.  When Wilson finally decided in 1915 to start preparing an adequate national defense, FDR was overjoyed.  He helped pull plans together to construct 176 ships costing the nation $600 million, the largest peacetime construction program ever.  After U.S. entry, Roosevelt continued to push for even greater naval action asking for vast amounts of material and equipment, larger numbers of men, expansion of training camps, and accelerated ship production.  

The eight years that FDR served the nation during WWI, allowed FDR to learn the realities of national politics. As Wilson actively pushed for peace at the end of the war, Roosevelt was able to witness what went into the building of international relations and how unsuccessfully Wilson was able to convince Americans of the role he felt the U.S. should play in international relations….lessons that Roosevelt would use later as president when building the United Nations during World War II.  Roosevelt’s work during the World War I years helped him advance politically and in 1920, he ran as the Vice Presidential candidate with James Cox as the Presidential candidate. Even though the Democrats lost to Republican during this election, FDR would soon bring Democratic dominance to the nation after the Great Depression hit and he took over for President Hoover in 1933.  

Somewhat ironically, at the beginning of WWI when Germany declared war against Russia, FDR said those days were history making days and that the developing war would be the greatest war in the world’s history.  Little did he know that he would live through not only the First World War, but that he would guide the nation through the second great world war, as well.
Essential Question
How do individuals impact global events?
Check for Understanding
Describe the individual in the photograph and explain his contribution to the war.