Franklin D. Roosevelt Praises Americans’ “courage, daring, initiative and enterprise”

Continued westward expansion and exploration have made possible “a century of progress that is without parallel”.

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In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner put forward his now famous “Frontier Thesis,” which stated that the ideals and progress of America were directly tied to the frontier spirit and westward expansion. The factors that led Americans to explore developed a new type of citizen, one that sought the challenges of exploration...

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Franklin D. Roosevelt Praises Americans’ “courage, daring, initiative and enterprise”

Continued westward expansion and exploration have made possible “a century of progress that is without parallel”.

In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner put forward his now famous “Frontier Thesis,” which stated that the ideals and progress of America were directly tied to the frontier spirit and westward expansion. The factors that led Americans to explore developed a new type of citizen, one that sought the challenges of exploration and the dynamics of pioneering. One example of how this American identity affected expansion was the exploration of California, where starting in 1848, hordes of gold seekers arrived to tempt fortune.  However, more than a decade before that, in 1835, the first clipper ship arrived in San Francisco.  It was not gold that attracted early travelers to round the horn but that American bravery and the desire to push westward.

With the cooperation of the U.S. Air Force, and the use of such pioneering aviators as Charles A. Lindbergh, the U.S. Post Office flew the mail from 1918 until 1927. Starting in 1927, airmail service was privatized, and it was this move that gave birth to the commercial airline industry. Predecessors of TWA, American and United were three of the first five airlines to receive government contracts. Soon, airmail contract carriers were also carrying passengers. Thus did the carrying of the mails by air and opening of new routes have an unexpected consequence–the beginning of modern air transportation. So by the time Roosevelt was in the White House, it was clear that new airmail routes also meant regular, reliable air transportation to cities along those routes.

The last major frontier for American air service was the Far East. In 1935, Pan American Airways obtained the contract for the San Francisco to China mail. The airline established a San Francisco-Canton mail route, running its first commercial flight in a Martin M-130 on November 22, 1935 to massive media fanfare. Now the U.S. was connected by air to China.

A week before that flight, amidst the fanfare of anticipation, FDR wrote this Typed Letter Signed on White House letterhead, Washington, November 15, 1935 to Postmaster General James Farley, marveling at the progress he had seen in his lifetime and the part that Americans had played to make it possible. “Please convey to the people of the Pacific Coast the deep interest and heartfelt congratulations of an air-minded sailor. Even at this distance, I thrill to the wonder of it all. They tell me that the inauguration of the Trans-Pacific sky mail also celebrates the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first clipper ship in San Francisco. The years between the two events mark a century of progress that is without parallel, and it is our just pride that America and Americans have played no minor part in the blazing of new trails. There can be no higher hope than that this heritage of courage, daring, initiative and enterprise will be conserved and intensified.” His referernce to himself as an “air-minded sailor” shows that he (and not an aide) composed this letter.

FDR here expresses the personal thrill he and his contemporaries felt at seeing so much progress firsthand. It is also no accident that he used the 1835 arrival of clippers in San Francisco as a benchmark, nor tied that to the elements of American identity and contributions.   He finished with a hope that these characteristics would also define the future and “that this heritage of courage, daring, initiative and enterprise will be conserved and intensified,” language withwhich Turner would have approved.

 

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