World’s Fair 1939 first day cover

Yesterday in class we spoke about the opening of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, which opened on April 29, 1939. Robert Moses, Fiorello La Guardia and their associates made certain that the bridge opened in time for the World’s Fair, which began the following day. One of the first to cross the span from the Bronx into Queens was Franklin Roosevelt, who left Hyde Park early that morning eighty years ago today and crossed the Whitestone in his motorcade on the way to speak to 40,000 gathered in Flushing Meadows. The 1939 New York Fair opened when it did to commemorate George Washington’s first inaugural. In a good reminder that the Early American period is not that long ago, and that the ideals for which it stands are still quite fragile, when Roosevelt spoke of his presidential predecessor it was only the sesquicentennial of Washington’s presidency. We are still a work in progress.

Why should I go on when Roosevelt himself put it so well himself? In part he told the gathered eighty years ago today:

“Fortunately, there have been preserved for us many generations later, accounts of his taking of the oath of office on April thirtieth on the balcony of the old Federal Hall. In a scene of republican simplicity and surrounded by the great men of the time, most of whom had served with him in the cause of independence through the Revolution, the oath was administered to him by the Chancellor of the State of New York, Robert R. Livingston. And so we, in New York, have a very personal connection with that thirtieth of April, one hundred and fifty years ago.”

This postcard of the George Washington statue at the 1939 World’s Fair represents the first president as he was taking the oath of office 150 years previously in Manhattan.