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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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We the People: Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the Spokane area many times during his presidency

By Molly Wisor The Spokesman-Review

Each week, The Spokesman-Review examines one question from the Naturalization Test immigrants must pass to become United States citizens.

Today’s question: Who was president during the Great Depression and World War II?

Sunday is the 90th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inauguration. He was elected to four terms and served through the Great Depression and most of World War II, making him the longest-serving president in U.S. history. Roosevelt was no stranger to the Inland Northwest. Both before and during his presidency, Roosevelt visited Spokane five times, in 1920, 1932, 1934, 1937 and 1944.

Aug. 19, 1920

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first appearance in Spokane happened more than a dozen years before he assumed the role of commander in chief. As the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, FDR spent most of 1920 touring the U.S. to campaign for the presidential nominee, James Cox.

On Aug. 19, 1920, he stopped in Spokane to deliver what the Spokane Daily Chronicle called the “opening gun” in the presidential race. According to the Chronicle, a crowd of nearly 3,000 attended his speech in the armory, which began around 11 p.m.

FDR spent the majority of the speech trying to appeal to more progressive Republican voters. He began by citing an example of a Republican delegate from Illinois who decided to switch his vote.

“He has come out with a two-column statement of why he is not going to vote for Harding and why he is going to vote for Cox,” he said.

Roosevelt ended his speech asking for help from the voters of Spokane.

“He wants and I want all the help we can get from the men and women everywhere,” he said.

One of the main points in his speech in Spokane foreshadowed a significant project he would champion when he later became president. In speeches and in interviews with reporters during his trip, Roosevelt strongly backed the effort that later resulted in the Grand Coulee Dam.

“I couldn’t help but think as we came down the river today of the pity of all that water running away to the sea,” he said in his Spokane speech. “It isn’t a problem for Washington and Idaho alone; it’s a problem for us in New York and the whole nation – reclamation. Within our own lives we’re going to see these things developed on a great scale.”

Although Washington voted for Republican Warren Harding and the Cox-Roosevelt ticket lost in a landslide,FDR became a prominent member of the newer, more progressive side of the Democratic Party.

Sept. 20, 1932

During his first presidential campaign as the Democratic nominee, Roosevelt visited the region by train. But the derailment of another train in Montana caused Roosevelt’s appearance to be canceled. The city had been warned that the New York governor would arrive too late to speak, but a crowd of “500 or 600 hardy souls,” as the Spokane Daily Chronicle called them, gathered in the early morning of Sept. 20 at the Great Northern depot anyway. They chanted for Roosevelt. His son, James Roosevelt, appeared instead around 1:30 a.m.

He repeatedly apologized and said his dad was too tired to appear.

“Father is just as disappointed as you are he was prevented from getting here on schedule,” he said. “It wasn’t our fault. The darned train ahead of us ran off the track.”

Sen. C.C. Dill, of Spokane, already was on the train with Roosevelt. In Spokane, Cheney Mayor Clarence Martin, Democrat nominee for governor (who would win in November and serve two terms as governor) and James M. Geraghty, Spokane’s corporation counsel, boarded to travel with Roosevelt to Seattle.

“Father knows about Spokane and the Inland Empire because Senator Dill has talked with him extensively about the problems of the Northwest,” James Roosevelt told a Chronicle reporter. “We sincerely hope our next trip through this region will be during the day time.”

Later on Sept. 20, Franklin Roosevelt was greeted in Seattle by the largest crowd of his long trip across the country. Between 75,000 and 100,000 people lined the streets to see him drive by in a car that was covered with dahlias, The Spokesman-Review reported. He spoke later in the day to a crowed of 25,000 from an automobile at the Western Washington Fair in Puyallup.

“We liberals are willing to try something” to relieve agriculture and industrial distress, he said, according The Spokesman-Review.

“One of the chief concerns of every man in public life is to raise the farm dollar to what it was a generation ago,” he said in Puyallup.

Aug. 4, 1934:

Roosevelt’s third Spokane visit on Aug. 4, 1934, garnered large headlines. The Chronicle’s entire front page was taken up by a portrait of FDR with the words “Welcome Mr. President” emblazoned around him.

The paper also featured advertisements directed at the president. One from Garrett, Stuart and Sommer, a local clothing store, read “See the President, and also see: Our Midsummer Clearance.”

This time, Roosevelt was traveling with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, his three sons, Secretary of War George Dern and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes.

He spoke to a crowd of about 10,000 at the Great Northern depot. He came out on the platform from the train leaning on his son, James Roosevelt, waving and smiling to the crowd. He noted his last visit.

“I am glad to see you all again. Last time I came through here it was 3 o’clock in the morning in 1932 and there was a dear old lady came down to the station and at 3 o’clock in the morning said, ‘If Mr. Roosevelt can’t get out of bed to see me, I’m going to vote for Hoover.’ ” The Spokesman-Review reported that the crowd “roared with laughter.”

But FDR was only passing through Spokane on his way home from after speaking at Grand Coulee Dam.

He spoke to a crowd estimated at 20,000 at the site of the future dam and reminisced about his travels in the Inland Northwest 14 years earlier as the Democratic vice presidential nominee. He read from the speech he made in Spokane in 1920 touting the potential of building a dam on the Columbia River.

“It took 14 years for that prophecy to come true, but it is on its way,” Roosevelt said. “And most of us here today are going to be alive when this dam is finished and the Bonneville Dam is finished and lot of other dams are finished.”

In the wake of the Great Depression and the dust bowl, FDR hoped to revive farmland throughout the U.S. The dam was a promising new source of both hydroelectric power and irrigation.

Oct. 2, 1937

Roosevelt spoke again at the Grand Coulee Dam as he inspected the massive construction project. He spoke from his car to a crowd of about 5,000 in a quick 7-minute stop.

“I hope to come back here in another two to three years and see this dam pretty near completed and when that time comes, I think we had better, all of us, have a great season of rejoicing,” he said.

His promise to return to the dam wasn’t kept, likely derailed by the looming world war.

On the way from Grand Coulee, he again stopped at the Great Northern depot in Spokane.

“People were massed on both sides of the track from Howard Street to Washington. They were perched on top of the railway mail building, peered from windows of the depot and stood on warehouses and garages to gain a glimpse of him,” The Spokesman-Review reported.

He spoke for about 15 minutes to a crowd of about 15,000 from a platform at the back of the train. In his speech, he expressed his satisfaction in the dam, which was halfway through construction.

Roosevelt’s 1937 visit was his final formal appearance in Spokane. As tensions picked up overseas, Roosevelt turned his focus from domestic affairs.

Aug. 13, 1944

As a result of wartime security measures Roosevelt secretly passed through Spokane, stopping at the Great Northern Depot only for 20 minutes, on Aug. 13, 1944, at the end of a trip Roosevelt made to the Pacific Coast to inspect war establishments. The trip included a meeting with Adm. Chester Nimitz and Gen. Douglas MacArthur at Pearl Harbor and a speech on the deck of a destroyer in Bremerton vowing to never let Japan start another war. He also visited Farragut Naval Training Station on the south end of Lake Pend Oreille as part of the trip.

Less than three months later Roosevelt won a fourth term, but he died only three months into his final term.

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