When Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned 52 on January 30, 1934, he celebrated with the first annual Birthday Ball to raise money for polio research. Composer Irving Berlin even wrote a song for the occasion.
When FDR contracted polio in 1921 at age 39, more than a decade before he took the presidency, Roosevelt made it his mission to find a treatment for not only himself, but one that would also improve the lives of others living with infantile paralysis, or polio. In 1924, that mission brought him to Warm Springs, Georgia, a spring-fed pool with buoyant mineral water that offered polio patients some relief. After six weeks of treatment, FDR made a home there, using his money and fame to help create a world-class center for the treatment of polio.
But FDR's financial support alone couldn't sustain the facility, so he began to ask for donations from family, friends and political colleagues. One of them, Henry L. Doherty, donated $25,000 to launch the National Committee for Birthday Balls, created to inspire communities around the country to hold dances in celebration of the President's birthday, and to also raise money for Warm Springs.
In the Birthday Ball's inaugural year, 4,376 communities rallied together in 600 different celebrations, raising more than $1 million dollars.
This weekend, to celebrate FDR's 128th birthday, a number of events around the Smithsonian will mark the occasion.
At the Postal Museum: the Delivering Hope: FDR & Stamps of the Great Depression exhibit continues, featuring FDR's stamp collection as well as those he designed himself. On Saturday, from 11 AM to 3 PM, visitors can participate in a game of “Stamp Charades" in the lower level of the atrium.
At the Freer Gallery of Art: For those who wished they could have known the longest-serving president in the Oval Office, hear from someone who did: Curtis Roosevelt, the oldest grandchild of Franklin and Eleanor, who will give a talk called "My Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor." As a child, Curtis lived in the white house with his older sister, also named Eleanor, for 12 years. He will speak about the relationship between his grandfather and Winston Churchill; how the Great Depression is similar to the country's current recession; comparisons between his grandmother and current first lady Michelle Obama; as well as his book, "Too Close to the Sun: Growing Up in the Shadow of My Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor," which he will sign after the program. The talk begins at 6:45 p.m. Feb. 2 in the Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Auditorium at the Freer. Tickets are required.