Before he graced the obverse of the ten-cent coin, a dime, he faced personal challenges.
And one wonders, was the choice of his portrait on a dime rather than another coin the result of his charitable work.
Paralysis – scary then, scary now…
In August 1921, Franklin D. Roosevelt woke one morning to find himself paralyzed from the waist down.
Generally, polio struck people much younger, especially children. However, at age 39, Mr. Roosevelt contracted the disease and suffered its side effects.
Though his legs recovered from total paralysis, he never regained the ability to walk without aid.
Mr. Roosevelt found Georgia’s warm springs and their therapeutic minerals helped his legs.
In 1926, he started the non-profit Georgia Warm Springs Foundation to help other persons disabled with polio.
While president in 1937, Mr. Roosevelt announced a new national non-profit organization, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP).
In earlier years, the President held Presidential Balls near his birthday in January of each year. He used the balls to solicit donations from wealthy individuals for his non-profit organization.
Prior to the 1938 Presidential Balls, Eddie Cantor, a popular comedian, coined the phrase “March of Dimes” and used the media of the era, radio, to request donations from the American people.
Cantor also gathered other popular entertainers of the day, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee, Deanna Durbin, Lawrence Tibbett, Jascha Heifetz, Joe Penner, Kate Smith, and Edgar Bergen with his puppet Charlie McCarthy.
On the radio, Cantor appealed to the masses, “The March of Dimes will enable all persons, even the children, to show our President that they are with him in this battle against this disease. Nearly everyone can send in a dime, or several dimes. However, it takes only ten dimes to make a dollar and if a million people send only one dime, the total will be $100,000.”
The radio spots directed people to send the dimes to Mr. Roosevelt’s White House address.
At first, only a few dimes arrived, and the total equaled less than a twenty-dollar bill.
But, by his birthday in 1938, the struggling Americans sent their donations that arrived in several mailbags each day.
On January 29, 1938, President Roosevelt made his own radio address of thanks:
“During the past few days bags of mail have been coming, literally by the truck load, to the White House. Yesterday between forty and fifty thousand letters came to the mailroom of the White House. Today an even greater number – how many I cannot tell you, for we can only estimate the actual count by counting the mailbags. In all the envelopes are dimes and quarters and even dollar bills – gifts from grownups and children – mostly from children who want to help other children to get well. Literally, by the countless thousands, they are pouring in, and I have figured that if the White House Staff and I were to work on nothing else for two or three months to come we could not possibly thank the donors. Therefore… I must take this opportunity…to thank all who have aided and cooperated in the splendid work we are doing.”
Funded by the donations to the President’s non-profit organization, research over the next few years yielded vaccines that erased the polio epidemic in the United States.
In 1958, the organization, now known as the March of Dimes, changed their mission to helping prevent birth defects.
The Roosevelt Dime introduced in 1946 and still being produced today: