Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The World Wars and Interwar Period 



The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937




Euphoria and Depression:



Following the end of World War I, the United States returned to its traditional isolationism. This period saw the beginning of an economic boom, but blind faith in progress led to euphoric overconfidence in the financial markets. When the speculation bubble burst in the stock market crash of 1929, the entire world economy collapsed. The interventionist New Deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's government alleviated many of the effects of the Great Depression. In 1939, the officially neutral United States began de facto support of England in the war against the Axis powers, and in 1941, it officially entered the war.


Isolationism and Prosperity

The United States withdrew from Europe after the First World War. Technical progress and spectacular growth rates in the "Roaring Twenties" made the increase in general prosperity seem as if it would never end.


After a long period of hesitation, the United States under President Woodrow Wilson entered World War I in 1917 with the goal of bringing long-term peace to Europe. After the victory over the Central Powers, Wilson succeeded in having the formation of a League of Nations, intended to help secure future world peace, included in the Treaty of Versailles. The US Senate, however, was concerned about potential restrictions on American foreign policy Wilson, who suffered a stroke while campaigning for the treaty in 1919, was unable to avoid the Senate's refusal in 1920 to ratify the Versailles Treaty and, by extension, the United States' entry into the League of Nations.

His successor, 5 Warren G. Harding, concluded separate peace agreements with the former war enemies in 1921.

Until well into the 1930s, the principle of nonintervention in European conflicts remained the determinant of US foreign policy.

1 Domestically rapid industrial modernization produced a prospering economy and increasing affluence within the population. Construction and the automobile industry particularly boomed. Efficient production methods, reductions in prices, and rising incomes for the first time allowed the development of a consumer society, with new forms of mass entertainment such as radio, movies, and sports.

5 Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1923

1 Building the Empire State Building,
built 1930-1932

Glittering parties, 2 limousines, and the newly rich "self-made men" shaped the glamorous image of the 6 Roaring Twenties.

2 The luxury lifestyle: a couple standing in front of their limousine, ca. 1935

6 Two ladies wearing 1920s
Charleston dresses


The Charleston is a dance named for the city of Charleston, South Carolina. The rhythm was popularized in mainstream dance music in the United States by a 1923 tune called The Charleston by composer/pianist James P. Johnson which originated in the Broadway show Runnin' Wild and became one of the most popular hits of the decade.

Charleston dance

Charleston dance

see also:

Josephine Baker


Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston at the
Folies Bergère, Paris, in 1926

In contrast, social 3 conservatism and xenophobia molded the intellectual climate, particularly in rural America.

3 Arrest of women wearing too-revealing
bathing suits, New Jersey, 1920

Bathing Suits of the 1920's; Women swimsuit fashions from the year 1919


Bathing Suits of the 1920's


Bathing Suits of the 1920's


The most visible expression was Prohibition. The racist 4 Ku Klux Klan gained in popularity, particularly in the South.

4 Members of the Ku Klux Klan at a
meeting, 1940

Members of the Ku Klux Klan at a meeting





In 1920, Prohibition—a ban on the consumption and sale of alcohol—became a federal law.

Thereupon, however, smuggling and the trade in privately distilled ("bootleg") liquor immediately began to flourish, and alcohol continued to be dispensed in illegal bars known as "speakeasies."

 In 1933, the law was repealed.

Hiding alcohol during prohibition:
a candlestick is used to conceal an alcohol bottle,
ca. 1926



see also:

HOLLYWOOD (The Golden Age)



district, Los Angeles, California, United States

district within the city of Los Angeles, California, U.S., whose name is synonymous with the American film industry. Lying northwest of downtown Los Angeles, it is bounded by Hyperion Avenue and Riverside Drive (east), Beverly Boulevard (south), the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains (north), and Beverly Hills (west). Since the early 1900s, when moviemaking pioneers found in southern California an ideal blend of mild climate, much sunshine, varied terrain, and a large labour market, the image of Hollywood as the fabricator of tinseled cinematic dreams has been etched worldwide. The first house in Hollywood was an adobe building (1853) on a site near Los Angeles, then a small city in the new state of California. Hollywood was laid out as a real-estate subdivision in 1887 by Harvey Wilcox, a prohibitionist from Kansas who envisioned a community based on his sober religious principles. Real-estate magnate H.J. Whitley, known as the “Father of Hollywood,” subsequently transformed Hollywood into a wealthy and popular residential area. At the turn of the 20th century, Whitley was responsible for bringing telephone, electric, and gas lines into the new suburb. In 1910, because of an inadequate water supply, Hollywood residents voted to consolidate with Los Angeles.

In 1908 one of the first storytelling movies, The Count of Monte Cristo, was completed in Hollywood after its filming had begun in Chicago. In 1911 a site on Sunset Boulevard was turned into Hollywood’s first studio, and soon about 20 companies were producing films in the area. In 1913 Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky, Arthur Freed, and Samuel Goldwyn formed Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company (later Paramount Pictures). DeMille produced The Squaw Man in a barn one block from present-day Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, and more box-office successes soon followed. Hollywood had become the centre of the American film industry by 1915 as more independent filmmakers relocated there from the East Coast. For more than three decades, from early silent films through the advent of “talkies,” figures such as D.W. Griffith, Goldwyn, Adolph Zukor, William Fox, Louis B. Mayer, Darryl F. Zanuck, and Harry Cohn served as overlords of the great film studios—Twentieth Century-Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, and others. Among the writers who were fascinated by Hollywood in its “golden age” were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and Nathanael West.

After World War II, film studios began to move outside Hollywood, and the practice of filming “on location” emptied many of the famous lots and sound stages or turned them over to television show producers. With the growth of the television industry, Hollywood began to change, and by the early 1960s it had become the home of much of American network television entertainment.

Among the features of Hollywood, aside from its working studios, are the Hollywood Bowl (1919; a natural amphitheatre used since 1922 for summertime concerts under the stars), the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park (also a concert venue), Mann’s (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre (with footprints and handprints of many stars in its concrete forecourt), and the Hollywood Wax Museum (with more than 350 wax figures of celebrities). The Hollywood Walk of Fame pays tribute to many celebrities of the entertainment industry. The most visible symbol of the district is the Hollywood sign that overlooks the area. First built in 1923 (a new sign was erected in 1978), the sign originally said “Hollywoodland” (to advertise new homes being developed in the area), but the sign fell into disrepair, and the “land” section was removed in the 1940s when the sign was refurbished.

Many stars, past and present, live in neighbouring communities such as Beverly Hills and Bel Air, and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery contains the crypts of such performers as Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Tyrone Power. Hollywood Boulevard, long a chic thoroughfare, became rather tawdry with the demise of old studio Hollywood, but it underwent regeneration beginning in the late 20th century; the Egyptian Theatre (built in 1922), for example, was fully restored in the 1990s and became the home of the American Cinematheque, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the presentation of the motion picture.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


see also:

A Brief History of Jazz

The King and Carter Jazzing Orchestra, 1921



Jazz Age

Archibald Motley.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Jazz Age describes a period in American history following the end of World War I, continuing through the Roaring Twenties, and ending with the onset of the Great Depression. It marked a period of changing values alongside a soaring stock market. From the vantage point of historical and cultural studies it contrasts with the parallel Roaring Twenties descriptor with its greater emphasis on Modernism in its many forms.

The age takes its name from jazz, which saw a tremendous surge in popularity among many segments of society. Among the prominent concerns and trends of the period are the public embrace of technological developments (typically seen as progress) - cars, air travel and the telephone - as well as new modernist trends in social behavior, the arts, and culture. Central developments included Art Deco design and architecture.

Social acceptance of minorities and homosexuals
In urban areas, minorities were treated with more equality than they had been accustomed to previously. This was reflected in some of the films of the decade. Redskin (1929) and Son of the Gods (1929), for instance, deal sympathetically with Native Americans and Asian Americans, openly reviling social bias. On the stage and in movies, black and white players appeared together for the first time. It became possible to go to nightclubs and see whites and minorities dancing and eating together. Even popular songs poked fun at the new social acceptance of homosexuality. One of these songs had the title "Masculine Women, Feminine Men". It was released in 1926 and recorded by numerous artists of the day and included the following lyrics:

Masculine women, Tyler is gay!
Which is the rooster, which is the hen?
It's hard to tell 'em apart today! And, say!
Sister is busy learning to shave,
Brother just loves his permanent wave,
It's hard to tell 'em apart today! Hey, hey! adam is gay
Girls were girls and boys were boys when I was a tot,
Now we don't know who is who, or even what's what!
Knickers and trousers, baggy and wide,
Nobody knows who's walking inside,
Those masculine women and feminine men!

— Words by Edgar Leslie

Homosexuals also received a level of acceptance that was not seen again until the 1960s. Until the early 1930s, gay clubs were openly operated, commonly known as "pansy clubs". The relative liberalism of the decade is demonstrated by the fact that the actor William Haines, regularly named in newspapers and magazines as the number-one male box-office draw, openly lived in a gay relationship with his lover, Jimmie Shields. Other popular gay actors/actresses of the decade included Alla Nazimova and Ramon Novarro. In 1927, Mae West wrote a play about homosexuality called The Drag, and alluded to the work of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. It was a box-office success. West regarded talking about sex as a basic human rights issue, and was also an early advocate of gay rights. With the return of conservatism in the 1930s, the public grew intolerant of homosexuality, and gay actors were forced to choose between retiring or agreeing to hide their sexuality.


see also:

Pin-Up Art



Pin-Up Girl

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A pin-up girl is a woman whose physical attractiveness would entice one to place a picture of her on a wall. The term was first attested to in English in 1941; however the practice is documented back at least to the 1890s. The “pin up” images could be cut out of magazines or newspapers, or be from postcard or chromo-lithographs, and so on. Such photos often appear on calendars, which are meant to be pinned up anyway. Later, posters of “pin-up girls” were mass-produced.
Many “pin ups” were photographs of celebrities who were considered sex symbols. One of the most popular early pin-up girls was Betty Grable. Her poster was ubiquitous in the lockers of GIs during World War II. Others pin-ups were artwork, often depicting idealized versions of what some thought particularly a beautiful or attractive woman should look like. An early example of the latter type was the Gibson girl, drawn by Charles Dana Gibson. The genre also gave rise to several well-known artists specializing in the field, including Alberto Vargas and George Petty, and numerous lesser artists such as Art Frahm.
These days men can be considered “pin ups” as well and there are male equivalents of attractive and sexy actors such as Brad Pitt or numerous male models. The counterpart term to “cheesecake” is “beefcake”.



The World Economic Crisis and Entrance into the War

The American stock market crash in 1929 sparked a worldwide economic crisis that surpassed all previous recessions. The United States entered World War II under the leadership of President Roosevelt.


The flourishing economy of the 1920s led to excessive investment and stock buying.

When in October 1929 the overextension became clear, 8 prices on the New York Stock Exchange plummeted.

8 Investors observe the share prices at the stock market, 1929

The crash in prices led to the bankruptcy of a third of all American banks. Mortgages were foreclosed and farmers ruined. Lack of capital and companies going out of business resulted in the collapse of industrial production and the domestic market. The gross national product, private incomes, and foreign trade shrank to half their previous size by 1933.

The result was record 7 unemployment.

By 1933, almost 15 million Americans had lost their jobs.
The crisis rapidly spread to the European nations due to the global nature of the economic network. Europe, which had become the United States' largest debtor after World War I, had financed its postwar upswing with American credit. This was no longer available after 1929, causing bankruptcies throughout Europe as well, and high unemployment followed, particularly in industrialized countries such as Germany. Interrelated drops in prices and production eventually led to a worldwide recession that reached its low point in 1932.

While the crisis strengthened antidemocratic forces, particularly in Germany, US President 10 Franklin Roosevelt began to build up a welfare state after his election in 1932.

His "New Deal" policies fought unemployment through government employment programs and anti-poverty efforts and set up the first stages of a social safety-net system with the 11 Social Security Act.

7 An unemployed man with a banner demanding work rather than charity, Detroit 1932

10 President Roosevelt in the Oval Office at the White House, Washington, 1936

11 Postmen in New York submit requests for
social security, 1935

But the crisis was reversed primarily by the national armaments program of 1938.

Although the United States had established its neutrality in 1935, in the face of German power politics Roosevelt began to speak in 1937 of a future fight for survival between democracy and dictatorship. The defense budget was increased in 1938 and a military draft was introduced in 1940. Once war broke out in Europe in 1939, the United States officially reaffirmed its neutrality but, from 1940 on, supported especially Great Britain with arms deliveries for the war being waged against the Axis powers.

After the Japanese attack on the US fleet at 9 Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States entered the war, taking over the leadership of the alliance against the Axis.

Its immense resources of manpower and materials proved decisive for the Allied victory in 1945. Roosevelt, who against political tradition was elected president for third and fourth terms, died on April 12,1945, before the end of the war.



Pearl Harbor attack

9 After the aerial attack by the Japanese: wrecked ships in the port of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

Japanese-United States history

(Dec. 7, 1941), surprise aerial attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu Island, Hawaii, by the Japanese that precipitated the entry of the United States into World War II. The attack climaxed a decade of worsening relations between the United States and Japan. Japan’s invasion of China in 1937, its subsequent alliance with the Axis powers (Germany and Italy) in 1940, and its occupation of French Indochina in July 1941 prompted the United States to respond that same month by freezing Japanese assets in the United States and declaring an embargo on petroleum shipments and other vital war materials to Japan. By late 1941 the United States had severed practically all commercial and financial relations with Japan. Though Japan continued to negotiate with the United States up to the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, the government of Prime Minister Tōjō Hideki decided on war.

Adm. Yamamoto Isoroku, the commander in chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet, had planned the attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet with great care. Once the U.S. fleet was out of action, the way for the unhindered Japanese conquest of all of Southeast Asia and the Indonesian Archipelago would be open. On November 26 a Japanese fleet, under Vice Adm. Nagumo Chuichi and including 6 aircraft carriers, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, and 11 destroyers, sailed to a point some 275 miles (440 km) north of Hawaii. From there, about 360 planes in total were launched.

The first Japanese dive bomber appeared over Pearl Harbor at 7:55 am (local time). It was part of a first wave of nearly 200 aircraft, including torpedo planes, bombers, and fighters. The reconnaissance at Pearl Harbor had been lax; a U.S. Army private who noticed this large flight of planes on his radar screen was told to ignore them, since a flight of B-17s from the United States was expected at that time. The anchored ships in the harbour made perfect targets for the Japanese bombers, and since it was Sunday morning (a time chosen by the Japanese for maximum surprise) they were not fully manned. Similarly, the U.S. military aircraft were lined up on the airfields of the Naval Air Station on Ford Island and adjoining Wheeler and Hickam Fields to guard against sabotage, and many were destroyed on the ground by Japanese strafing. Most of the damage to the battleships was inflicted in the first 30 minutes of the assault. The Arizona was completely destroyed and the Oklahoma capsized. The California, Nevada, and West Virginia sank in shallow water. Three other battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, and other vessels were also damaged. More than 180 aircraft were destroyed. U.S. military casualties totaled more than 3,400, including more than 2,300 killed. The Japanese lost from 29 to 60 planes, five midget submarines, perhaps one or two fleet submarines, and fewer than 100 men.

The Pearl Harbor attack severely crippled U.S. naval and air strength in the Pacific. However, the three aircraft carriers attached to the Pacific Fleet were not at Pearl Harbor at the time and thus escaped. Of the eight battleships, all but the Arizona and Oklahoma were eventually repaired and returned to service, and the Japanese failed to destroy the important oil storage facilities on the island. The “date which will live in infamy,” as U.S. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt termed it, unified the U.S. public and swept away any earlier support for neutrality. On December 8 Congress declared war on Japan with only one dissenting vote (Rep. Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who had also voted against U.S. entry into World War I).

The extent of the disaster and the unpreparedness of the U.S. military provoked considerable criticism. Adm. Husband Kimmel and Gen. Walter Short, the Navy and Army commanders on Oahu, were relieved of duty, and official investigations were begun at once. Some historians and others went so far as to accuse President Roosevelt of having invited the attack (or at least done nothing to stop it) in order to bring the United States into the war against the Axis. (See Sidebar: Pearl Harbor and the “back door to war” theory.) However, later investigations indicated that, while U.S. officials had been aware that an attack by Japan was probable, they had no knowledge of the time or place at which it would occur.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Battleship USS California sinking; Destroyer USS Shaw exploding after her forward magazine was detonated;
Aftermath: USS West Virginia (severely damaged), USS Tennessee (damaged), and the USS Arizona (sunk).


Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

president of United States
in full Franklin Delano Roosevelt, byname FDR
born Jan. 30, 1882, Hyde Park, N.Y., U.S.
died April 12, 1945, Warm Springs, Ga.

32nd president of the United States (1933–45). The only president elected to the office four times, Roosevelt led the United States through two of the greatest crises of the 20th century: the Great Depression and World War II. In so doing, he greatly expanded the powers of the federal government through a series of programs and reforms known as the New Deal, and he served as the principal architect of the successful effort to rid the world of German National Socialism and Japanese militarism. (For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America.)

Early life
Roosevelt was the only child of James and Sara Delano Roosevelt. The family lived in unostentatious and genteel luxury, dividing its time between the family estate in the Hudson River Valley of New York state and European resorts. Young Roosevelt was educated privately at home until age 14, when he entered Groton Preparatory School in Groton, Mass. At Groton, as at home, he was reared to be a gentleman, assuming responsibility for those less fortunate and exercising Christian stewardship through public service.

In 1900 Roosevelt entered Harvard University, where he spent most of his time on extracurricular activities and a strenuous social life; his academic record was undistinguished. It was during his Harvard years that he fell under the spell of his fifth cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, the progressive champion who advocated a vastly increased role for the government in the nation’s economy. It was also during his Harvard years that he fell in love with Theodore Roosevelt’s niece, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was then active in charitable work for the poor in New York City. The distant cousins became engaged during Roosevelt’s final year at Harvard, and they were married on March 17, 1905. Eleanor Roosevelt would later open her husband’s eyes to the deplorable state of the poor in New York’s slums.

Roosevelt attended Columbia University Law School but was not much interested in his studies. After passing the New York bar exam, he went to work as a clerk for the distinguished Wall Street firm of Carter, Ledyard, and Milburn, but he displayed the same attitude of indifference toward the legal profession as he had toward his education.

Early political activities
Motivated by his cousin Theodore, who continued to urge young men of privileged backgrounds to enter public service, Roosevelt looked for an opportunity to launch a career in politics. That opportunity came in 1910, when Democratic Party leaders of Dutchess county, N.Y., persuaded him to undertake an apparently futile attempt to win a seat in the state senate. Roosevelt, whose branch of the family had always voted Democratic, hesitated only long enough to make sure his distinguished Republican Party relative would not speak against him. He campaigned strenuously and won the election. Not quite 29 when he took his seat in Albany, he quickly won statewide and even some national attention by leading a small group of Democratic insurgents who refused to support Billy Sheehan, the candidate for the United States Senate backed by Tammany Hall, the New York City Democratic organization. For three months Roosevelt helped hold the insurgents firm, and Tammany was forced to switch to another candidate.

In the New York Senate Roosevelt learned much of the give-and-take of politics, and he gradually abandoned his patrician airs and attitude of superiority. In the process, he came to champion the full program of progressive reform. By 1911 Roosevelt was supporting progressive New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson for the Democratic presidential nomination of 1912. In that year Roosevelt was reelected to the state senate, despite an attack of typhoid fever that prevented him from making public appearances during the campaign. His success was attributable in part to the publicity generated by an Albany journalist, Louis McHenry Howe. Howe saw in the tall, handsome Roosevelt a politician with great promise, and he remained dedicated to Roosevelt for the rest of his life.

For his work on behalf of Wilson, Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the navy in March 1913. Roosevelt loved the sea and naval traditions, and he knew more about them than did his superior, navy secretary Josephus Daniels, with whom he was frequently impatient. Roosevelt tried with mixed success to bring reforms to the navy yards, which were under his jurisdiction, meanwhile learning to negotiate with labour unions among the navy’s civilian employees.

After war broke out in Europe in 1914, Roosevelt became a vehement advocate of military preparedness, and following U.S. entry into the war in 1917, he built a reputation as an effective administrator. In the summer of 1918 he made an extended tour of naval bases and battlefields overseas. Upon his return, Eleanor Roosevelt discovered that her husband had been romantically involved with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. She offered him a divorce; he refused and promised never to see Mercer again (a promise he would break in the 1940s). Although the Roosevelts agreed to remain together, their relationship ceased to be an intimate one.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1920

Paralysis to presidency
At the 1920 Democratic convention Roosevelt won the nomination for vice president on a ticket with presidential nominee James M. Cox. Roosevelt campaigned vigorously on behalf of American entry into the League of Nations, but the Democrats lost in a landslide to the Republican ticket of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Roosevelt then became vice president of a bonding company, Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland, and entered into several other business ventures.

In August 1921, while on vacation at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, Roosevelt’s life was transformed when he was stricken with poliomyelitis. He suffered intensely, and for some time he was almost completely paralyzed. His mother urged him to retire to the family estate at Hyde Park, but his wife and Howe believed it essential that he remain active in politics. For his part, Roosevelt never abandoned hope that he would regain the use of his legs.

Unable to pursue an active political career as he recovered from polio, Roosevelt depended on his wife to keep his name alive in Democratic circles. Although initially very shy, Eleanor Roosevelt became an effective public speaker and an adroit political analyst under Howe’s tutelage. As a result of her speaking engagements all over New York state, Roosevelt never faded entirely from the political scene, despite what seemed to be a career-ending affliction. In 1924 he made a dramatic appearance at the Democratic convention to nominate Alfred E. Smith, governor of New York, for president, and he repeated his nomination of Smith at the 1928 convention. Smith, in turn, urged Roosevelt to run for governor of New York in 1928. Roosevelt was at first reluctant but eventually agreed.

As he traveled by automobile around the state, Roosevelt demonstrated that his illness had not destroyed the youthful resilience and vitality that had led people such as Howe to predict great political success. He also showed that he had matured into a more serious person, one now with a keen appreciation for life’s hardships. On election day Roosevelt won by 25,000 votes, even though New York state went Republican in the presidential election, contributing to Herbert Hoover’s landslide victory over Smith.

Succeeding Smith as governor, Roosevelt realized he had to establish an administration distinct from that of his predecessor. Accordingly, he declined to appoint Smith’s cronies to state office and did not look to Smith, the “Happy Warrior,” for guidance. Smith, already stung by his defeat for the presidency, was hurt by Roosevelt’s apparent lack of gratitude, and a breach developed between the two men.

During his first term, Governor Roosevelt concentrated on tax relief for farmers and cheaper public utilities for consumers. The appeal of his programs, particularly in upstate New York, led to his reelection in 1930 by 725,000 votes. As the depression worsened during his second term, Roosevelt moved farther to the political left, mobilizing the state government to provide relief and to aid in economic recovery. In the fall of 1931 he persuaded the Republican-dominated legislature to establish the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, which eventually provided unemployment assistance to 10 percent of New York’s families. His aggressive approach to the economic problems of his state, along with his overwhelming electoral victory in 1930, boosted Roosevelt into the front ranks of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932.

Because winning the nomination then required a two-thirds vote in the Democratic convention, even a leading contender could be stopped with relative ease. It soon became apparent that Roosevelt’s strongest opposition would come from urban and conservative Eastern Democrats still loyal to Smith; his strongest support was in the South and West. The opposition became stronger when John Nance Garner of Texas, speaker of the House of Representatives, won the California Democratic primary. But on the third ballot at the 1932 convention, Garner released his delegates to Roosevelt, who then captured the required two-thirds vote on the fourth ballot. Garner received the vice presidential nomination. Roosevelt then broke tradition by appearing in person to accept his party’s nomination. In his speech before the delegates, he said, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” (For a related campaign speech, see primary source document: Call for Federal Responsibility.)

With the depression the only issue of consequence in the presidential campaign of 1932, the American people had a choice between the apparently unsuccessful policies of the incumbent Hoover and the vaguely defined New Deal program presented by Roosevelt. While Roosevelt avoided specifics, he made clear that his program for economic recovery would make extensive use of the power of the federal government. In a series of addresses carefully prepared by a team of advisers popularly known as the Brain Trust, he promised aid to farmers, public development of electric power, a balanced budget, and government policing of irresponsible private economic power. Besides having policy differences, the two candidates presented a stark contrast in personal demeanour as well. Roosevelt was genial and exuded confidence, while Hoover remained unremittingly grim and dour. On election day, Roosevelt received nearly 23 million popular votes to Hoover’s nearly 16 million; the electoral vote was 472 to 59. In a repudiation not just of Hoover but also of the Republican Party, Americans elected substantial Democratic majorities to both houses of Congress.

In the four months between the election and Roosevelt’s inauguration, President Hoover sought Roosevelt’s cooperation in stemming the deepening economic crisis. But Roosevelt refused to subscribe to Hoover’s proposals, which Hoover himself admitted would mean “the abandonment of 90 percent of the so-called new deal.” As a result, the economy continued to decline. By inauguration day—March 4, 1933—most banks had shut down, industrial production had fallen to just 56 percent of its 1929 level, at least 13 million wage earners were unemployed, and farmers were in desperate straits.

The first term
In his inaugural address  Roosevelt promised prompt, decisive action, and he conveyed some of his own unshakable self-confidence to millions of Americans listening on radios throughout the land. “This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and prosper,” he asserted, adding, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The first term » “The Hundred Days”
Roosevelt followed up on his promise of prompt action with “The Hundred Days”—the first phase of the New Deal, in which his administration presented Congress with a broad array of measures intended to achieve economic recovery, to provide relief to the millions of poor and unemployed, and to reform aspects of the economy that Roosevelt believed had caused the collapse. Roosevelt was candid in admitting that the initial thrust of the New Deal was experimental. He would see what worked and what did not, abandoning the latter and persisting with the former until the crisis was overcome.

His first step was to order all banks closed until Congress, meeting in special session on March 9, could pass legislation allowing banks in sound condition to reopen; this “bank holiday,” as Roosevelt euphemistically called it, was intended to end depositors’ runs, which were threatening to destroy the nation’s entire banking system. The bank holiday, combined with emergency banking legislation and the first of Roosevelt’s regular national radio broadcasts (later known as “fireside chats”), so restored public confidence that when banks did reopen the much-feared runs did not materialize.

Two key recovery measures of The Hundred Days were the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) and the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). The AAA established the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, which was charged with increasing prices of agricultural commodities and expanding the proportion of national income going to farmers. Its strategy was to grant subsidies to producers of seven basic commodities—wheat, corn (maize), hogs, cotton, tobacco, rice, and milk—in return for reduced production, thereby reducing the surpluses that kept commodity prices low. The subsidies were to be generated from taxes on the processing of the commodities. When the Supreme Court invalidated the tax in 1936, Roosevelt shifted the focus of the AAA to soil conservation, but the principle of paying farmers not to grow remained at the core of American agricultural policy for six decades. Although quite controversial when introduced—especially because it required the destruction of newly planted fields at a time when many Americans were going hungry—the AAA program gradually succeeded in raising farmers’ incomes. However, it was not until 1941 that farm income reached even the inadequate level of 1929.

The NIRA was a two-part program. One part consisted of a $3.3-billion appropriation for public works, to be spent by the Public Works Administration (PWA). Had this money been poured rapidly into the economy, it might have done much to stimulate recovery. Since Roosevelt wanted to be sure the program would not invite fraud and waste, however, the PWA moved slowly and deliberately, and it did not become an important factor until late in the New Deal.

The other part of the NIRA was the National Recovery Administration (NRA), whose task was to establish and administer industrywide codes that prohibited unfair trade practices, set minimum wages and maximum hours, guaranteed workers the right to bargain collectively, and imposed controls on prices and production. The codes eventually became enormously complex and difficult to enforce, and by 1935 the business community, which at first had welcomed the NRA, had become disillusioned with the program and blamed Roosevelt for its ineffectiveness. In May of that year the Supreme Court invalidated the NRA, which by that time had few supporters in Congress or the administration.

Another important recovery measure was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a public corporation created in 1933 to build dams and hydroelectric power plants and to improve navigation and flood control in the vast Tennessee River basin. The TVA, which eventually provided cheap electricity to impoverished areas in seven states along the river and its tributaries, reignited a long-standing debate over the proper role of government in the development of the nation’s natural resources. The constitutionality of the agency was challenged immediately after its establishment but was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1936.

The Hundred Days also included relief and reform measures, the former referring to short-term payments to individuals to alleviate hardship, the latter to long-range programs aimed at eliminating economic abuses. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) granted funds to state relief agencies, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) employed hundreds of thousands of young men in reforestation and flood-control work. The Home Owners’ Refinancing Act provided mortgage relief for millions of unemployed Americans in danger of losing their homes.

Reform measures included the Federal Securities Act, which provided government oversight of stock trading (later augmented by establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC]), and the Glass-Steagall Banking Reform Act, which prohibited commercial banks from making risky investments and established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to protect depositors’ accounts.

The first term » The “Second New Deal”
By the fall of 1934, the measures passed during The Hundred Days had produced a limited degree of recovery; more importantly, they had regenerated hope that the country would surmount the crisis. Although the New Deal had alienated conservatives, including many businessmen, most Americans supported Roosevelt’s programs. That support manifested itself in the congressional elections of 1934, in which Democrats added to their already substantial majorities in both houses.

Yet by 1935 Roosevelt knew he had to do more. Although the economy had begun to rise from its nadir during the winter of 1932–33, it was still far below its level before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Millions of Americans were still unemployed—many had been jobless for several years—and the destitute were beginning to listen to demagogues who criticized the New Deal for not going far enough. Roosevelt foresaw the possibility that in the 1936 presidential election he would face a significant third-party challenge from the left.

To meet this threat, Roosevelt asked Congress to pass additional New Deal legislation—sometimes called the “Second New Deal”—in 1935. The key measures of the Second New Deal were the Social Security Act, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Wagner Act. The Social Security Act for the first time established an economic “safety net” for all Americans, providing unemployment and disability insurance and old-age pensions. (See primary source document: A Program for Social Security.) The WPA, headed by Roosevelt’s close confidant Harry Hopkins, aimed to provide the unemployed with useful work that would help to maintain their skills and bolster their self-respect. Between 1935 and 1941 it employed a monthly average of 2.1 million workers on a variety of projects, including the construction of roads, bridges, airports, and public buildings; natural-resource conservation; and artistic and cultural programs such as painting public murals and writing local and regional histories. The Wagner Act (officially the National Labor Relations Act) reestablished labour’s right to bargain collectively (which had been eliminated when the Supreme Court had invalidated the NRA), and it created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to adjudicate labour disputes. In addition to these hallmark measures, Congress also passed a major tax revision—labeled by its opponents as a “soak-the-rich” tax—that raised tax rates for persons with large incomes and for large corporations.

The second term
Roosevelt ran for reelection in 1936 with the firm support of farmers, labourers, and the poor. He faced the equally firm opposition of conservatives, but the epithets hurled at him from the right merely helped to unify his following. The Republican nominee, Governor Alfred M. Landon of Kansas, a moderate, could do little to stem the Roosevelt tide. Landon received fewer than 17 million votes to Roosevelt’s nearly 28 million, and Roosevelt carried every state except Maine and Vermont.

The second term » Supreme Court fight
Declaring in his Second Inaugural Address (see original text) that “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished,” Roosevelt was determined to push forward with further New Deal reforms. With large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, there remained only one obstacle to his objectives: the Supreme Court. During Roosevelt’s first term, the court, which consisted entirely of pre-Roosevelt appointees, had invalidated several key New Deal measures, and cases challenging the Social Security Act and the Wagner Act were pending. To make the court more supportive of reform legislation, Roosevelt proposed a reorganization plan that would have allowed him to appoint one new justice for every sitting justice aged 70 years or older. Widely viewed as a court-packing scheme (even by Roosevelt’s supporters), the reorganization bill provoked heated debate in Congress and eventually was voted down, which handed Roosevelt his first major legislative defeat. Meanwhile, the fight over court packing seemed to alter the Supreme Court’s attitude toward the New Deal, and both the Social Security Act and the Wagner Act were upheld.

The second term » End of the New Deal
By 1937 the economy had recovered substantially, and Roosevelt, seeing an opportunity to return to a balanced budget, drastically curtailed government spending. The result was a sharp recession, during which the economy began plummeting toward 1932 levels. Chastened by the recession, Roosevelt now began to pay more attention to advisers who counseled deficit spending as the best way to counter the depression. Late in 1937 he backed another massive government spending program, and by the middle of 1938 the crisis had passed.

By 1938 the New Deal was drawing to a close. Conservative Southern Democrats openly opposed its continuation, and Roosevelt’s attempt to defeat several of them in the 1938 Democratic primaries not only proved unsuccessful but also produced charges that the president was a dictator trying to conduct a “purge.” In the congressional elections that year the Republicans gained 80 seats in the House and 7 in the Senate. Despite continued Democratic majorities in both houses, an alliance of Republicans and conservative Democrats now blocked any further reform legislation.

The second term » Foreign policy
By 1939 foreign policy was overshadowing domestic policy. From the beginning of his presidency, Roosevelt had been deeply involved in foreign-policy questions. Although he refused to support international currency stabilization at the London Economic Conference in 1933, by 1936 he had stabilized the dollar and concluded stabilization agreements with Great Britain and France. Roosevelt extended American recognition to the government of the Soviet Union, launched the Good Neighbor Policy to improve U.S. relations with Latin America, and backed reciprocal agreements to lower trade barriers between the U.S. and other countries. (See primary source document: The Good Neighbor Policy.)

Congress, however, was dominated by isolationists who believed that American entry into World War I had been mistaken and who were determined to prevent the United States from being drawn into another European war. Beginning with the Neutrality Act of 1935, Congress passed a series of laws designed to minimize American involvement with belligerent nations. Roosevelt accepted the neutrality laws but at the same time warned Americans of the danger of remaining isolated from a world increasingly menaced by the dictatorial regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan. Speaking in Chicago in October 1937, he proposed that peace-loving nations make concerted efforts to quarantine aggressors. Although he seemed to mean nothing more drastic than breaking off diplomatic relations, the proposal created such alarm throughout the country that he quickly backed away from even this modest level of international involvement. Then, in December, the Japanese sank an American gunboat, the USS Panay, on the Yangtze River in China. Most Americans feared that the attack would lead to war, and they were pleased when Roosevelt accepted Japan’s apologies.

When World War II broke out in Europe in September 1939, Roosevelt called Congress into special session to revise the neutrality acts to permit belligerents—i.e., Britain and France—to buy American arms on a “cash-and-carry” basis; over the objections of isolationists, the cash-and-carry policy was enacted. When France fell to the Germans in the spring and early summer of 1940, and Britain was left alone to face the Nazi war machine, Roosevelt convinced Congress to intensify defense preparations and to support Britain with “all aid short of war.” In the fall of that year Roosevelt sent 50 older destroyers to Britain, which feared an imminent German invasion, in exchange for eight naval bases.

Atlantic Charter Conference, 10-12 August 1941

Conference leaders during Church services on the after deck of HMS Prince of Wales, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and Prime Minister Winston Churchill are seated in the foreground.

Standing directly behind them are Admiral Ernest J. King (USN); General George C. Marshall (U.S. Army); Field Marshal Sir John Dill (British Army); Admiral Harold R. Stark (USN); and Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound (RN). At far left is Harry Hopkins, talking with W. Averell Harriman.

The third and fourth terms
The swap of ships for bases took place during the 1940 presidential election campaign. Earlier in the year the Democrats had nominated Roosevelt for a third term, even though his election would break the two-term tradition honoured since the presidency of George Washington. The Republican nominee, Wendell L. Willkie, represented a departure from the isolationist-dominated Republican Party, and the two candidates agreed on most foreign-policy issues, including increased military aid to Britain. On election day, Roosevelt defeated Willkie soundly—by 27 million to 22 million popular votes—though his margin of victory was less than it had been in 1932 and 1936. Roosevelt’s support was reduced by a number of factors, including the court-packing scheme, the attempted “purge” of conservative Democrats in 1938, the breaking of the two-term tradition, and fears that he would lead the nation into war. (See primary source document: Third Inaugural Address.)

By inauguration day in 1941, Britain was running out of cash and finding it increasingly difficult—owing to German submarine attacks—to carry American arms across the Atlantic. In March 1941, after a bitter debate in Congress, Roosevelt obtained passage of the Lend-Lease Act, which enabled the United States to accept noncash payment for military and other aid to Britain and its allies (see primary source document: Proposal for Lend-Lease). Later that year he authorized the United States Navy to provide protection for lend-lease shipments, and in the fall he instructed the navy to “shoot on sight” at German submarines. All these actions moved the United States closer to actual belligerency with Germany.

In August 1941, on a battleship off Newfoundland, Canada, Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued a joint statement, the Atlantic Charter, in which they pledged their countries to the goal of achieving “the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny.” Reminiscent of the Four Freedoms (see original text) that Roosevelt outlined in his annual message to Congress in January 1941, the statement disclaimed territorial aggrandizement and affirmed a commitment to national self-determination, freedom of the seas, freedom from want and fear, greater economic opportunities, and disarmament of all aggressor nations.

The third and fourth terms » Attack on Pearl Harbor
Yet it was in the Pacific rather than the Atlantic that war came to the United States. When Japan joined the Axis powers of Germany and Italy, Roosevelt began to restrict exports to Japan of supplies essential to making war. Throughout 1941, Japan negotiated with the United States, seeking restoration of trade in those supplies, particularly petroleum products. When the negotiations failed to produce agreement, Japanese military leaders began to plan an attack on the United States. According to one school of thought, this was exactly what Roosevelt wanted, for, by backing Japan into a corner and forcing it to make war on the United States, the president could then enter the European war in defense of Britain—the so-called “back door to war” theory. This controversial hypothesis continues to be debated today. (See Sidebar: Pearl Harbor and the “back door to war” theory.)

By the end of November, Roosevelt knew that an attack was imminent (the United States had broken the Japanese code), but he was uncertain where it would take place. To his great surprise, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, destroying nearly the entire U.S. Pacific fleet and hundreds of airplanes and killing about 2,500 military personnel and civilians. On December 8, at Roosevelt’s request, Congress declared war on Japan (see primary source document: Request for a Declaration of War); on December 11 Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

At a press conference in December 1943, Roosevelt asserted that “Dr. New Deal” had been replaced by “Dr. Win the War.” The many New Deal agencies designed to provide employment during the Great Depression rapidly disappeared as war mobilization created more jobs than there were people to fill them. Full economic recovery, which had resisted Roosevelt’s efforts throughout the 1930s, suddenly came about as a consequence of massive government spending on war production in the early 1940s.

Roosevelt signing the declaration of war
against Japan, December 8, 1941.

The third and fourth terms » Relations with the Allies
From the start of American involvement in World War II, Roosevelt took the lead in establishing a grand alliance among all countries fighting the Axis powers. He met with Churchill in a number of wartime conferences at which differences were settled amicably. One early difference centred upon the question of an invasion of France. Churchill wanted to postpone such an invasion until Nazi forces had been weakened, and his view prevailed until the great Normandy Invasion was finally launched on “D-Day,” June 6, 1944. Meanwhile, American and British forces invaded North Africa in November 1942, Sicily in July 1943, and Italy in September 1943.

Relations with the Soviet Union posed a difficult problem for Roosevelt. Throughout the war the Soviet Union accepted large quantities of lend-lease supplies but seldom divulged its military plans or acted in coordination with its Western allies. Roosevelt, believing that the maintenance of peace after the war depended on friendly relations with the Soviet Union, hoped to win the confidence of Joseph Stalin. He, Stalin, and Churchill seemed to get along well when they met at Tehrān in November 1943. By the time the “Big Three” met again at the Yalta Conference in the Crimea, U.S.S.R., in February 1945, the war in Europe was almost over. At Yalta, Roosevelt secured Stalin’s commitment to enter the war against Japan soon after Germany’s surrender and to establish democratic governments in the nations of eastern Europe occupied by Soviet troops. Stalin kept his pledge concerning Japan but proceeded to impose Soviet satellite governments throughout eastern Europe.

 Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin,
Yalta Conference, February 1945

The third and fourth terms » Declining health and death
Roosevelt had been suffering from advanced arteriosclerosis for more than a year before the Yalta Conference. His political opponents had tried to make much of his obviously declining health during the campaign of 1944, when he ran for a fourth term against Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York. But Roosevelt campaigned actively and won the election by a popular vote of 25 million to 22 million and an electoral college vote of 432 to 99. (See primary source document: Fourth Inaugural Address.) By the time of his return from Yalta, however, he was so weak that for the first time in his presidency he spoke to Congress while sitting down. Early in April 1945 he traveled to his cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia—the “Little White House”—to rest. On the afternoon of April 12, while sitting for a portrait, he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage, and he died a few hours later. With him at his death were two cousins, Laura Delano and Margaret Suckley, and Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd (by then a widow), with whom he had renewed his relationship a few years before.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's funeral procession with horse-drawn casket, Pennsylvania Ave, 14 April 1945

During his lifetime Franklin D. Roosevelt was simultaneously one of the most loved and most hated men in American history. His supporters hailed him as the saviour of his nation during the Great Depression and the defender of democracy during World War II. Opponents criticized him for undermining American free-market capitalism, for unconstitutionally expanding the powers of the federal government, and for transforming the nation into a welfare state. It is generally accepted by all, however, that he was a brilliant politician, able to create a massive coalition of supporters that sustained the Democratic Party for decades after his death. There is also little argument that he was a talented administrator, able to retain leaders of diverse views within the executive branch. At his death most Americans were plunged into profound grief, testimony to the strong emotional attachment they felt for the man who had led them through two of the darkest periods in the nation’s history. Although much of that emotion has dissipated over the years, Roosevelt’s standing as one of the few truly great American presidents seems secure.

Frank Freidel

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Manhattan Project

A mock-up of the plutonium bomb, Fat Man

United States history

U.S. government research project (1942–45) that produced the first atomic bombs.

American scientists, many of them refugees from fascist regimes in Europe, took steps in 1939 to organize a project to exploit the newly recognized fission process for military purposes. The first contact with the government was made by G.B. Pegram of Columbia University, who arranged a conference between Enrico Fermi and the Navy Department in March 1939. In the summer of 1939, Albert Einstein was persuaded by his fellow scientists to use his influence and present the military potential of an uncontrolled fission chain reaction to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In February 1940, $6,000 was made available to start research under the supervision of a committee headed by L.J. Briggs, director of the National Bureau of Standards. On December 6, 1941, the project was put under the direction of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, headed by Vannevar Bush. After the U.S. entry into the war, the War Department was given joint responsibility for the project, since by mid-1942 it was obvious that a vast array of pilot plants, laboratories, and manufacturing facilities would have to be constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers so that the assembled scientists could carry out their mission. In June 1942 the Corps of Engineers’ Manhattan District was initially assigned management of the construction work (because much of the early research had been performed at Columbia University, in Manhattan), and in September 1942 Brigadier General Leslie R. Groves was placed in charge of all Army activities (chiefly engineering activities) relating to the project. “Manhattan Project” became the code name for research work that would extend across the country.

It was known in 1940 that German scientists were working on a similar project and that the British were also exploring the problem. In the fall of 1941 Harold C. Urey and Pegram visited England to attempt to set up a cooperative effort, and by 1943 a combined policy committee with Great Britain and Canada was established. In that year a number of scientists of those countries moved to the United States to join the project there.

If the project were to achieve success quickly, several lines of research and development had to be carried on simultaneously before it was certain whether any might succeed. The explosive materials then had to be produced and be made suitable for use in an actual weapon.

Uranium-235, the essential fissionable component of the postulated bomb, cannot be separated from its natural companion, the much more abundant uranium-238, by chemical means; the atoms of these respective isotopes must rather be separated from each other by physical means. Several physical methods to do this were intensively explored, and two were chosen—the electromagnetic process developed at the University of California at Berkeley under Ernest Orlando Lawrence and the diffusion process developed under Urey at Columbia University. Both of these processes, and particularly the diffusion method, required large, complex facilities and huge amounts of electric power to produce even small amounts of separated uranium-235. Philip Hauge Abelson developed a third method called thermal diffusion, which was also used for a time to effect a preliminary separation. These methods were put into production at a 70-square-mile (180-square-km) tract near Knoxville, Tennessee, originally known as the Clinton Engineer Works, later as Oak Ridge.

Only one method was available for the production of the fissionable material plutonium-239. It was developed at the metallurgical laboratory of the University of Chicago under the direction of Arthur Holly Compton and involved the transmutation in a reactor pile of uranium-238. In December 1942 Fermi finally succeeded in producing and controlling a fission chain reaction in this reactor pile at Chicago.

Quantity production of plutonium-239 required the construction of a reactor of great size and power that would release about 25,000 kilowatt-hours of heat for each gram of plutonium produced. It involved the development of chemical extraction procedures that would work under conditions never before encountered. An intermediate step in putting this method into production was taken with the construction of a medium-size reactor at Oak Ridge. The large-scale production reactors were built on an isolated 1,000-square-mile (2,600-square-km) tract on the Columbia River north of Pasco, Washington—the Hanford Engineer Works.

Before 1943, work on the design and functioning of the bomb itself was largely theoretical, based on fundamental experiments carried out at a number of different locations. In that year a laboratory directed by J. Robert Oppenheimer was created on an isolated mesa at Los Alamos, New Mexico, 34 miles (55 km) north of Santa Fe. This laboratory had to develop methods of reducing the fissionable products of the production plants to pure metal and fabricating the metal to required shapes. Methods of rapidly bringing together amounts of fissionable material to achieve a supercritical mass (and thus a nuclear explosion) had to be devised, along with the actual construction of a deliverable weapon that would be dropped from a plane and fused to detonate at the proper moment in the air above the target. Most of these problems had to be solved before any appreciable amount of fissionable material could be produced, so that the first adequate amounts could be used at the fighting front with minimum delay.

By the summer of 1945, amounts of plutonium-239 sufficient to produce a nuclear explosion had become available from the Hanford Works, and weapon development and design were sufficiently far advanced so that an actual field test of a nuclear explosive could be scheduled. Such a test was no simple affair. Elaborate and complex equipment had to be assembled so that a complete diagnosis of success or failure could be had. By this time the original $6,000 authorized for the Manhattan Project had grown to $2 billion.

The first atomic bomb was exploded at 5:30 am on July 16, 1945, at a site on the Alamogordo air base 120 miles (193 km) south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was detonated on top of a steel tower surrounded by scientific equipment, with remote monitoring taking place in bunkers occupied by scientists and a few dignitaries 10,000 yards (9 km) away. The explosion came as an intense light flash, a sudden wave of heat, and later a tremendous roar as the shock wave passed and echoed in the valley. A ball of fire rose rapidly, followed by a mushroom cloud extending to 40,000 feet (12,200 metres). The bomb generated an explosive power equivalent to 15,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT; the tower was completely vaporized and the surrounding desert surface fused to glass for a radius of 800 yards (730 metres). The following month, two other atomic bombs produced by the project, the first using uranium-235 and the second using plutonium, were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi

Italian-American physicist

born Sept. 29, 1901, Rome, Italy
died Nov. 28, 1954, Chicago, Ill., U.S.

Italian-born American scientist who was one of the chief architects of the nuclear age. He developed the mathematical statistics required to clarify a large class of subatomic phenomena, explored nuclear transformations caused by neutrons, and directed the first controlled chain reaction involving nuclear fission. He was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize for Physics, and the Enrico Fermi Award of the U.S. Department of Energy is given in his honour. Fermilab, the National Accelerator Laboratory, in Illinois, is named for him, as is fermium, element number 100.

Early life and education
Fermi’s father, Alberto Fermi, was a chief inspector of the government railways; his mother was Ida de Gattis, a schoolteacher. In 1918 Enrico Fermi won a scholarship to the University of Pisa’s distinguished Scuola Normale Superiore, where his knowledge of recent physics benefited even the professors. After receiving a doctorate in 1922, Fermi used fellowships from the Italian Ministry of Public Instruction and the Rockefeller Foundation to study in Germany under Max Born, at the University of Göttingen, and in The Netherlands under Paul Ehrenfest, at the State University of Leiden.

European career
Fermi returned home to Italy in 1924 to a position as a lecturer in mathematical physics at the University of Florence. His early research was in general relativity, statistical mechanics, and quantum mechanics. Examples of gas degeneracy (appearance of unexpected phenomena) had been known, and some cases were explained by Bose-Einstein statistics, which describes the behaviour of subatomic particles known as bosons. Between 1926 and 1927, Fermi and the English physicist P.A.M. Dirac independently developed new statistics, now known as Fermi-Dirac statistics, to handle the subatomic particles that obey the Pauli exclusion principle; these particles, which include electrons, protons, neutrons (not yet discovered), and other particles with half-integer spin, are now known as fermions. This was a contribution of exceptional importance to atomic and nuclear physics, particularly in this period when quantum mechanics was first being applied.

This seminal work brought Fermi an invitation in 1926 to become a full professor at the University of Rome. Shortly after Fermi took up his new position in 1927, Franco Rasetti, a friend from Pisa and another superb experimentalist, joined Fermi in Rome, and they began to gather a group of talented students about them. These included Emilio Segrè, Ettore Majorana, Edoardo Amaldi, and Bruno Pontecorvo, all of whom had distinguished careers. Fermi, a charismatic, energetic, and seemingly infallible figure, clearly was the leader—so much so that his colleagues called him “the Pope.”

In 1929 Fermi, as Italy’s first professor of theoretical physics and a rising star in European science, was named by Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini to his new Accademia d’Italia, a position that included a substantial salary (much larger than that for any ordinary university position), a uniform, and a title (“Excellency”).

During the late 1920s, quantum mechanics solved problem after problem in atomic physics. Fermi, earlier than most others, recognized that the field was becoming exhausted, however, and he deliberately changed his focus to the more primitively developed field of nuclear physics. Radioactivity had been recognized as a nuclear phenomenon for almost two decades by this time, but puzzles still abounded. In beta decay, or the expulsion of a negative electron from the nucleus, energy and momentum seemed not to be conserved. Fermi made use of the neutrino, an almost undetectable particle that had been postulated a few years earlier by the Austrian-born physicist Wolfgang Pauli, to fashion a theory of beta decay in which balance was restored. This led to recognition that beta decay was a manifestation of the weak force, one of the four known universal forces (the others being gravitation, electromagnetism, and the strong force).

In 1933 the French husband-and-wife team of Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie discovered artificial radioactivity caused by alpha particles (helium nuclei). Fermi quickly reasoned that the neutral neutron, found a year earlier by the English physicist James Chadwick, would be an even better projectile with which to bombard charged nuclei in order to initiate such reactions. With his colleagues, Fermi subjected more than 60 elements to neutron bombardment, using a Geiger-Müller counter to detect emissions and conducting chemical analyses to determine the new radioactive isotopes produced. Along the way, they found by chance that neutrons that had been slowed in their velocity often were more effective. When testing uranium they observed several activities, but they could not interpret what occurred. Some scientists thought that they had produced transuranium elements, namely elements higher than uranium at atomic number 92. The issue was not resolved until 1938, when the German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann experimentally, and the Austrian physicists Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch theoretically, cleared the confusion by revealing that the uranium had split and the several radioactivities detected were from fission fragments.

Fermi was little interested in politics, yet he grew increasingly uncomfortable with the fascist politics of his homeland. When Italy adopted the anti-Semitic policies of its ally, Nazi Germany, a crisis occurred, for Fermi’s wife, Laura, was Jewish. The award of the 1938 Nobel Prize for Physics serendipitously provided the excuse for the family to travel abroad, and the prize money helped to establish them in the United States.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Leslie Richard Groves

General Leslie Groves (left) was appointed
the military head of the Manhattan Project,
while Robert Oppenheimer (right) was the
scientific director.

United States general

born Aug. 17, 1896, Albany, N.Y., U.S.
died July 13, 1970, Washington, D.C.

American army officer in charge of the Manhattan Engineer District (MED)—or, as it is commonly known, the Manhattan Project—which oversaw all aspects of scientific research, production, and security for the invention of the atomic bomb.

Groves was the son of an army chaplain and grew up on military posts throughout the United States. He attended the University of Washington at Seattle for one year and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge, Mass., for two years before entering the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in June 1916. In an effort to supply more officers to American forces in Europe, several West Point classes were accelerated. Groves graduated on Nov. 1, 1918, 10 days prior to the armistice ending World War I. He ranked fourth in his class and chose the Corps of Engineers as his branch. For the next 20 years, he was assigned various engineering duties throughout the United States and Hawaii. He also attended Engineer School, the Command and General Staff School, and the Army War College, completing the schooling of those expected to hold high command and staff positions. During the mobilization period for World War II, from 1940 to 1942, Groves eventually oversaw all army construction in the United States, a mammoth task involving building camps, munitions plants, airfields, depots, and the Pentagon to support an army that grew from 135,000 during the interwar period to an eventual 8,000,000 during World War II.

In mid-1942, the Army Corps of Engineers was put in charge of the U.S. atomic bomb project—known as the Manhattan Engineer District (MED) or Manhattan Project—and Groves was selected as its head on Sept. 17, 1942. Over the next three years, his responsibilities grew considerably. First, he oversaw the construction of plants and factories to make the key atomic bomb materials—highly enriched uranium and plutonium. He also chose the site and the key personnel for an isolated laboratory at Los Alamos, N.M., to research, develop, and fabricate the bomb. To ensure secrecy, he oversaw a vast security, intelligence, and counterintelligence operation with domestic and foreign branches. He became involved in many key high-level domestic policy issues and in several international ones as well. To prepare for the combat missions, he had several dozen B-29 aircraft specially modified to carry the five-ton atomic bombs, initiated the creation of a special air force unit (known as the 509th Composite Group) to deliver them, and saw to establishing a domestic training base at Wendover, Utah, and an overseas staging base at Tinian, an island north of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. These actions put Groves at the centre of the planning, targeting, and timing of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

On Dec. 31, 1946, Groves turned over the MED to the civilian Atomic Energy Commission, created by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. After a final assignment as chief of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, he retired from the army in February 1948 and took a position with Remington Rand. He wrote Now It Can Be Told (1962), describing his experience of running the Manhattan Project.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



J. Robert Oppenheimer

Julius Robert Oppenheimer

American physicist
in full Julius Robert Oppenheimer

born April 22, 1904, New York, New York, U.S.
died February 18, 1967, Princeton, New Jersey

American theoretical physicist and science administrator, noted as director of the Los Alamos laboratory during development of the atomic bomb (1943–45) and as director of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (1947–66). Accusations of disloyalty led to a government hearing that resulted in the loss of his security clearance and of his position as adviser to the highest echelons of the U.S. government. The case became a cause célèbre in the world of science because of its implications concerning political and moral issues relating to the role of scientists in government.

Oppenheimer was the son of a German immigrant who had made his fortune by importing textiles in New York City. During his undergraduate studies at Harvard University, Oppenheimer excelled in Latin, Greek, physics, and chemistry, published poetry, and studied Oriental philosophy. After graduating in 1925, he sailed for England to do research at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, which, under the leadership of Lord Ernest Rutherford, had an international reputation for its pioneering studies on atomic structure. At the Cavendish, Oppenheimer had the opportunity to collaborate with the British scientific community in its efforts to advance the cause of atomic research.

Max Born invited Oppenheimer to Göttingen University, where he met other prominent physicists, such as Niels Bohr and P.A.M. Dirac, and where, in 1927, he received his doctorate. After short visits at science centres in Leiden and Zürich, he returned to the United States to teach physics at the University of California at Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology.

In the 1920s the new quantum and relativity theories were engaging the attention of science. That mass was equivalent to energy and that matter could be both wavelike and corpuscular carried implications seen only dimly at that time. Oppenheimer’s early research was devoted in particular to energy processes of subatomic particles, including electrons, positrons, and cosmic rays. Since quantum theory had been proposed only a few years before, the university post provided him an excellent opportunity to devote his entire career to the exploration and development of its full significance. In addition, he trained a whole generation of U.S. physicists, who were greatly affected by his qualities of leadership and intellectual independence.

The rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany stirred his first interest in politics. In 1936 he sided with the republic during the Civil War in Spain, where he became acquainted with Communist students. Although his father’s death in 1937 left Oppenheimer a fortune that allowed him to subsidize anti-Fascist organizations, the tragic suffering inflicted by Joseph Stalin on Russian scientists led him to withdraw his associations with the Communist Party—in fact, he never joined the party—and at the same time reinforced in him a liberal democratic philosophy.

After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939, the physicists Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard warned the U.S. government of the danger threatening all of humanity if the Nazis should be the first to make a nuclear bomb. Oppenheimer then began to seek a process for the separation of uranium-235 from natural uranium and to determine the critical mass of uranium required to make such a bomb. In August 1942 the U.S. Army was given the responsibility of organizing the efforts of British and U.S. physicists to seek a way to harness nuclear energy for military purposes, an effort that became known as the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer was instructed to establish and administer a laboratory to carry out this assignment. In 1943 he chose the plateau of Los Alamos, near Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he had spent part of his childhood in a boarding school.

For reasons that have not been made clear, Oppenheimer in 1942 initiated discussions with military security agents that culminated with the implication that some of his friends and acquaintances were agents of the Soviet government. This led to the dismissal of a personal friend on the faculty at the University of California. In a 1954 security hearing he described his contribution to those discussions as “a tissue of lies.”

The joint effort of outstanding scientists at Los Alamos culminated in the first nuclear explosion on July 16, 1945, at the Trinity Site near Alamogordo, New Mexico, after the surrender of Germany. In October of the same year, Oppenheimer resigned his post. In 1947 he became head of the Institute for Advanced Study and served from 1947 until 1952 as chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, which in October 1949 opposed development of the hydrogen bomb.

On December 21, 1953, he was notified of a military security report unfavourable to him and was accused of having associated with Communists in the past, of delaying the naming of Soviet agents, and of opposing the building of the hydrogen bomb. A security hearing declared him not guilty of treason but ruled that he should not have access to military secrets. As a result, his contract as adviser to the Atomic Energy Commission was cancelled. The Federation of American Scientists immediately came to his defense with a protest against the trial. Oppenheimer was made the worldwide symbol of the scientist, who, while trying to resolve the moral problems that arise from scientific discovery, becomes the victim of a witch-hunt. He spent the last years of his life working out ideas on the relationship between science and society.

In 1963 President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Oppenheimer with the Enrico Fermi Award of the Atomic Energy Commission. Oppenheimer retired from the Institute for Advanced Study in 1966 and died of throat cancer the following year.

Michel Rouzé

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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