Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration did a pretty good job of hiding the president’s disability but a rare new video unearth from the National Archives clearly shows FDR in his wheelchair.
Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921 at the age of 39 and was soon unable to walk under his own power. According to ABC, Roosevelt used a wheelchair in private but would use leg braces when making public appearances. The public didn’t know about the president’s disability until after his death.
As you can guess, footage of FDR in a wheelchair is pretty rare. But Ray Begovich, a journalism professor at Franklin College in Indiana, recently discovered a video of FDR in his wheelchair in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. The video doesn’t actually show the chair but it is clear that Roosevelt is not moving on his own.
Begovich said: “This raw film clip may be the first motion picture images of the president in his wheelchair, and it was never meant to be shown to the world… To me, the importance of this clip as historic media imagery is that it reminds all of us that this president fought the Great Depression and World War II from a wheelchair. I think it’s a tragedy that we haven’t had many candidates for national office who use a wheelchair or guide dog or sign language.”
Here’s the video of FDR in his wheelchair.
Laura Diachenko, spokeswoman for the National Archives, said that she couldn’t confirm that this was the earliest image of FDR’s wheelchair but did say that it was extremely rare.
Diachenko told ABC News: “With respect to whether or not this is the earliest or only existing footage of FDR in a wheelchair, we cannot state that this is definitively the case, although such footage is certainly rare.”
Mercury News reports that the short video was taken in July of 1944 when Roosevelt visited the U.S.S. Baltimore at Pearl Harbor.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt kept his wheelchair a secret throughout his presidency but it has now become an important part of his history. There is even a statue (see above) of FDR sitting in a wheelchair at the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington.