FDR Goes Digital

Jun 22, 2015

In commemoration of the 71st anniversary of the signing of the G.I. Bill, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum and the Roosevelt Institute are launching a special digitization project in partnership with AT&T.

Unlike any president before or since, FDR embraced communications technology in a way that would fundamentally alter the relationship between the American people and their president.  Roosevelt used radio to calm the fears of an anxious nation, explain his program for economic recovery, and defend democracy.

AT&T is providing $30,000 to support the initiative that brings together for the first time the President's Master Speech File and the FDR Speech Audio Recordings and makes them available through FRANKLIN, the Library's online digital repository (www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu) .

Bob Clark is the Acting Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, located in Hyde Park, New York.    "The contribution is to assist us in the digitization of the president's master speech file, as well as the preservation of not only those precious documents, but also over 300 recordings we have of FDR's speeches and radio broadcasts. What this gift is going to allow us to do is not only digitize and preserve those materials, but also make them available on our website, which is hosted by Marist College."

The original recordings were in a variety of formats including wire recordings, record pressings and magnetic audio tape. Ed Bergstraesser is Director of External Affairs at  AT&T :  "The library itself will have a team of interns and workers using processes for both the audio side and for the actual speeches themselves. We do feel that the crispness and clarity will be restored to the original magnetic tape. What is also interesting is that we'll be able to preserve the handwritten notes that FDR wrote in the margins of the original speeches, which I think sort of give you a glimpse of the mind of the president and sort of show how he thought about crafting messages, often on the fly."

"AT&T is proud to collaborate with the FDR Presidential Library and the Roosevelt Institute to conserve these historic speeches for decades to come," said Marissa Shorenstein, New York president, AT&T. "We applaud the library's use of technology to digitize these documents so they are preserved in perpetuity and accessible for future generations of students, academics, and researchers across the globe."

The Master Speech File is comprised of 48 reels of microfilm, containing speech drafts, reading copies, and official as-delivered transcripts, maintained by FDR's personal secretary and kept in the White House before being transferred to the Roosevelt Library upon FDR’s death in 1945. Again, Bob Clark.  "We're not only gonna be able to link up the digitized copies of all of the drafts and the reading copies and the official transcripts of these speeches, but at the same time, as researchers online will look at those documents, they'll be able to click on and hear the associated speech as well. So they'll be able to get the full picture of Roosevelt's mastery of the radio and communication thorogh this project."

The collection includes the famous Fireside Chats, all four Inaugural Addresses, the Four Freedoms Speech, the "Day of Infamy" Pearl Harbor Speech, the D-Day Prayer and hundreds more.

Interestingly, the news comes the same day the 44th president, Barack Obama, completed his own presidential broadcasting first: appearing on a podcast, a headline-grabbing interview with comedian Marc Maron.