12/1/13

Showtime!

During the winter of 1945, as American cities and towns accelerated their campaigns to become the Capital of the World, Irving Berlin composed a song that captured the spirit of boosterism:

Anything you can do, I can do better

I can do anything better than you …

In the same spirit, the most assertive of the American civic boosters seeking the attention of the United Nations set out for London — without invitation — to personally present their cases to the UN Preparatory Commission meeting there. On December 1, 1945, a subcommittee of diplomats began the first of three hearings to appease their eager suitors. Much to the entertainment of the press corps, each team of boosters seemed to determine to top the others.

  • Atlantic City – Boosters for the seaside resort argued that their community “presents an ideal location because of its beautiful Boardwalk, beach and ocean, temperate climate, superb hotel accommodations, mammoth Convention Hall, its proximity and accessibility to cosmopolitan centers, and its rail and airport travel facilities.” Two representatives  dispatched to London offered a headquarters site on Brigantine Island and warmed up the diplomats by passing out salt water taffy and Colgate soap products in delegation offices.
  • Black Hills Region – Paul E. Bellamy, a Rapid City businessman whose son had been killed in the war, led the campaign to place the UN in the Black Hills grew into a three-state effort by South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming. The Black Hills boosters promoted their region as central, accessible, spacious, and politically neutral. Bellamy added that hungry delegates would find no shortage of beef steak.
  • Boston — Led by Governor Maurice Tobin, a delegation for Boston stressed their unique qualification as the American city closest to Europe, the traditional center for diplomacy.  They unveiled an enticing offer of seventy-five scholarships to Boston-area colleges and universities.
  • Chicago — A team from Chicago promoted their city as centrally located and prominent to the war effort, but in boasting about the city’s newspapers they also displayed an unfortunate headline: “Gangland Murder on the North Side.”
  • Denver — University of Colorado President Robert L. Stearns carried the city’s case to London and stressed the facilities available in the “Second Capital of the United States,” which had become a center for federal agencies during the Roosevelt years.  In contrast to other competitors, Denver stressed its proximity to Latin America.
  • Newport, R.I. — A British cousin of one of Newport’s boosters presented the case for placing the UN in and among the aging mansions that survived from the Gilded Age.
  • Philadelphia –Among the earliest and most persistent campaigners for the UN’s attention, the Philadelphians stressed their ability to meet all of the UN’s needs for a temporary and permanent meeting place. A journal of the trip kept by one of the Philadelphia promoters derided other competitors for such commercial tactics as showing color films of scenic attractions.
  • San Francisco — Last in alphabetical order for the first day of hearings, Mayor Roger Lapham simply reminded the subcommittee of the war welcome they had received earlier in the year during the conference to draft the UN Charter.

The result of these proceedings? More headlines in American newspapers about the search for a UN home, more invitations from world capital hopefuls, and more booster delegations determined to make their way to London before it was too late.

10/18/13

On Exhibit at the Massachusetts Historical Society

On display, October 16, 2013.

On display, October 16, 2013.

When I arrived at the Massachusetts Historical Society this week, I found Capital of the World on exhibit together with maps of some of the Massachusetts contenders and the book by Oliver Wendell Holmes that bestowed the title “Hub of the Solar System” on Boston. What a wonderful surprise! Thanks to Peter Drummey for his work on the exhibit and to all of the staff at MHS for making arrangements for the program Wednesday evening.

10/12/13

Boston: Hub and Potential Capital

As I look forward to revisiting Boston this week, I am reminded of my quest to understand the origins of the city’s reputation as “the Hub” – which, naturally, came into play as Bostonians pursued the prize of becoming the Capital of the World.

In 1858, the writer Oliver Wendell Holmes bestowed the nickname “Hub of the Solar System” on the Massachusetts State House,but he did not mean it as a compliment. In his story “The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table,” which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Holmes called attention to Bostonians’ tendency to see themselves at the center of the universe (from which they could cast indispensable light on lesser folk in outlying orbits).  The story’s narrator observed wryly that this attitude was not unique to Boston, but might be found in any city or town.

Promoting the Hub (1938)

Boston Post, August 24, 1938

Over time “the Hub” lost Holmes’s satirical intent and found its way into booster campaigns for business and tourism. Promoting New England as “distinctively the summer playground of the eastern part of the United States,” the Chamber of Commerce boasted in 1911 that “Boston, so often referred to as ‘the Hub of the Solar System,’ is literally the ‘hub’ of this vast volume of tourist and vacation travel.”  Cut down to its essence, Holmes’s phrase served well as a headline-handy abbreviation for the city itself – “the Hub.” As a place reference, the term became so common that no explanation was necessary, as in Around the Hub: A Boys’ Book About Boston, published in 1881, and A Ramble ‘Round the Hub, which appeared in 1905.  In common usage, the original “Hub of the Solar System” evolved into the more dramatic “Hub of the Universe.”  So it appeared in 1938, when the Boston Post  published a cartoon with then-Mayor Tobin serving up “Historical Boston – The Convention City” on a promotional silver platter, with a “Hub of the Universe” flag fluttering atop the State House dome.  Before long, Tobin as Governor of Massachusetts led the way in promoting the Boston metro area as a potential headquarters site for the United Nations. What happened next? We’ll talk more about all of this on Wednesday, October 16, at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Link here for details.

Related:

A Home for the United Nations … in Massachusetts? (Boston Globe, Sept. 22, 2013)
09/20/13

Boston Answers Seven Questions

Welcome to readers of the Boston Globe, who have the opportunity this weekend to see a map of the world capital hopefuls of Massachusetts in the Ideas section of the newspaper. I look forward to meeting you in person on October 16 at the Massachusetts Historical Society — in the meantime, please post here if you know of additional contenders and we will continue to add to the list.

One of the Globe's editorials boosting Massachusetts,  November 9, 1945

One of the Globe’s editorials boosting Massachusetts, November 9, 1945.

The UN’s interest in Massachusetts in 1945-46 centered on the Boston metro area, where the diplomats hoped to find a location close to the amenities of a city but far enough away to allow for a more pastoral and distinct identity. To compete for the prize, Boston’s boosters produced a detailed, richly illustrated promotional booklet, “Boston Answers Seven Questions.” Point by point, they sought to match the United Nations’ requirements:

1. Political Conditions

United Nations: “Political conditions in the host State, and the general character of its press and public opinion should be in harmony with the spirit and Preamble of Article I of the Charter. The United Nations should be so situated as to be free from any attempt at improper political control or the exercise of undesirable local influence.”

Boston Answers: “Boston offers the United Nations an atmosphere in which the ideals of freedom and liberalism have long flourished. The Mayflower Compact and the Massachusetts Constitution — older than the United States Constitution — have enriched free men everywhere. One of the most truly democratic of all institutions, the New England Town Meeting, is still the basis of town government throughout the area …”

2. Easy Accessibility

United Nations: “The site should offer easy accessibility from and to the world at large, and it must, therefore, possess adequate and satisfactory means of travel to and communication with any area where immediate action might appear to be necessary. Location at a place too far removed from normal routes of world communication or with prevailing unfavorable atmospheric conditions would not be suitable.”

Boston Answers: “Boston is one of the natural gateways to the United States. It is a major communications center. For centuries it has been a great port, at one time the greatest port in the country. The distance by water form ports in the United Kingdom, Northern Europe, and the Mediterranean to Boston is shorter than to any other port on our Atlantic coast. Boston is also closer by sea to the east coast of South America than any other port on the Atlantic coast…”

3. Uninterrupted Contact

United Nations: “Unrestricted and uninterrupted contact between the United Nations and all countries in the world, particularly in cases of emergency, must be maintained. In order to guarantee this contact a radio station and airport are essential.”

Boston Answers: “An airport certified for transatlantic traffic, a short-wave radio station with beam antennae for the whole world — these are the immediate facilities not generally available elsewhere which Boston offers so that the United Nations may maintain uninterrupted contact in case of emergency…”

4. Healthy Climate

United Nations: “Climate conditions which would not entail hardships likely to affect the health or efficiency of permanent or temporary residents connected with the United Nations.”

Boston Answers: “The New England climate is one of the most invigorating and healthful in the world. The best minds of America have found it an ideal climate in which to work, to live, and to play. … The advantages of New England have long been appreciated by diplomats who escape the oppressive summer heat of Washington and its region to establish their summer embassies in New England…”

Coverage of Boston's bid in the Boston Post, November 18, 1945.

Coverage of Boston’s bid in the Boston Post, November 18, 1945.

5. Living and Culture

United Nations: “General use by the local population of either of the working languages of the United Nations, together with favorable cultural conditions, suitable living accommodation, and educational, health, and recreational facilities.”

Boston Answers: “You must not think we are exaggerating in presenting Boston’s cultural, educational, and recreational assets. More students are at work within 25 miles of Boston than anywhere else in the world. Our music and musical teaching, our fine arts, and our theater are of unexcelled quality. Boston lives at a slower pace than, say, New York. It is easier to get around in, and cultural facilities are close at hand — just as are shopping and theatrical and recreational facilities. And New England is visibly the major recreational area in North America …”

6. Buildings and Sites

United Nations: “Sufficient facilities for the immediate establishment of the necessary offices, including satisfactory printing facilities, and the possibility of acquiring, on satisfactory terms, such land or buildings as the United Nations may need.”

Boston Answers: “Preliminary investigations have shown that office-building facilities for housing the United Nations staff, and splendid sites for a later building program, are readily available. … The Commonwealth of Massachusetts possesses, in the immediate vicinity of Boston, several large state reservations. … One such location, the Middlesex Fells Reservation, is only 6 miles from the downtown hotels. Another, the Blue Hills Reservation, is 8 miles away, but reached by swift transportation facilities and set in the midst of choice residential areas …”

7. Travel Facilities

United Nations: “The grant by the host State to private individuals, of reasonable facilities for travel to the seat of the United Nations.”

Boston Answers: “Guarantees of reasonable travel facilities for private individuals to the seat of the United Nations are positive and explicit in the case of Boston. Its geographical position on the extreme northeast coast means that persons from all parts of the world can gain access here, dependent only upon transoceanic travel facilities.”

Copies of Boston Answers Seven Questions survive in the collections of Harvard, MIT, the Boston Athenaeum, and the State Library of Massachusetts. Two copies also survive in the British Library, where they serve to document the wave of American civic boosterism that struck London in 1945 as diplomats gathered there to organize the United Nations.

07/2/13

Echoes of the American Revolution

Washington Memorial Arch at Valley Forge, one of the locations suggested for the headquarters of the United Nations in 1945.

Washington Memorial Arch at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, one of the locations suggested for the headquarters of the United Nations in 1945.

Americans in 1945 often turned to their role in the nation’s history to argue that their hometowns offered the best possible location for the Capital of the World. For this week of celebration of the Fourth of July, here are some of the world capital contenders that heralded their American Revolution heritage:

Boston, Massachusetts: Led by Governor Maurice Tobin, Boston initiated its campaign in July 1945, and carried its proposal directly to the UN in London. The efforts succeeded in attracting repeated visits to the Boston area by UN site inspection teams, but the diplomats opted instead for the suburbs of New York and ultimately New York City.

Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts: On November 9, 1945, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers received this suggestion from a constituent and then forwarded it to Adlai Stevenson. Rogers cited the historic character of the towns, but the UN’s interest prompted resistance among residents who feared that the presence of the world organization would destroy that character. UN site inspectors visited in January 1946 but later opted for sites in the area of New York rather than Boston.

Morristown, New Jersey: Mayor Clyde Potts pursued the UN site selection group touring the New York City area in January 1946 but did not succeed in diverting attention from Princeton and Atlantic City. Potts promoted Morristown’s heritage as a headquarters site for George Washington during the American Revolution, and residents voted their support during a town meeting.

Saratoga Springs, New York: Starting with an invitation from the Saratoga Springs Chamber of Commerce in September 1945, efforts grew by November into a “Committee on Advocation of Saratoga Spring for the Permanent Headquarters of the United Nations Organization.” The Chamber of Commerce promoted Saratoga as the “Birthplace of Freedom” for its role in the American Revolution as well as “the world’s largest spa.” The booster committee, distancing itself from more aggressive competitors, pledged to provide the UN with the basic facts but “nothing in technicolor, no elaborate brochures, no fanfare of publicity.” Writing to the UN on November 8, 1945, they called attention to Saratoga’s transportation facilities, healthful climate, and the availability of federally-owned land.

Ticonderoga, New York: After reading news reports that the UN might desire a small town in upstate New York, State Assemblyman A. Judson Moorhouse wrote on December 29, 1945, to recommend the town’s Revolutionary-era significance. “Here, at Fort Ticonderoga, England, France, and the United States, three of the key powers and permanent members of the [UN] Security Council fought over the same territory,” he wrote, also noting the congenial climate and beauty of Lake George. “This region is, of course, as accessible as any place in the United States to Russia, England, France and Canada,” he concluded.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Among the earliest and most persistent campaigners for the UN’s attention, Philadelphia’s interest began with a newspaper editorial published in the Philadelphia Record on March 5, 1945. A coalition of boosters including the President of Temple University traveled to San Francisco and London to present their proposal to the UN. Although initially ruled out as being too close to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia nearly succeeded in its efforts in the fall of 1946, after a UN site inspection group visited the city’s proposed site in Fairmount Park. But John D. Rockefeller’s gift of $8.5 million for a Manhattan location ended Philadelphia’s chances.

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: John Robbins Hart, rector of Washington Memorial Chapel and President of the Valley Forge Historical Society, wrote to boosters promoting Philadelphia on November 19, 1945, to suggest this historic site of the American Revolution. “Bostonians naturally prefer Boston, New Yorkers New York, etc., but all people have a special devotion to Valley Forge and would come to a harmonious agreement in its selection,” he argued. Failing to persuade the Philadelphians to change their focus on a site in the city, Hart sent the same letter directly to the UN on December 29. Another private citizen, James H. Johnston of Narberth, Pa., also submitted the suggestion of Valley Forge.