Stillwater vs. “The Flighty East”

On December 17, 1945, the Daily News-Press of Stillwater, Oklahoma, published an editorial proposing, “Stillwater Should Be the World Capital.”

Within days, letters to the editor agreed. Stillwater should be the Capital of the World—that is, the headquarters site for the newly-chartered United Nations. Granted, the letters included some that were penned purely for amusement by servicemen stationed nearby at the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School. But the newspaper was not joking when it advised its readers, “Some spot within the United States will become the capital for the United Nations and Stillwater should get busy and do a good selling job to get that capital located here.”

If Stillwater had been alone in this far-fetched idea, it would be no more than a footnote to local history. But Stillwater was not alone. During 1944-46, Americans in at least 248 cities and towns vied for the attention of the world’s leading diplomats as the UN sought a site for its headquarters. New York City, the ultimate choice, was far from the favored option and in fact was ruled out initially because the diplomats desired a place with its own identity apart from a major city. The model they had in mind was Canberra, the new capital city of Australia.

Even as the UN’s search narrowed to the northeastern United States, boosters in the rest of the nation remained convinced that the diplomats were overlooking obvious, more suitable opportunities. “In this section, delegates could work in peace and quiet free from the nervous and flighty east,” the Daily News-Press in Stillwater noted when the diplomats eliminated the American West because of its distance from Europe. In the spirit of boosterism, others concluded brightly that they had succeeded in gaining a welcome flash of publicity, if not the ultimate prize.