Porkopolis (Showtime! Continued)

Cincinnati, Ohio — the “Queen City” by the Ohio River — embraced the idea of becoming the Capital of the World with uncustomary gusto. In just two weeks’ time at the end of 1945, civic leaders assembled a proposal to make Cincinnati the permanent home of the United Nations and traveled to London make a personal appeal to the UN Preparatory Commission meeting there.  On December 20, 1945, the Cincinnati team joined other river cities from the American midsection, St. Louis and New Orleans, to make pitches to a small subcommittee assembled to assuage the UN’s eager American suitors. As they made their appeals, the uninvited competition to become the Capital of the World continued to escalate toward an eventual total of at least 249 American cities and towns.

The Second World War had given Cincinnati a new basis for claiming a central place in the world: a global short-wave radio communication system put in place in nearby Bethany, Ohio, by the  U.S. government shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The operator of the equipment, Cincinnati radio station WLW, was as a result “the largest radio station in the world with the largest listening appliance in the world,” Mayor James G. Stewart boasted.  A vice president from the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation, James D. Shouse, who had spurred the Cincinnati campaign into action, assisted the mayor in describing the city’s new wonder of mass communication.  The mayor and the President of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, food wholesaler Walter F. Eberle, extolled their city’s other virtues as a “symbolical American city.”  Cincinnati would be a perfect choice, the mayor argued, “an industrial thriving American city, but, on the other hand … a city that is small enough so that the greatness of the city itself will not over-shadow the importance of the United Nations Organization.” Cincinnati offered a city park setting for the UN in Eden Park, overlooking the Ohio River.

Lithograph of pork packing in Cincinnati, 1873.

Pork Packing in Cincinnati: A claim to fame not promoted to the United Nations. (1873 lithograph, Library of Congress)

Characteristically, Mayor Stewart could not resist dwelling a bit too long on the history of his city.  The mayor, 65 years old, was a trial lawyer known for his oratorical skills as well as his ability to rattle off all of the names of the vice presidents of the United States, the cabinet members, the terms they served, and the names of their wives. And so the subcommittee heard about Cincinnati’s creation under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and about how George Washington selected its name in honor of his officers’ Society of Cincinnatus.  (The mayor omitted reference to the nineteenth-century nickname that expressed the agricultural essence of Cincinnati – Porkopolis – but the Chamber of Commerce president let slip another prosaic moniker, “Machine Tool Center of the World.”)  Considering his audience, and perhaps the political dimensions of the site selection struggle, the mayor quoted the Englishmen Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens, both of whom had visited Cincinnati and generously described the beauty of the city and the Ohio River.

Something struck a chord.  The men from Cincinnati made the usual offer to provide additional information.  And this time – the only time throughout three days of hearings consisting of sixteen booster performances – one of the four listening diplomats had a question.  Perhaps the Yugoslavian Stoyan Gavrilovic was paying especially close attention now, knowing that he would soon play a part in selecting a precise location for the world organization’s home. After lavishing his customary praise and gratitude for the presentation, he asked: “Would it perhaps be possible for you to give us some details as to what your facilities are in the way of what we call interim arrangements … in case the City of Cincinnati is selected as the seat of the United Nations?”  But of course!  Mayor Stewart was happy to describe the 3,400-seat Music Hall, ample committee meeting rooms, hotels, and housing that could be readily found in his city “resting on seven hills, like ancient Rome.”

The chairman’s question was enough to generate a headline back home in the Cincinnati Enquirer: “Subcommittee in London is Impressed.” Cincinnati made it as far as a draft itinerary of potential UN headquarters sites to be inspected. But by the end of the year, Cincinnati’s hopes were dashed by a decision that eliminated all of the self-appointed contenders from the Midwest.  This region of the country, the delegates decided, was too prone to isolationism to be a welcoming home for a new world organization.  They turned their attention instead to the Northeast, particularly the suburbs of Boston and New York.

Related: 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.


New Jersey: So Close, But So Far

Excitement rippled through northern New Jersey in December 1945 and January 1946, as United Nations site inspectors arrived in the United States to look for headquarters locations in the suburban areas of Boston and New York City. The UN team had already determined to look at just two New Jersey communities: Princeton as a potential permanent site and Atlantic City as a hotel-ready temporary location. But with the diplomats making their home base at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, boosters in nearby New Jersey could not resist leaping into the race to become the Capital of the World.

An opportunity to speak at the New Jersey State Library this week led me back into my research files and reminded me of this wave of interest that followed the UN’s decision to focus on sites in the Northeast.  The New Jersey hopefuls included these, among others:

Asbury Park. Mayor George A Smock II wrote to the UN Preparatory Commission on December 20, 1945, to promote Asbury Park as a wholesome community free of racial discrimination, with “a cosmopolitan understanding of the world’s people, their customs, and habits based on 75 years of entertaining visitors from all sections of the globe in our resort city.” The local Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis club joined in appealing to the UN while its representatives visited the United States in January 1946, but UN staff members declined to add Asbury Park to the site inspection itinerary.

Central Region. A consulting engineer, H.E. Kuntz, wrote to the Governor of New Jersey on January 11, 1946, to suggest an 11,000-acre site southeast of Princeton that he had surveyed in 1911 for a proposed “great capitol of aviation” and University of the Air. He offered to reproduce his layout for a town and university as a headquarters for the United Nations.

Hawthorne. W.E. Fairhurst, a resident of Hawthorne, created a sketch to show how a UN headquarters at this location “would be a beacon light to approaching ships at sea … as well as a guide to all planes, from all the world.” His plan, sent on January 8, 1946, to the UN site inspection group then in New York, proposed buildings dedicated to Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, “whose leadership certainly brought the nations closer together.

See the List of Contenders for a list of known world capital hopefuls in New Jersey (does anyone know of more?).  My thanks to the staff and audience at the New Jersey State Library for the opportunity to share some of the stories of the Capital of the World competition and for the report on the event already posted on the library’s website.

Related: Why Not Morristown? (It Was Good Enough for George Washington)


October 24: United Nations Day

United Nations Day 2013

On this date in 1945, the United Nations came into being when a sufficient number of nations — twenty-nine — ratified the UN Charter. This milestone signaled the fifty-one member nations to send representatives to London to serve on the UN Preparatory Commission, which would lay the groundwork for the first meeting of the UN General Assembly.

This step in the UN’s early days also alerted civic boosters in American cities and towns that a decision about the UN’s permanent headquarters location might be approaching. On the very day that the Charter ratification became official, a team from Philadelphia visited President Truman to make a pitch for the City of Brotherly Love. By the end of November, the Philadelphians and representatives of other hopeful cities were on their way to London — without invitation — to be sure that their cases were heard. The race was on.


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.


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

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.


Detroit: [Ironic Commentary] Capital of the World

The spirit of boosterism is alive and well in the United States, but with a darkly ironic undercurrent that becomes apparent in reaction to current events such as the recent bankruptcy news in Detroit. While officials in the former Motor City convened a news conference backed by posters that proclaimed “Reinventing Detroit,” the Twitterverse crackled with alternative slogans that were not nearly as flattering.  (See the slideshows on Huffington Post and Gadling.)

A view toward the Detroit skyline in 1942, when the city became one of the nation's "Arsenals of Democracy." (Library of Congress)

A view toward the Detroit skyline in 1942, when the city became one of the nation’s “Arsenals of Democracy.” (Library of Congress)

How far this all is from the Detroit promoted and envisioned in 1945, when civic boosters sought to lure the United Nations to a site on Belle Isle (by the way, a flashpoint for the race riot of 1943). The City Council’s resolution on the matter proclaimed:

Whereas, Detroit is strategically located upon the International Boundary line of 3,500 miles of unfortified frontier, between Canada and the United States, and

Whereas, as Detroit is located upon the great circle route of the Air Lines of the World, and

Whereas, Detroit with its manufacturing genius of skilled workmen and engineers in mass production, has played an important part in turning the tide of war into victory for the Allied Nations; and

Whereas, Detroit offers an ideal location for the permanent headquarters, dedicated ideally to World’s peace and International relationship

Be It Resolved, that the Detroit City Council, representing almost 2,000,000 population respectfully request that President Harry F. Truman or James F. Byrnes, Sec’y of State, receive a Committee composed of leaders of our State and City to present Detroit’s invitation and make known its advantages to provide a permanent headquarters for the United Nations Organization.

Adopted unanimously, October 9, 1945.


Detroit’s Quixotic Bid

The United Nations Placed on Belle Isle? (WXYZ, Detroit)



San Francisco?
No Shortage of Challengers in California

United Nations Plaza in San Francisco (photographed April 2013).

United Nations Plaza in San Francisco, a commemoration of the events of 1945. (Photographed April 2013).

Hope flowed into San Francisco in 1945 as diplomats gathered for the conference to draft the charter for the new United Nations. Chapter 2 of Capital of the World is an immersion into the ambitions and intrigues of those days, when San Francisco had its chance to prove it could be the Capital of the World, if only for a couple of months. I had the opportunity this week to reflect on San Francisco’s place in UN history on Zócalo: The Public Square, and it is a pleasure to welcome new visitors to this blog who are linking from Zócalo and circulating the post on Twitter in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

San Francisco pursued the prize of becoming the UN’s permanent home, but this did not stop other contenders from California. Here are a few more, culled from the UN Archives and the Earl Warren Papers at the California State Archives in Sacramento:

Monterey Peninsula: S.F.B. Morse, president of Del Monte Properties Company, suggested Monterey on the basis of its climate, beauty, resort hotels, and location 100 miles from San Francisco. “The city of Monterey is the most historically important town in California,” he stated in a letter on October 27, 1945. “It was the capital of this region both under the Spanish and Mexican regimes, and is situated dead center of the state.” A resident of Los Angeles, Jack Brunt, also suggested to the Governor of California that the UN be placed “somewhere along the 17-mile drive between Monterey and Carmel by the sea.” The Monterey Peninsula was discussed by visiting site inspectors a year later but rejected as too distant from San Francisco.

Palm Springs: The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce delivered an early invitation for a UN headquarters to President Roosevelt in March 1945, but additional interest emerged in connection with an elaborate plan to create a peace memorial called the “Tower of Civilization and World Unity” in Palm Springs. The promoter of the memorial project, Parker W. Meade of San Diego, submitted an extensive proposal to expand his memorial plans into a world capital, with a world university, to be located near San Francisco.

San Simeon: Despite the strong isolationist position of William Randolph Hearst, San Francisco resident Jerome Landfield suggested the Hearst Estate at San Simeon because of its magnificent buildings and available land. “I take it for granted that [Hearst] must realize what a white elephant San Simeon would be after his death, since it is not suited to any public use and that it is most unlikely that anyone could be found able and willing to acquire it for a residence,” Landfield wrote to Governor Earl Warren on March 12, 1946.

In the United States at the end of World War II, civic boosters seldom crossed city lines to form coalitions. Instead, they jumped into competitions for the betterment of their own home towns (and if their ambitions also would promote peace for the world, so much the better).  To see if your home town entered the race to host the United Nations, link to the complete list of contenders — and to understand this dramatic, surprising, and at times comic story of America in the world, I hope you will spend some time with the book, Capital of the World.


Comedy and Tragedy

Of Starfleet and Grand Hotels




The Olympics for Tulsa?

TulsaAn article on the front page of today’s New York Times sounds eerily familiar. Appearing under the headline “London. Tokyo. Athens. Tulsa?”, the story by Mary Pilon reports on the unlikely but ambitious dream to bring the Olympic Games to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Clearly the booster ambitions of Oklahoma are as alive today as they were in 1945, when three towns from the Sooner State were put forward as host locations for the United Nations. The contender nearest to Tulsa, Claremore, was so determined that boosters with brochures once showed up at the Tulsa airport at 2 a.m. to ambush a team of UN diplomats as their plane refueled. A second Oklahoma hopeful, Tuskahoma, resonated locally as the former capital of the Choctaw Nation. To put the United Nations there would be a statement of social justice, proponents argued. Stillwater also stepped up for the honor of becoming the Capital of the World, although the initial newspaper editorial about the idea was mostly egged on by letters from bored servicemen stationed nearby.

Thanks to Eric Banks, the incoming director of the New York Institute for the Humanities, and Alex Gallafent of Public Radio International for calling the Olympics story to my attention. New Yorkers who would like to talk more about the race to create a Capital of the World at the end of World War II are invited to join me this Wednesday at the Mid-Manhattan Library for an illustrated talk and conversation. (If anyone wants to accompany us with the soundtrack of Oklahoma!, it will be perfectly appropriate for the history as well as the current events.)


Indian Country to Host 2024 Olympics? (Indian Country Today)

Memo: Demonstration Sports for the 2020 Olympiad (The Lost Ogle)

Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations (Alex Gallafent for PRI’s The World – with great music!)