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Washington, D.C.

First FDR Memorial

One of the most influential presidents in U.S. history wanted only this plain, elegant monument as his lasting memorial. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of the most influential U.S. presidents, serving in office longer than any other. He has been honored, remembered, and memorialized in countless ways, but the marker of his place in history that the man himself wanted is, by contrast, one of the smallest and most humble presidential monuments in the country.

The tribute, a solid block of white marble, is a simple rectangular slab with dimensions roughly the size of Roosevelt’s own desk. On the front is carved: “In Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 1882 - 1945”. The small park surrounding the stone is adorned with flowers and a plaque, commemorating the conversation that inspired its making.

The idea was expressed during a talk between FDR and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. The President said that any monument dedicated to him should be plain, without ornamentation, and about the size of his desk. It would be a fitting tribute to the man who served during the leanest years in modern American history, and in 1965, 20 years after his death, just such a memorial was installed outside the National Archives in Washington, DC.

FDR led the U.S. through 12 tumultuous years of American history, serving during both the Great Depression and the Second World War. During his first term he oversaw sweeping “New Deal” legislation and the creation of Social Security, and during his unprecedented third term he led the country through and nearly to the end of World War II. He had even been elected to a fourth term, but died in office just months before the end of the war.

It would be another thirty years before the grand FDR memorial at the Tidal Basin would be completed, dedicated in 1997. Those grounds are certainly a moving and beautiful tribute, but the small, unassuming block of marble might say just about as much. Despite his incredible influence, he was a man who understood the importance of modesty, even when you consider his profile on the dime. In terms of actual size, it is the smallest piece of U.S. currency.

Know Before You Go

The Archives /Navy Memorial metro stop (Green/Yellow) is nearby. The memorial is on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the Archives building.