FDR used secret recording device


NEW YORK -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt used a secret device to record conversations in the Oval Office over an 11-week period in the fall of 1940, American Heritage magazine said Wednesday.

The magazine released excerpts of the secretly recorded Oval Office conversations in which Roosevelt discussed the possibility of spreading a rumor that Wendell Willkie, the GOP presidential candidate in 1940, was having an extra-marital affair.


Roosevelt also accused Willkie of using the 'tactics of Hitler' by repeatedly promising to create jobs for unemployed Americans and characterized a Japanese official as a 'damn Jap.'

In a conversation about the adverse impact of the administration's decision to keep the Armed Forces racially segregated, FDR told Navy Secretary Frank Knox that:

'... there's no reason ... why we shouldn't have a colored band on some of these ships, because they're darned good at it ... Look, to increasee the opportunity, that's what we're aeter.'


The existence of the recording device was discovered in 1978 by Robert Butow, a University of Washington historian doing research at the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, N.Y.

He said that Roosevelt decided to install the device because he was upset about being misquoted in the press. The device was used to secretly record Roosevelt's press conferences and that eight or nine private conversations that were also recorded were probably done so by accident, Butow said.

Butow's findings are published in a copyrighted article in February-March issue of American Heritage.

The White House obtained the recording device from the late David Sarnoff, the president of RCA, in mid-1940. It was installed in the basement of the White House and connected to a concealed microphone in the President's desk lamp or desk drawer, Butow said.

In an October 1940 meeting with aides, Roosevelt reacted to reports of Japanese demands in the Pacific by exclaiming:

'This country is ... ready to pull the trigger if the Japs do anything ... That's the first time any damn Jap has told us to get out of Hawaii!'

The President was referring to a report by Roy Howard of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain that the chief of the Japanese press association said the only condition for avoiding a war was U.S. recognition of Japan's supremacy in the whole of the East.


In a separate meeting, Roosevelt accused Willkie of using fascist tactics for repeately promising to put nine million unemployed men back to work. 'Hitler's fascism ... Nazism ...' the President called Willkie's repeated promise.

In another conversation, he said Willkie was having an extra-martial affair with an unidentified woman prominent in New York literary circles and discussed means of spreading the story as 'a word-of-mouth thing, or by some people way down the line.'

He was referring to Democrats at the state and Congressional level. Bulow noted that the rumor was not used in the campaign, however.

Roosevelt also moved to capture the black vote in 1940 by meeting with three prominent black leaders, including A. Philip Randolph, at the White House.

The President appeared to sympathize with their request to integrate the Armed Forces without committing himself. But a few days later, the administration announced that the Armed Forces would remain segregated and Roosevelt made his black bands on Navy ships suggestion as a means of symbolically responding to black anger.

Butow said Roosevelt abruptly terminated use of the device after his November 1940 re-election for reasons that are still unclear.

Latest Headlines