Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. President

The Only President Elected to Serve Four Terms

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

 FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (January 30, 1882–April 12, 1945) led the United States during the Great Depression and World War II. Paralyzed from the waist down after suffering a bout of polio, Roosevelt overcame his disability and was elected president of the United States an unprecedented four times.

Fast Facts: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  • Known For: Served four terms as president of the United States during the Great Depression and World War II
  • Also Known As: FDR
  • Born: January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York
  • Parents: James Roosevelt and Sara Ann Delano
  • Died: April 12, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia
  • Education: Harvard University and Columbia University Law School
  • Spouse: Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Children: Anna, James, Elliott, Franklin, John
  • Notable Quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Early Years

Franklin D. Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882, at his family's estate, Springwood, in Hyde Park, New York, as the only child of his wealthy parents, James Roosevelt and Sara Ann Delano. James Roosevelt, who had been married once before and had a son (James Roosevelt Jr.) from his first marriage, was an elderly father (he was 53 when Franklin was born). Franklin's mother Sara was only 27 when he was born and doted on her only child. Until she died in 1941 (just four years before Franklin's death), Sara played a very influential role in her son's life, a role that some describe as controlling and possessive.

Franklin D. Roosevelt spent his early years at his family home in Hyde Park. Since he was tutored at home and traveled extensively with his family, Roosevelt did not spend much time with others his age. In 1896 at age 14, Roosevelt was sent for his first formal schooling at the Groton School, a prestigious preparatory boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts. While there, Roosevelt was an average student.

College and Marriage

Roosevelt entered Harvard University in 1900. Only a few months into his first year, his father died. During his college years, Roosevelt became very active with the school newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, and became its managing editor in 1903.

That same year, Roosevelt got engaged to his fifth cousin once removed, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (Roosevelt was her maiden name as well as her married one). Franklin and Eleanor were married two years later, on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1905. Over the next 11 years, they had six children, although only five lived past infancy.

Early Political Career

In 1905, Franklin D. Roosevelt entered Columbia Law School but left once he passed the New York State Bar exam in 1907. He worked for a few years in the New York law firm of Carter, Ledyard, and Milburn. He was asked in 1910 to run as a Democrat for the State Senate seat from Duchess County, New York. Although Roosevelt had grown up in Duchess County, the seat had long been held by Republicans. Despite the odds against him, Roosevelt won the Senate seat in 1910 and then again in 1912.

Roosevelt's career as a state senator was cut short in 1913 when he was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson as the assistant secretary of the Navy. This position became even more important when the United States began making preparations to join in World War I.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Runs for Vice President

Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to rise in politics like his fifth cousin (and Eleanor's uncle), President Theodore Roosevelt. Even though Franklin D. Roosevelt's political career looked very promising, however, he did not win every election. In 1920, Roosevelt was chosen as the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket with James M. Cox. FDR and Cox lost the election.

Having lost, Roosevelt decided to take a short break from politics and re-enter the business world. Just a few months later, Roosevelt got sick.

Polio Strikes

In the summer of 1921, Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family took a vacation to their summer home on Campobello Island, off the coast of Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. On August 10, 1921, after a day spent outdoors, Roosevelt began to feel weak. He went to bed early but woke up the next day much worse, with a high fever and with weakness in his legs. By August 12, 1921, he could no longer stand.

Eleanor called a number of doctors to come and see FDR, but it wasn't until August 25 that Dr. Robert Lovett diagnosed him with poliomyelitis (i.e. polio). Before the vaccine was created in 1955, polio was an unfortunately common virus that, in its most severe form, could cause paralysis. At age 39, Roosevelt had lost the use of both of his legs. (In 2003, researchers decided it was likely that Roosevelt had Guillain-Barre syndrome rather than polio.)

Roosevelt refused to be limited by his disability. To overcome his lack of mobility, Roosevelt had steel leg braces created that could be locked into an upright position to keep his legs straight. With the leg braces on under his clothes, Roosevelt could stand and slowly walk with the aid of crutches and a friend's arm. Without the use of his legs, Roosevelt needed extra strength in his upper torso and arms. By swimming nearly every day, Roosevelt could move in and out of his wheelchair as well as up stairs.

Roosevelt even had his car adapted to his disability by installing hand controls rather than foot pedals so that he could sit behind the wheel and drive.

Despite the paralysis, Roosevelt kept his humor and charisma. Unfortunately, he also still had pain. Always looking for ways to soothe his discomfort, Roosevelt found a health spa in 1924 that seemed to be one of the very few things that could ease his pain. Roosevelt found such comfort there that in 1926 he bought it. At this spa in Warm Springs, Georgia, Roosevelt subsequently built a house (known as "the Little White House") and established a polio treatment center to help other polio patients.

Governor of New York

In 1928, Franklin D. Roosevelt was asked to run for governor of New York. While he wanted back into politics, FDR had to determine whether or not his body was strong enough to withstand a gubernatorial campaign. In the end, he decided he could do it. Roosevelt won the election in 1928 for governor of New York and then won again in 1930. Franklin D. Roosevelt was now following a similar political path as his distant cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, from the assistant secretary of the navy to governor of New York to the president of the United States.

FDR Fireside Chat
Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Four-Term President

During Roosevelt's tenure as governor of New York, the Great Depression hit the United States. As average citizens lost their savings and their jobs, people became increasingly infuriated at the limited steps President Herbert Hoover was taking to solve this huge economic crisis. In the election of 1932, citizens were demanding change and FDR promised it to them. In a landslide election, Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidency.

Before FDR became president, there was no limit to the number of terms a person could serve in the office. Up to this point, most presidents had limited themselves to serving a maximum of two terms, as set by the example of George Washington. However, in the time of need caused by the Great Depression and World War II, the people of the United States elected Franklin D. Roosevelt as president of the United States four consecutive times. Partly because of FDR's long stint as president, Congress created the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution which limited future presidents to a maximum of two terms (ratified in 1951).

Roosevelt spent his first two terms as president taking steps to ease the U.S. out of the Great Depression. The first three months of his presidency were a whirlwind of activity, which has become known as "the first hundred days." The "New Deal" that FDR offered to the American people began immediately after he took office. Within his first week, Roosevelt had declared a banking holiday in order to strengthen the banks and reestablish confidence in the banking system. FDR also quickly created the alphabet agencies (such as the AAA, CCC, FERA, TVA, and TWA) to help offer relief.

On March 12, 1933, Roosevelt addressed the American people via the radio in what became the first of his presidential "fireside chats." Roosevelt used these radio speeches to communicate with the public in order to instill confidence in the government and to calm citizens' fears and worries.

FDR's policies helped lessen the severity of the Great Depression but it did not solve it. It wasn't until World War II that the U.S. was finally out of the depression. Once World War II began in Europe, Roosevelt ordered an increased production of war machinery and supplies. When Pearl Harbor on Hawaii was attacked on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt answered the attack with his "a date which will live in infamy" speech and a formal declaration of war. FDR led the United States during World War II and was one of the "Big Three" (Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin) that led the Allies. In 1944, Roosevelt won his fourth presidential election; however, he did not live to finish it.


On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt was sitting in a chair at his home in Warm Springs, Georgia, having his portrait painted by Elizabeth Shoumatoff, when he stated "I have a terrific headache" and then lost consciousness. He had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage at 1:15 p.m. Franklin D. Roosevelt was pronounced dead at 3:35 p.m. at age 63. Roosevelt, having led the United States during both the Great Depression and World War II, died less than one month before the end of the war in Europe. He was buried at his family home in Hyde Park.


Roosevelt is often listed among the greatest presidents of the United States. A leader who guided the United States out of isolationism and into victory during World War II, he also created a "New Deal" that paved the path for an array of services to support America's workers and poor. Roosevelt was also a major figure in the work that led to the creation of the League of Nations and, in later years, the United Nations.


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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. President." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2023, April 5). Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. President. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. President." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).