History In Ink®  Historical Autographs


Wendell Willkie

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Photo signed as Willkie left to represent FDR in England

Wendell Lewis Willkie, born Lewis Wendell Willkie, 1892–1944.  1940 Republican presidential nominee.  3⅜” x 5⅜” black-and-white portrait photograph signed Wendell L. Willkie.  With accompanying secretarial transmittal letter and original envelope.

Willkie signed this photograph just before he left New York on a personal mission for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had defeated him for the presidency two months earlier.  On January 13, 1941, defying much of his own isolationist Republican Party, Willkie announced his support of FDR’s proposed Lend-Lease program to aid Britain and other allied nations with military hardware, including warships and airplanes, in the struggle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  On January 19, he met with Roosevelt at the White House, where Roosevelt asked him to serve as his informal representative to Britain.  Willkie left on January 22 carrying a personal letter from Roosevelt to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who hosted an official luncheon for him at 10 Downing Street and later said that he had “a long talk with this most able and forceful man.”  Willkie returned to the United States to testify in favor of Lend-Lease before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 11, and his testimony was integral to passage of the act.

Willkie’s secretary sent this photograph with a cover letter dated January 27, 1941, in which she wrote, in full:  “Before he left for England, Mr. Willkie saw your letter of the 10th.  He thought it a very nice letter, and was sorry that you did not get the autograph you had asked for during the campaign.  He suggested that I send you the enclosed autographed photograph, with his good wishes.”

Willkie had about as much in common with Roosevelt as he did with the Republicans whose standard he bore in 1940.  Long a Democrat, Willkie became a Republican only in late 1939 after spending six years as the president of Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, a utility holding company for which Willkie fought against the Tennessee Valley Authority, an outgrowth of Roosevelt’s New Deal.  He angled for selection as an acceptable dark horse candidate should the 1940 Republican convention become deadlocked.  Republicans who opposed American isolationism in the face of the outbreak of World War II in Europe turned to Willkie over Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, an avowed isolationist.  Not only did Willkie support aid to Great Britain, as did Roosevelt, but he also supported FDR on a peacetime draft.

Willkie’s trips to Europe as an informal envoy for Roosevelt upset conservatives and dashed Willkie’s hopes for the 1944 Republican presidential nomination.  Nor was Willkie invited to speak at the 1944 Republican convention that nominated New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey.  Had Willkie been nominated, he would have died before the election.  He died from a series of heart attacks in October 1944. 

There has been a resurgence of interest in Willkie, as evidenced by two recent books:  The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived A New World Order (2019), by David Levering Lewis, and The Idealist:  Wendell Willkie’s Wartime Quest to Build One World (2020), by Samuel Zipp.

This is a nice photo.  Willkie has signed it in blue fountain pen.  The photo has a pinhole at the top and a couple of small scratches and overall is fine to very fine.  The accompanying secretarial cover letter on Willkie’s personal engraved stationery has two normal mailing folds and what appear to be staple holes in blank areas, and both it and the original mailing envelope are fine.


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