FOR A CENTURY and a half, New York City's Cooper Union has served as one of the country's most distinguished institutions of learning and free speech. Covering an entire triangular plaza at the corner of Seventh Street and Third Avenue, the Union's grand Italianate building has been the setting for a flow of American history and ideas, where audiences celebrate a pageant of famous Americans and hear rebels and reformers, poets and presidents, and a score of notables at historic events. The Red Cross and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were organized at Cooper Union, and Thomas Edison and Felix Frankfurter studied there. Cooper Union has been the highlight of many presidential campaigns, none more so than in October 1859 when Abraham Lincoln assured his election as president by giving his "Right Makes Might" speech from the great hall podium.
A half century after Lincoln's speech, shortly after eight on a crisp evening in November 1916, two men strode across the polished oak stage of the Union's great hall and stood before an overflow crowd of over a thousand spectators. Theodore Roosevelt and John Wanamaker, both tempered with age since their days skirmishing over civil service more than two decades before, stood together in another epic occasion for Cooper Union.
Roosevelt's conflict with Wanamaker did not end when the wealthy retail merchant left Washington in March 1893 and returned to Phila