I have always been a great believer in heredity.
—Franklin Roosevelt’s Mother
The history of the United States in the ten years between 1930 and 1940 might well be called the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt. True, he was not elected President until November, 1932, but wheels pushing him toward that office had begun turning earlier.
The 1880s had been an age of moguls—an age that displayed poverty and wealth, unrest and stability—an age when thousands of unemployed workers searched for jobs, bread, and shelter while a few fortunate others built half-million-dollar yachts and sumptuous mansions. Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches writings encouraged entrepreneurs, and mainly because there were vast natural resources and unsettled territories, there was enough evidence to support his thesis.
The Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie, Colossus of Pittsburgh, amassed millions through producing steel, and Cornelius Vanderbilt made a fortune in steamboats; his descendants added to their founder’s enormous wealth. The Vanderbilts lived in a fifty-four-room Renaissance mansion a few miles to the north of where Franklin Roosevelt was born, but despite the wealth started by Cornelius and enlarged by his son W. H. Vanderbilt, Franklin’s father would always consider the Vanderbilts as nouveaux riches, yet to be accepted in the best levels of society.