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Jan. 29, 1938: Shirley Temple, 9, cuts a cake at the Coconut Grove celebrating the 56th birthday of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Jan. 30, 1937: Shirley Temple and Eddie Cantor stand in front of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday cake at a party at the Biltmore Hotel. The event was one of thousands held around the country to raise money to fight polio.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Jan. 30, 1937: Shirley Temple and Eddie Cantor cut the cake.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

1935: President Franklin D. Roosevelt waves from his open touring car in front of the "Little White House" is Warm Springs, Ga. The car was fitted out so that Roosevelt, a polio patient, could drive himself around the countryside.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Associated Press

April 4, 1939: Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Ga., during a news conference. Although most of the country knew Roosevelt had suffered an polio attack in 1921, the extent of damage was kept secret.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Associated Press

Jan. 29, 1943: Bette Davis turns over a plaque framed with dimes to Roddy McDowell, who will present it to Roosevelt at his birthday ball. This photo was published in the Jan. 30, 1943, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

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Happy birthday to President Roosevelt

After President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, his Jan. 30 birthday became a nationwide celebration — and  fundraising effort to fight polio. The annual Roosevelt Birthday Ball in Washington, D.C., became a major event. For many years, similar events were held in cities all over the United States.

A short article in the Feb. 1, 1937, Los Angeles Times reported on the local fundraising efforts:

Los Angeles raised approximately $12,000 Saturday night to aid infantile paralysis sufferers, it was disclosed yesterday by Dr. Harlan Shoemaker, general chairman of the two birthday fetes held in honor of President Roosevelt.

Of the total amount, $4500 was contributed by nearly 1000 merrymakers who attended the celebration at the Biltmore, $5000 by those who danced at the Palomar, and $2500 from the purse of feature races Saturday at Santa Anita.

Thirty per cent of the proceeds raised here will be forward to Warm Springs, Ga., for use in the national fight against the disease, while the remaining 70 per cent of the funds raised locally will be used for the benefit of sufferers here.

The celebrations here were but two of the 5000 similar affairs held throughout the nation in honor of President Roosevelt’s fifty-fifth birthday anniversary.

In 1938, the number of celebrations increased. An Associated Press story in the Jan. 30, 1938, Los Angeles Times reported:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29. (AP)––President Roosevelt told the nation tonight that it was “glorious” to have his birthday utilized for a national campaign against the scourge of infantile paralysis.

He thanked contributors to the new National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, in an address broadcast from the White House.

The message was directed especially to those attending 15,000 balls throughout the country, celebrating his fifty-sixth birthday tomorrow, and to tens of thousands of others who had sent coin contributions directly to the White House.

The 1938 coin contributions with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was the original March of Dimes campaign.

Roosevelt was stricken by polio in 1921. Although the extent of his disabilities was kept secret, many news stories reported on his bout with the disease.  The 1938 Associated Press story included this:

Mr. Roosevelt suffered an attack of infantile paralysis seventeen years ago.

His personal physician, Dr. Ross T. McIntire, said today that the President is “in fine shape.”

Since he took office in 1933, his weight has varied not more than two pounds from his normal 184, McIntire reported. Regular exercise has kept him fit, the doctor added.

The annual Roosevelt Birthday Ball continued after his death on April 12, 1945.

In the 1950s, the Salk vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk, and a second oral vaccine, developed by Albert Sabin, were distributed in massive immunization programs. Worldwide polio has almost been eliminated.

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