Everybody comes to Casablanca? Remembering the first presidential flight, January 14, 1943, on FDR’s birthday, 2015


January 30 marks the anniversary of the birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1882.  He marked his 61st birthday in an airplane, flying back to the U.S. from a wartime conference in Casablanca.

We remember FDR today.

Humphrey Bogart’s great turn in “Casablanca” got its start from an intended-for Broadway play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.

Rick’s Cafe Americain existed only in fiction, an invention of Murray Burnett and his playwright partner Joan Alison.  Casablanca was a rendezvous for people engaged in some secret negotiations related to the war, however.

Historian Micheal Beschloss tweeted a photo of President Franklin Roosevelt on the airplane, flying to Casablanca to meet with Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, on January 14, 1943 — the first time a sitting president had flown in an airplane.  Roosevelt’s cousin Theodore flew in 1910, almost two years after he’d left the presidency.

More details! (Wasn’t that what you said?)

What kind of airplane was it?  Who are those other people? Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine already obliged with some details.  The airplane was a Boeing 314 flying boat, operated by TWA.

Photo from the FDR library, showing President Roosevelt in a happy conversation with the TWA pilot of the Boeing 314, Otis Bryan.

Photo from the FDR library, showing President Roosevelt in a happy conversation with the TWA pilot of the Boeing 314, Otis Bryan.

These photos may have been taken on a second flight Roosevelt took once he got to Africa; here are some more  details from Air & Space:

The Casablanca Conference, held 70 years ago this week [article from 2013], is remembered today for the agreement by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to demand unconditional surrender from their Axis enemies. But even before the leaders sat down to talk, FDR made history. His trip across the Atlantic, in a Boeing 314 flying boat, was the first time a sitting U.S. president flew on an airplane.

Nobody was more impressed than his pilots. The flights had been planned in secrecy, and when Roosevelt and his entourage showed up at the Pan American airways base in Miami on the morning of January 11, 1943, to board the Dixie Clipper, “[the crew] were very much surprised to learn the identity of our guest,” recalled Pan Am pilot Howard M. Cone, Jr.  Cone, a 34-year-old veteran of transoceanic flights, flew Roosevelt, advisor Harry Hopkins and several military leaders on one Clipper, while another flying boat carried the presidential staff.

Cone said the President was an “excellent passenger” and a “good air sailor” on his 15,000-mile round-trip, displaying an impressive knowledge of geography on a journey that included stops in Trinidad and Brazil. Once in Africa, Roosevelt boarded a TWA C-54 piloted by 35-year-old Captain Otis F. Bryan, who flew him from Bathurst, Gambia to Morocco. The trip back from Casablanca included a flyover of the harbor at Dakar, Senegal, at an altitude of 3,000 feet.

In a War Department press conference following their return to the States, the two airline pilots couldn’t stop effusing about their VIP passenger’s ability to “make you feel perfectly at home. We felt at ease as long as he was,” said Bryan. Roosevelt even joined in the ritual of signing “short snorters” for the crew — dollar bills autographed by all the passengers on a flight.

The President also celebrated his 61st birthday on the way back, dining on caviar, olives, celery, pickles, turkey, dressing, green peas, cake, and champagne. (Captain Cone, reported the New York Times, drank coffee instead.)

It will take more sleuthing to identify all the people in the photos.  71 years ago this week.

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience, much more than we thought.

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