2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Spanish Flu
In his role as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt traveled to Europe in 1918. His mission included inspections of naval and port facilities and coordination with officials of the British, French, and Italian navies. He departed Europe for America aboard USS Leviathan, a converted ocean liner serving as a troop ship in September. The ship had delivered members of the American Expeditionary Force to France. On the return voyage, the influenza which appeared in the United States earlier in the summer broke out in the ship, killing several of the crew during the eleven-day voyage. FDR contracted the influenza during the voyage.
FDR’s fabled luck held, and he recovered from the worst of the disease before Leviathan arrived in the United States. He remained weak and relatively frail for several weeks following his bout with the flu, which killed upwards of 50 million (some say 100 million) people around the world from 1918-1920. The attack of the flu led Roosevelt to adopt the ideas of the temperance movement, and he supported Prohibition during the presidential campaign of 1920. Ironically, after his bout with another disease of gigantic proportion – polio – FDR became a fervent anti-prohibitionist, running on a campaign which supported repeal of the 18th Amendment and ending Prohibition as the law of the land in 1932.