1992 75¢ Great Americans: Wendell Willkie
US #2192 was issued two days before Willkie’s 100th birthday.

Willkie was born Lewis Wendell Willkie on February 18, 1892, in Elwood, Indiana.  He switched political parties to run against Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election, but later worked with Roosevelt to promote US interests during World War II.

1986 $2 Great Americans: William Jennings Bryan
US #2195 – Jennings was Willkie’s first political hero, and stayed with his family while campaigning for president in 1900.

Willkie’s parents were both lawyers – his mother was the first woman to practice law in Indiana – and he enjoyed his family’s nightly debates around the dinner table.  Willkie attended a military academy for a summer, played football in high school, and was on the debate team and served as class president.  He traveled during summer breaks to work, at one point becoming co-owner of a flophouse at Yellowstone National Park.

Willkie went on to attend Indiana University, graduating in 1913.  He taught high school history and worked as a lab assistant in Puerto Rico to earn enough money to go to law school.  He eventually graduated from Indiana School of Law in 1916 with high honors.  Willkie briefly work at his parents’ law firm after graduation before volunteering for US Army during World War I.  He received artillery training, but didn’t make it to France until after the fighting ended.

1992 75¢ Wendell Willkie Classic First Day Cover
US #2192 – Classic First Day Cover

After the war, Willkie practiced law, serving the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in private practice.  In 1929, he moved to New York to serve as corporate counsel to the Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, at that time the nation’s largest utility company.

1983 20¢ Tennessee Valley Authority
US #2042 – Willkie fought against the TVA between 1933 and 1939. Though he was unsuccessful, he was respected for his handling of the situation.

While representing the interests of the utility, Willkie became a critic of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Roosevelt was attempting to wrest control of the nation’s electrical supply from a few powerful individuals and increase the government’s influence.  Willkie spent several years lobbying against Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority, which put him in the national spotlight.  Though the utility company ultimately sold its assets to the TVA, Willkie had put up a tough fight and was considered a potential presidential candidate.

1992 75¢ Wendell Willkie Fleetwood First Day Cover
US #2192 – Fleetwood First Day Cover

Willkie’s opposition of Roosevelt’s revolutionary tactics earned him many admirers.  As a result, Willkie switched his party affiliation, became a Republican, and set to run against Roosevelt in the 1940 election.  Willkie was able to win the Republican nomination as a compromise candidate, but did not win the election.

1945 3¢ Roosevelt and White House
US #932 – Willkie and Roosevelt were political rivals in the 1940 election, but later discussed forming a new liberal political party after the war.

However, it was after the election that Willkie had his greatest impact on American history.  In 1942, with World War II raging, Roosevelt asked Willkie to tour the world to show that while America could be divided politically, the nation was resolute in its opposition to fascism.  Willkie’s airplane tour lasted 50 days and included stops in African battle zones, the Soviet Union, and China.

1991 29¢ Lend-Lease Act
US #2559c – Willkie supported the Lend-Lease program, which many of his fellow Republicans opposed.

In 1943, Willkie published the best-seller One World.  This influential book made a convincing argument for post-World War II international cooperation.  Willkie proposed the US could not oppose colonialism until it ended its colonial attitudes towards its minorities, especially blacks.  One World solidified Willkie’s influence in American politics.  In 1944, he again attempted to gain the Republican nomination for president, but failed.

1992 75¢ Wendell Willkie Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover
US #2192 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

Willkie smoked and drank heavily and didn’t take care of himself.  He suffered a heart attack in August 1944 and died on October 8, 1944, at just 52 years old.  A World War II Liberty Ship was named in his honor as well as a building at Indiana University.

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2 responses to "Birth of Wendell Willkie"

2 thoughts on “Birth of Wendell Willkie”

  1. A fellow Hoosier, how neat. This is fun learning about the background of my stamps. Glad he stood up to governmental over-reach, but was willing to work with the President to be unified when it mattered.


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