The World’s First Capital
Roosevelt’s dream of a United Nations was
the first order of business in a war-weary world
pulling itself together after World War II, the
greatest conflict in human history. In San Francisco
on Oct. 24, 1945, the charter of this new international
organization was signed by 51 member nations.
Eager not to repeat the isolationist mistake that
doomed the League of Nations, President Harry
S. Truman committed the American people to this
The infant United Nations needed a home, and the
U.S., now at the pinnacle of world power, was
selected as the host country. The mayor of New
York at the time, William O’Dwyer, formed
a committee of 12 prominent New Yorkers to prepare
a proposal that would insure the selection of
New York City as permanent headquarters of the
Robert Moses was named chairman of this committee,
which included such notables as Nelson A. Rockefeller,
former Roosevelt advisor and postmaster-general
James Farley, New York Times publisher Arthur
Hays Sulzberger and former World’s Fair
president Grover Whalen. After extensive research
and planning, the panel issued their report. It
was laid out inside an impressive book with sketches
and designs for a magnificent world capitol, which
the city would provide to the United Nations.
The site they chose was Flushing Meadow.
New York City Building from the 1939 World’s
Fair was transformed into the United Nations.
believe that we have in Flushing Meadow Park in
Queens,” Mayor O’Dwyer stated in his
introduction to the report, “a very accessible
site in every way suited to the present and future
requirements of the United Nations for working
space for the World Capitol in surroundings which
insure protection from all unfavorable influences.”
The proposal offered to donate most of the central
body of the park for U.N. use and future expansion.
Architects’ renderings detailed huge structures
for the various agencies of the organization surrounded
by lagoons and amphitheaters. A residence for
the Secretary General would be located on the
“I urge that those officials of the United
Nations charged with the final responsibility
for selecting the permanent site of the World
Capitol give full and serious consideration to
Flushing Meadow Park,” O’Dwyer said.
“If they do, I believe that they will find
nothing else comparable to it.”
On the strength of that proposal, Secretary General
Trygve Lie and the U.N. chose New York City as
the home for the world capitol. However, the donation
by the Rockefeller family of over $8 million for
the purchase of a property in the Turtle Bay section
of Manhattan along First Avenue by the East River
made that the permanent location. The architect
who would design the permanent glass tower for
the U.N. was Wallace K. Harrison, the man who
had designed the Trylon and Perisphere a decade
Until the new structure was built, however, the
United Nations still faced the immediate challenge
of keeping peace in a still-fragile world. They
would need a meeting place and they selected the
New York City building in the park as that place.
The world had returned to Flushing Meadows.
Harry S. Truman addresses the United Nations
in its temporary home at what is now the
Queens Museum of Art.
those delegates to the first U.N. body were Adlai
Stevenson, Dag Hammerskjold, Golda Meir, Andrei
Gromyko and Eleanor Roosevelt who saw her late
husband’s dream of a world peacekeeping
organization come true at the very site in which
he had envisioned it eight years before when FDR
first visited the fairgrounds.
On the 23rd of October, Trygve Lie convened the
first session of the General Assembly in the New
York City Building. Robert Moses and Mayor Vincent
Impelliteri handed over the keys of the building
to the U.N.
“All nations large and small are represented
here,” President Truman stated in his opening
address. “This Assembly is the world’s
supreme deliberative body. The highest obligation
of this assembly is to speak for all mankind in
such a way as to promote the unity of all members
in behalf of a peace that will be lasting because
it is founded upon justice. It must be everlasting.
Swords shall be beaten into ploughshares, and
nations shall not learn war anymore.”
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