Hand-corrected telegram draft, two pages, 8 x 13, April 7, 1919. A draft of the response by the 'Big Four' (American President Woodrow Wilson, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando), to Norwegian explorer and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen's plea for food aid to Russia, hand-corrected in pencil by Herbert Hoover in an attempt to navigate the complicated politics surrounding the request. His most substantial change, in part (Hoover's corrections shown in italics): "The problem of finance would seem to us to fall upon the Russian authorities whose interest should be as great as our own and whose losses have been far less. The problem of transport of supplies to Russia we can hope to meet with the assistance of your own and other neutral governments." In fine condition, with a paperclip impression to the top of each sheet.
To combat starvation in Europe during World War I, President Woodrow Wilson created the United States Food Administration by executive order. Under the direction of Herbert Hoover, it became one of the most efficient and successful governmental initiatives in American history. Although Norway, like Sweden and Denmark, declared its neutrality during the war, its loss of overseas trade led to food shortages. In 1917, Norway sent explorer and scientist Dr. Fridtjof Nansen to the United States, where he obtained food supplies in return for the establishment of a rationing system in Norway; he met Hoover during this time, and they quickly became good friends.
By this time in 1919, Russia had been out of World War I for over a year but civil war wreaked havoc, and millions neared starvation. To extend the reach of his American Relief Administration, Hoover needed to find a 'neutral executive' like Nansen to serve as an intermediary with the Russians. With Hoover's help, Nansen sent a telegram proposal to American President Woodrow Wilson, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando—the 'Big Four' Allied leaders of postwar Europe. Hoover evidently also helped to craft their response in this telegram. Ultimately, the Bolsheviks refused the aid—insisting that politics were being mixed with humanitarianism in the Allied leaders' demands—and blocked Nansen's proposal.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.