Nightly News   |  July 10, 2013

Rare film clip shows FDR being pushed in his wheelchair

A professor discovered the raw footage of Franklin D. Roosevelt while researching a different subject at the National Archives. The 32nd president, who contracted polio in 1921, lost the use of his legs and was confined to a wheelchair -- which was visible in family pictures. But in public, the White House made it clear that any images of FDR should not include the wheelchair. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> finally tonight, we're getting a glimpse of american history we haven't seen before. a short piece of film, grainy and black and white , believed to be the first moving pictures ever seen of fdr in his wheelchair. while his paralysis wasn't entirely a secret, it wasn't shown in pictures back then at the time, thanks in large part to a cooperative press corps and a very different time. the story from andrea mitchell .

>> reporter: it's only eight seconds of grainy black and white film , fdr is recognizable only by his signature hat. his wheelchair is not visible, but the 6'2" president is clearly seated. rolling past senators standing at attention at " uss baltimore " at pearl harbor , 1944 . he is seen with general macarthur and general nimitz and even a cameo by his beloved scottish terrier .

>> i saw something that was pretty remarkable and looked to me like president roosevelt being pushed in his wheelchair.

>> reporter: why so rare? fdr contracted polio in 1921 , in public, seen standing, leaning on a podium, when he nominated al smith for president in 1988 . or on the arm of a son. family pictures show him in a wheelchair. there was a conspiracy of silence , a gentleman's agreement, that including a willing white house press corps .

>> for the president to be de depicted in public in a wheelchair is something that americans should never see.

>> reporter: this became an emergency in 1997 , when there were cries of outrage that president roosevelt was in a cloak, not a wheelchair. later, a statue was added of him in his chair. andrea mitchell .