To help mark National Card and Letter Writing Month in April, here’s a list of five letters that helped shape our world.
1. Albert Einstein’s letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1939, Roosevelt, then president, received a letter from Einstein warning of a potential nuclear threat from Germany’s Third Reich. The letter prompted Roosevelt to take action, eventually resulting in the development of the atomic bombs that the United States used during World War II. Einstein later called the letter a mistake.
2. Grace Bedell’s letter to Abraham Lincoln. In 1860, 11-year-old Grace wrote to Lincoln to urge him to grow a beard to improve his appearance. Her reasoning: Women loved beards and would coax their husbands to vote for Lincoln in that year’s presidential election. Lincoln wrote back to Grace and made no promises — although by the time he arrived in Washington, DC, for his inauguration, he was sporting a full beard.
3. Samantha Smith’s letter to Yuri Andropov. Samantha, a Maine fifth-grader, wrote to Andropov, president of the Soviet Union, in 1982 to express her worries about nuclear war. He wrote back the following spring and invited her to visit his country. She accepted the offer, becoming a symbol of how the superpowers could bridge their Cold War differences.
4. Queen Elizabeth II’s letter to Dwight Eisenhower. OK, this one didn’t exactly change the course of history, but it’s fun: In 1959, the queen hosted President Eisenhower and his wife in Scotland, where he apparently fell in love with her royal scones. The next year, the queen remembered she failed to share the recipe as promised, so she wrote him a letter with instructions, along with an apology for sending it belatedly.
5. The first letter posted with the world’s first stamp. The Penny Black, issued by Great Britain in 1840, allowed “average folks to correspond with unprecedented abandon,” according to Winifred Gallagher, author of “How the Post Office Created America.” Who are we to argue?
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