Teddy Roosevelt Empire Builder

Teddy Roosevelt_Gold Dust Twins vintage ad

American Exceptionalism was sold as aggressively to the public as a box of soap. Vintage Advertisement Gold Dust Twin Washing Powder 1910 featuring Teddy Roosevelt, Uncle Sam and The Gold Dust Twins.

America has a long history of flexing our formidable global muscles, confident that our take charge performance, and American ways would be gladly received wherever we went.

If the American Century began in earnest in post war America it had its roots in the waning years of the 19th century.

Henry Luce may have coined the term, but the seed for the American Century was planted by Teddy Roosevelt who, used his bully pulpit to espouse the virtues of American exceptionalism.

Soft Sell

American exceptionalism was sold as aggressively to the American public as a box of soap. So who better than Teddy Roosevelt and Uncle Sam to  appear in a  1910 advertisement for Gold Dust Twins All Purpose Washing Powder. (above)

Foot high letters on the billboard announced “Roosevelt Scoured Africa. The Gold Dust Twins Scour America.” Might the Gold Dust Twins motto: “This earth will be clean from zone to zone”  echo the American burden of cleaning up developing countries to make way for  democracy and capitalism?

In an ironic footnote to history, the cartoon pair of bald asexual black children called the Gold Dust Twins were drawn by illustrator Edward Windsor Kemble who also illustrated “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”  written by that most outspoken fervent anti-imperialist, Mark Twain.

laundry Gold dust twins washing powder ad

During the first half of the twentieth century, the Gold Dust Twins were as famous as Aunt Jemima ( and just as racist) . The cartoon pair, a caricature of bald asexual black children shown wearing skirts emblazoned with the words Gold and Dust, were the trademark for Fairbanks Gold Dust Washing Powder. Appearing in printed media as early as 1892, the twins named Goldie and Dusty were featured in print and  billboard advertising along with  radio for over 60 years.

Of course when it came to American exceptionalism there were a few exceptions

Teddy Roosevelt the great granddaddy of American Imperialism was motivated in part by a fundamental belief in “The White Mans Burden.” Like many of his era, he believed in the superiority of the race and civilization of Anglo-Saxon people.

Like most Americans, Roosevelt believed his nation was the grandest of all. America was not only the greatest nation in the world it was the embodiment of freedom, democracy and progress. We were, schoolbooks told us, a tolerant people full of common sense, civic-minded, industrious, generous and above all peace-loving.

The Worlds Constable

Vintage Teddy Roosevelt political cartoon

As the world’s policeman we would protect the underdog from the big bullies and keep them safe. Vintage political cartoon

It was Americas job to spread civilization to backwards people all across the globe.

In Roosevelt’s view the great powers of the world had a responsibility to suppress a “savagery and barbarism” and to “help those who are struggling toward civilization.” The expansion of the civilized races was essential to world peace; otherwise “war-like barbarians” would gain ground, causing “endless war.”

This said by a man who viewed war as a great adventure and expression of manliness.

The White Mans Burden

Gold Dust Twins vinatge ad

The White Mans Burden

It was only reasonable that the U.S. ought to have an empire since it stood for the highest ideals. Thus would begin the great American tradition  of taking it upon itself the “burden of liberating” other people’s whenever it chooses.

Once our “manifest destiny’ was accomplished across the continent, we set our sights overseas.

With a burst of expansive energy, the American public was sold  on the noble nature of the Spanish-American war and the occupation of the Philippines. President McKinley’s “splendid little war” with Spain in 1898 resulted in the U.S. acquiring all of Spain’s colonial processions in Latin America and Asia, seizing control of “liberated” Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

Roosevelt was dee-lighted!

After liberating the oppressed Filipinos from the tyranny of Spain, future president William Howard Taft explained to  Americans  that our “little brown brothers” in the Philippines were simply unprepared for independence and self governance. Of course their strategic proximity to East Asia and their abundance of resources including coffee tobacco and wood didn’t hurt.

U.S. troops were in McKinley’s words uplifting, civilizing, and Christianizing the Filipinos. Of course that was in addition to the brutal mass murder,  rapes and water-boarding perpetrated in an effort to civilize the “savages.”

The vicious fighting  persisted for three and a half years before President Theodore Roosevelt declared the islands “civilized.”


Bully for War

Roosvelt teddy imperialist political cartoon

Teddy Roosevelt came to the presidency intent on expanding US power abroad and with a belief that America should be strong and ready to defend its interests around the world. Vintage political- cartoon Puck Magazine

A Washington Post editorial on the eve of the Spanish-American war reflected the expansionist views:

“A new consciousness seems to have come upon us-the consciousness of strength-  and with it a new appetite, the yearning to show our strength…Ambition, interest, land hunger, pride out, the mere joy of fighting, whatever it may be, we are animated by a new sensation. We are face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle…”

Have we lost our taste or are we still being sold?


© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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