Memorandum for the President regarding Palmyra Island

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Memorandum for the President regarding Palmyra Island


We came across this document while looking through memos and letter related to the formation of Executive Order 8682, establishing Palmyra as a Naval base of operations during WW2.

This 1938 letter comes from then Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, imploring President Roosevelt not to turn Palmyra over to the Navy, but instead set it aside as a national landmark. This is the only known documentation mentioning such a plan at the time, and the first official mention of Palmyra being purchased by the department of interior for such purposes.

Today of course it is owned by the Nature Conservancy, serving exactly the kind of positive purposes Ickes mentions in the memo. We're very fortunate to have come across it, which would not have been possible without the assistance of archivists at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.


Harold Ickes


Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library


Office of the Secretary of the Interior


July 11, 1938


Public Domain





Text Item Type Metadata


Jul 11 1938

Memorandum for the President:

Palmyra Island, located in the south Pacific 960 miles south by Honolulu, in latitude 05° 53" north, longitude 162° 5" west, is one of the few coral atoll formations in the possession of the United States. It is made up of a cluster of some 52 islets projecting above the surface of the sea from a huge underlying mass of coral growth. The island is off the existing commercial traffic lanes and is now accessible only by craft capable of making long ocean voyages.

The geologic and biologic exhibits found here are of such great beauty and scientific importance in their present completely natural condition that representatives of the Division of Territories and Island Possessions and of the National Park Service of this Department have requested authority to place Palmyra Island in line for establishment as a national monument. The island is now in private ownership, and there are no funds available to this Department for its acquisition. It is understood, however, that the Navy Department has plans for the acquisition and development of the island as an air base. Our representatives have studied conditions at Palmyra and other islands in the south Pacific, and they report that use of this small land area as an air base for Navy Department purposes would undoubtedly destroy much if not all that makes the island one of our most scientifically and scenically unique possessions.

In calling this matter to your attention, I have in mind that you may desire to ask the Navy Department not to proceed with plans for development of the air base at Palmyra Island pending the outcome of negotiations by this Department looking toward establishment of the island as a national monument.

Secretary of the Interior.

"Secretary of the Nary
For report and reaommendation. If no immediate plans, how about a joint Navy-Interior survey?

Original sent to Secretary of the Navy, 7/18/38

Original Format




Harold Ickes, “Memorandum for the President regarding Palmyra Island,” Palmyra Archive, accessed March 21, 2019,

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