Lehigh Valley

History's Headlines: U.N. headquarters on the Delaware?

History's Headlines

EASTON, Pa. - Easton's Hugh Moore (1887-1972) was many things. In his lifetime, he was best known as the manufacturer of the Dixie Cup, a paper drinking cup from which he made millions. Even today, his long since closed factory dominates the skyline of Wilson Borough with its trademark giant Dixie Cup water tower.

He was also a super salesman with a genius for knowing how to grasp the imagination of a nation, and the attention of skeptical investors, convincing them that his paper cup was a necessity that no clean, sanitary home could be without.

In the 1930's, 40's and 50's, Moore expanded the concept by filling a large paper Dixie Cup with ice cream. And there are still some aging baby boomers around who can remember licking the inside lid of a Dixie cup for the picture of a Gene Autry or some other movie star that was printed underneath.

Moore could have easily rested on his laurels and retired to a life of wealth. But his restless brain would not tolerate that. "I have no time to retire," he told the press. "There is so much do… every businessman should give his time to help solve world problems."

By the 1940s Moore had made himself the champion of some controversial causes. Chief among these was the issue of population and birth control. Many at the time and some to this day regard Moore as, at best, a meddlesome busybody on the subject of how many children people should have. But others saw him as a visionary who was trying to make the world face up to a coming population explosion.

Another of his interests was less controversial but no less of a crusade: world peace. It began during World War I when Moore served with U.S. Army Intelligence. The war's horrors convinced him to support the League of Nations, forerunner of the U.N. But without the membership of the United States, which was rejected by the U.S. Congress, the League became little more than a debating society.

As Moore watched, the rise of Hitler in Europe proved the League's impotency. With others who believed as he did, Moore became active with a group called the National Peace Conference. In 1939 they met with President Franklin Roosevelt, urging the U.S. to keep out of the coming war in Europe. FDR said there was little he could do. "Hitler has already told me, in effect, to go to hell," he told them.

Unlike others, however, Moore did not retain an isolationist stance. By the time of Pearl Harbor he had become an active supporter of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. And as the war went on Moore continued to look forward to the creation of what was already being called the United Nations. Roosevelt named him as a consultant to the group that was drawing up the U.N.'s charter.

By 1946 the new international organization was looking for a permanent home. There was general agreement that the U.N. be headquartered in America. But it had only gotten as far as a gym in New York's Hunter College.

When a U.N. committee decided the leafy suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut was an ideal choice, panic ensued.

Residents had an early attack of NIMBY. Some, led by prominent resident Claire Booth Luce, wife of Time magazine publisher Henry Luce, denounced the U.N. as, in her words, more of FDR's "Globaloney." Others feared it would bring too much traffic to their quiet suburban cul-de-sacs. That May, Greenwich voted to reject the U.N.'s proposal.

Eastern Pennsylvania communities were quick to offer themselves as alternatives. Pike County suggested a tri-state New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania with Port Jervis, N.Y. as the actual U.N. site. Monroe County suggested the Tobyhanna military base. Bucks County offered New Hope but its offer ran into the same problems as Greenwich.

Northampton County offered two sites. Bethlehem's mayor Robert Pfeifle suggested that, with its Moravian peace traditions and many universities, his city would be an ideal site. But for unknown reasons, that proposal quickly faded.

It was a different story in Easton. With Moore in charge, a Citizens Committee for Easton was established to lobby for the U.N. site. The president of Lafayette College and other local leaders came on board.

The group even published a 16 page booklet showing its advantages. Easton, it noted, was served by six railroads, 10 bus lines and had good access to local airports.

It was also "the first small city west of New York which is out of the suburban area and completely independent of the metropolis."

With his U.N. connections, many thought Moore had the deal sown up. But the site committee continued to look. Philadelphia was proposed but refused to give up Fairmount Park.

Finally on December 11, 1946, John D. Rockefeller Jr. broke the deadlock by announcing a six block gift of land in New York City for a U.N. site. The lure of the metropolis with its art galleries and fine restaurants was too strong. Two days later, the committee voted to accept.

Moore was under no illusions that his "clout" could equal the Rockefellers. But as late as 1956 he told the press that if the U.N. ever got tired of overcrowded Manhattan, his offer still stood. Today part of the land that might have housed the U.N. is Hugh Moore Park.

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