What if a New Jersey town was the capital of the world?

CAMDEN — Everyone knows New York City as the unofficial center of the universe, but what if the true capital of the world was right here in New Jersey? A Rutgers–Camden history professor says this was the dream of many towns in the Garden State at the end of World War II.

In Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations (NYU Press, 2013), Charlene Mires, an associate professor of history at Rutgers–Camden, details how small towns and big cities around the country once staked their claim to be home base for the United Nations.

The United Nations was founded in 1945 after World War II. Today, its 193 member states are committed to maintaining international peace and security. But before it could begin its mission, a major question remained unanswered: where would the UN headquarters be located? The people of major U.S. cities like Chicago and Philadelphia thought the “world capital” moniker best described their metropolis, but smaller municipalities also lobbied for the right serve as host for world leaders making crucial global decisions.

In New Jersey, Atlantic City, Asbury Park, Cape May, Hackensack, Morristown, and Princeton were just some of the towns to bid for the UN’s attention. According to Mires’ book, George A. Smock II, a former mayor of Asbury Park, said members of his community had “a cosmopolitan understanding of the world’s people [and] their customs.”

Cape May officials promoted the town’s reputation as a retreat for presidents and other government types, and Princeton played up its small town feel with access to a larger city. A man from Hawthorne sent an invitation to the UN complete with drawings of world capital buildings named for Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.

When trying to determine a location, New York City was thought to be too big and a place in which the UN could not establish a separate identity. So, small town America made its appeals based on its heritage and ideals. Ultimately, the amenities large cities had to offer UN officials outweighed those in small town USA, and the threat of the urbanization of small towns caused the proposals to fall flat.

“The research for this book was a wonderful opportunity to understand how people all over the United States were able to make the argument that their location was central to the world,” Mires says.

The author of Independence Hall in American Memory (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), Mires directs Rutgers–Camden’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH), which supports humanities research, programming, training, and communication throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Colombia.

Posted in: Research Highlights

Comments are closed.