The roots of Roosevelt's vision lay deep in his youth. Theodore Roosevelt was born on 27 October 1858, to a very wealthy New York family. "Wealthy" doesn't quite capture just how well-off the Roosevelts really were. They were part of what was called the "Knickerbocker Elite"—the old, powerful moneyed families that ran New York society, some of them with patrician roots stretching all the way back to the days of seventeenth-century Dutch colonists. T.R.'s grandfather, C.V.S. Roosevelt, turned the money he made importing plate-glass into a banking and real estate fortune. Thanks to their father's money, C.V.S. Roosevelt's sons circulated in New York's high society, working in high-status jobs as congressmen and judges… if they worked at all. Meanwhile, Teddy's mother's family was almost as prominent. T.R.'s mother, Mittie Bulloch, was the daughter of a wealthy southern gentleman and granddaughter of a Revolutionary War general.
Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., T.R.'s father, had primary responsibility for raising his children. His wife, Mittie, was a beautiful if stereotypical southern belle who had grown up dependent on slave labor. She didn't care for raising children or household management. After moving to New York, she came down with "neurasthenia," which forced her into a life of luxurious spa treatments and never-ending vacation cures. With his wife out of New York for months at a time, Theodore, Sr., usually known as Thee, ran his own house.
Thee was a man of profound convictions. He worked for the family firm, managing the Roosevelts' substantial commercial investments. But Thee only worked out of a sense of duty. He was much too rich to have to work. He worked because he believed that work was moral. And the ruling elite, he believed, had an obligation to provide a moral example for the rest of society.
Thee believed hat his society, at that moment in time, was particularly in need of moral guidance. Like many prominent Victorians, he was convinced that the rapid spread of "civilization," the ongoing industrialization and commercialization of the United States and Western Europe, had destroyed society's moral fiber. For Thee, his hometown of New York was a case in point. In the second half of the nineteenth century, New York City saw massive increases in industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. The city into which T.R. was born was crowded, unclean, and full of poorly educated immigrants. Corruption was endemic. Drinking was rampant. Prostitution was commonplace. New York was a den of iniquity, a cesspool of sin, a conclave of corruption—you get the picture.