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United Nations

UN at 70: from aspiration to action

The United Nations First Headquarters, Lake Success, New York (1946 - 1951)

“In giving our approval to the Declaration today, it is of primary importance that we keep clearly in mind the basic character of the document. It is not a treaty; it is not an international agreement. It is not and does not purport to be a statement of law or of legal obligation. It is a Declaration of basic principles of human rights and freedoms, to be stamped with the approval of the General Assembly by formal vote of its members, and to serve as a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations. We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This Universal Declaration of Human Rights may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”Eleanor Roosevelt , Chairperson of the Drafting Committee of the Declaration of Human Rights, 9 December 1948, Lake Success, New York.


The work of the United Nations in its first years (1945-51) was a sustained act of visionary institutional action, reaching into all aspects of human affairs. In its temporary quarters in Long Island, New York, the United Nations created, notably, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Trusteeship Council, the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC),the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), modernized the League of Nations-era International Labour Organisation (ILO), and transformed the temporary wartime United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) into the International Refugee Organization (IRO).

This was a time during which the borders and identities of countries around the world were in flux. United Nations membership expanded, some Member States declared their independence hereby creating new national identities.  Now that WWII was over, negotiating and maintaining the peace was the practical responsibility of the new UN Security Council, made up of the United States, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China.

Lake Success in Long Island, New York was the temporary home of the United Nations

Lake Success in northwest Long Island, New York was the temporary home of the United Nations. Secretariat staff worked there between 1946 and 1951, while the General Assembly and other United Nations bodies met in Flushing, Queens (now the site of the Queens Museum).

Flags of the original 51 Member States hoisted at the Lake Success Headquarters. The original flags are still held today by the United Nations Archives. To see photographs of all the flags, please visit the UN Archives at:

Independent India's flag being raised at Lake Success

Raising independent India’s flag for the first time at Lake Success, 15 August 1947.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt, who was appointed as the United States Delegate to the United Nations, listens to debates during a session of the General Assembly. She was Chairperson of the Committee to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

Members of the Jewish Agency for Israel's delegation.

Members of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s delegation study a map of the proposed partition of Palestine at  Lake Success, 12 November 1947. Picture: left to right are: Dr. Nahum Goldman, David Horovitz, Emanuel Neumann and Rabbi Wolf Gold.

Memorandum on suggested seating arrangements for the first meeting of the General Assembly, 22 August 1946.



Interoffice memorandum on suggested seating arrangements for the first meeting of the General Assembly, 22 August 1946.

The first meeting of the General Assembly took place on 16 September 1946 in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York (now the site of the Queens Museum).

Memorandum concerning the protocol for raising the flags of new Member States, 13 November 1946.

Interoffice memorandum concerning the protocol for raising the flags of new Member States, 13 November 1946.The flag code was amended in November 1952 with ST/SGB/132 and remains in effect today.

Various suggestions on where the United Nations Headquarters should be established.

The question of where the United Nations should establish its headquarters was raised even before the San Francisco Conference. During the Conference, the Secretariat received numerous official invitations and private suggestions, like this one from the Governors of Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming in the United States on 18 June 1945.

Among the proposed locations were Washington D.C (United States), Vienna (Austria),  Montreal (Canada) and the Rockefeller Estate in Westchester County, New York (United States).

Telex sent on behalf the UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie to William O'Dwyer, Mayor of New York City.

Telex sent on behalf of Trygve Lie, UN Secretary-General (1946-1952), to William O’Dwyer, Mayor of New York (1946-1950) on 10 April 1946. The question of where the United Nations headquarters should be located was decided when John D. Rockefeller donated an 18-acre plot of land in Manhattan to the City of New York for the purpose of housing the United Nations.

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