At a press conference on 17 December 1940, President Roosevelt attempted to lead American opinion away from strict neutrality with the idea of lending ones garden hose to a neighbour whose house is on fire.
It was a first step towards the introduction of the Lend-Lease bill to supply aid to Britain (and China).
He wouldn’t want his neighbour to pay for the hose, Roosevelt said—but merely to return it when the fire was extinguished.
The analogy was shaky from the point of view that the hose might be wrecked (Lend-Lease materials, planes, tanks, and so forth, were likely to be destroyed in battle), but bang on the money in the sense that lending the hose to save a neighbour’s house might stop the fire from spreading to ones own property. Americans were increasingly coming to regard Britain as their ‘front line of defence’ against totalitarianism.
The picture above shows FDR signing the Lend-Lease bill into law, 11 March 1941.
Roosevelt’s made his well-known ‘arsenal of democracy’ comment a week or so later, during one of his famous fireside chats.