Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Presidential Wheels

by Nancy DeWitt

With the country's attention focused on the upcoming presidential election, I couldn't help but think about the evolution of official presidential vehicles over the past century. The current presidential car, known as Cadillac One and The Beast, is a highly customized, armored limousine built by Chevrolet and badged as a Cadillac. For security reasons, the doors are 8 inches thick, the windows are made from bulletproof, 5-inch thick glass and the entire car is sealed against biochemical attacks.

1907 Model G White Steamer
President Taft's 40-hp, 7-passenger
Model M White Steamer
Cadillac One is a far cry from the presidential carriages and open cars of the early 1900s. William McKinley was the first president to ride in an automobile, a Locomobile steam carriage driven by F.O. Stanley in November of 1899. Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to take a public automobile ride when he rode in a Columbia electric car in a 1902 parade. Although he preferred horses and always rode in carriages for state business, Roosevelt also rode in two White steam cars the Secret Service had borrowed from the Army in 1907. Perhaps one of these was a White Model G like the one in our collection?

William Howard Taft, Roosevelt's successor, was the first president to use automobiles exclusively for transport. After convincing Congress to allocate $12,000 for a White House automobile fleet, he purchased a 1909 White Model M steamer (identical to the sixth automobile to arrive in Fairbanks) as his first official car. Taft also bought two Pierce-Arrows and a Baker electric, and then converted the White House stable into a four-car garage. Taft and his White steamer are featured in this year's White House Christmas Ornament.

Photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman
Taft's successor, Woodrow Wilson, was also a fan of Pierce-Arrows, no doubt appreciating the smooth ride of these big, powerful cars. Our museum has two Pierce-Arrows that were built during Wilson's term (1913-1921), including a huge 1917 Model 66 A-4. Warren Harding was the first president to ride to his inauguration in car (a Packard Twin-Six) and unlike his predecessors, he knew how to drive an automobile. Harding rode in at least one Packard during his 1923 Alaska visit, including the 7-passenger touring car in Juneau pictured here.

Cadillacs were a favorite among several presidents, including Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Herbert Hoover bought a 1932 Cadillac 452-B V16 Imperial Limousine just before losing his reelection battle in 1932. It is identical to the one on display in our museum; in fact, for many years some thought that ours was the former Hoover V16 Cadillac. Many presidents purchased their official cars, and Hoover kept his limo when he left office. For security reasons, presidential cars today are completely destroyed when they are replaced. Fortunately, many of the earlier limos are on display in museums.

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