First Public Presidential Car Ride
Touring New England on August 22, 1902, Theodore Roosevelt became the first sitting President to publicly ride in an automobile.
Less than a year before, Roosevelt became America’s youngest President when his predecessor, William McKinley, was assassinated at the Pan-American Expo and World’s Fair. Roosevelt quickly became a leader in the Progressive Era and set about fulfilling his own political agenda.
Roosevelt proved popular among the people and toured often. In August 1902, he took a yacht to New Haven, Connecticut and then embarked on a state-wide tour in a Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton automobile. It was the first time a sitting president publicly rode in a car. An estimated 20,000 people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the president and cheer him on as he passed by.
President Roosevelt made several stops along the way, including a visit to New Haven Coliseum, where he spoke before a crowd of 5,000. He also visited Hartford’s Pope Park, where he expressed his appreciation for the 10,000 workers there. Roosevelt noted, “I should, of course, be wholly unfit for the position I occupy if I did not give my best thoughts and best purpose to trying to serve the interests of the toiler of America – the man who works with his hands, and, of course, also the man who works with his head.”
Because of the maximum speed of Roosevelt’s car (13 miles per hour), his police guards couldn’t keep up with him on foot. Instead, they rode bicycles, effectively creating America’s first presidential motorcade.
A pioneer and adventurer, Roosevelt had several other presidential firsts. These include the first to be submerged in a submarine, own a car, have a telephone in his home, and entertain an African American at the White House – Booker T. Washington. He also went on to become the first former president to fly in an airplane.
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