Transporting the President

The Henry Ford

Presidential vehicles are a study in contrasts. They must be elegant to reflect the office, but durable to withstand heavy use. They have to keep the President visible to crowds, yet still provide protection from attack. Each of the following vehicles balanced those needs.

1902 Brougham Used by Theodore Roosevelt 
For public parades and outings, President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) preferred the traditional formality of a horse-drawn carriage over the automobile. In this luxurious brougham, two passengers could sit in privacy inside, while a coachman out front drove the horses. Roosevelt didn't avoid autos altogether, and took the occasional car ride while in office. But for much of his presidency, automobiles were still viewed as playthings for the wealthy. It would have damaged Roosevelt’s populist image to be seen barreling down the street in an expensive motor car. 

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) used this brougham for public parades and outings. During the later administrations of William H. Taft (1909-1913), Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), Warren G. Harding (1921-1923), and Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929), the brougham was used for household errands.

Daniel Webster, pictured here in the brougham, served as the White House coachman from 1913 to 1928. Webster foresaw automobiles replacing horses for use in presidential transportation and learned to drive. He finished out his White House career as an auto chauffeur.

1912 Baker Electric Victoria Used by Five First Ladies
Theodore Roosevelt's successor, William Howard Taft (1909-1913), motorized the White House. He converted the mansion’s stables into a garage and filled it with a White steam car, two gasoline-powered Pierce-Arrows, and a Baker electric in 1909. First Lady Helen Taft (1909-1913) chose the Baker as her personal vehicle. Mrs. Taft was not content to be chauffeured around Washington – she drove the Baker herself. Three years later, Mrs. Taft traded in the 1909 model for this new 1912 Baker electric. A Victoria model with a gracefully curved body, this new Baker became a White House fixture, serving the next four First Ladies.

The Baker was also used by Woodrow Wilson's (1913-1921) first wife, First Lady Ellen Wilson (1913-1914), their three daughters, and Wilson's second wife, First Lady Edith Wilson (1915-1921). First Lady Florence Harding inherited the auto and passed it along to First Lady Grace Coolidge who used the Baker until it was retired in 1928.

Electric vehicles were marketed toward prosperous, status-conscious women and became popular. First Lady Helen Taft's use of a Baker Electric reflected this trend of the time. Though battery life was limited, electric cars were clean, quiet, and comparatively easy to drive.

1939 Lincoln Presidential Limousine Used By Franklin D. Roosevelt 
White House staff sent five pages of special instructions when they ordered this new presidential vehicle, the first car expressly designed and built for a Commander in Chief. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) was stricken with paralytic illness in 1921, so some of the car’s features made it easier for Roosevelt to get in and out of the vehicle. In 1942, as American involvement in World War II intensified, the limousine received several security modifications. Wartime or not, Roosevelt enjoyed riding in the limo with the top down whenever possible. That, perhaps along with FDR’s unshakable optimism, inspired the car’s nickname, “Sunshine Special.”

The Lincoln Model K, with bodywork by Brunn & Company, included extra-wide running boards, special platforms at the rear corners, and chrome handles on the sides of the windshield so that Secret Service agents could ride along. After FDR's death in 1945, President Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) used the vehicle until 1950.

With World War II raging, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) visited Ford Motor Company's Willow Run Bomber Plant during late summer of 1942. Roosevelt, accompanied by Henry Ford, toured the plant's massive interior and grounds in the "Sunshine Special."

1950 Lincoln Presidential Limousine Used By Dwight D. Eisenhower
This convertible Lincoln Cosmopolitan was built for President Harry S. Truman (1945-1953), but it is most associated with Truman's successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961). It was a new era and the old fleet of presidential cars was looking decidedly out of date. President Truman first rode in this flashy convertible after it was delivered to the White House along with nine closed limousines in 1950. President Eisenhower later had the car fitted with a removable Plexiglas top that allowed him, as well as First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, to see and be seen even in bad weather. The distinctive plastic top earned the car the nickname “Bubble Top.” 

Serving the White House from 1950 to 1967, this limousine was created by Ford Motor Company with special bodywork by Ray Dietrich. After being used by Harry S. Truman (1945-1953), the vehicle served Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) as the official car for many public parades, including his inaugurations in 1953 and 1957. President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) used the car at his inauguration in 1961 before upgrading to a newer model. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) also used the 1950 Lincoln as a spare.

This 49-star flag was used on the presidential limousine after Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) signed the proclamation admitting Alaska as the 49th state in January 1959. When Hawaii became the 50th state later that year, Eisenhower issued an Executive Order authorizing the modern 50-star flag.

1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine Used by John F. Kennedy 
This modern four-door convertible seemed well-suited to a young, forward-thinking president. But tragedy struck when President Kennedy (1961-1963) was assassinated in November 1963 while riding in this car through the streets of Dallas, Texas. As the world mourned, the Secret Service quickly had the unarmored vehicle rebuilt to better protect future presidents. Later modifications during Lyndon B. Johnson’s (1963-1969) and Richard Nixon’s (1969-1974) presidencies, including an opening rear window and a removable roof panel through which the president could stand and wave, only served to illustrate the continual tension between the presidents’ desire to be seen and Secret Service efforts to protect them.

Used from 1961 to 1977, this limousine was built by Ford Motor Company with special modifications by Hess & Eisenhardt. Mainly serving John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the vehicle was thoroughly modified after JFK's death and used by Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969), Richard Nixon (1969-1974), Gerald Ford (1974-1977), and Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).

The limousine transported President John F. Kennedy and Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt in 1961. After Kennedy's assassination, a 1964 rebuild added a permanent armored top, bullet-resistant glass, and an armored titanium steel body. Material used in the gas tank minimized the risk of explosion, and solid aluminum inner “tires” were added in case the rubber tires were damaged.

1972 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine Used by Ronald Reagan
This sleek limousine, first used by President Richard Nixon (1969-1974), provided refuge for President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) in March 1981 after he was shot by would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr. Like all presidential cars after the Kennedy assassination, it is a completely armored, closed car with a permanent roof and bullet-resistant glass. But, in a concession to the president's desire to be seen, a roof panel can be opened for two people to stand up with their upper bodies outside the car. President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan took advantage of this feature, waving through the roof during his inauguration parade. 

In 1972, Ford Motor Company provided a new presidential limousine to the White House. Unlike the previous limos, this one was built for maximum protection from the start. Used until 1992, this limousine served Richard Nixon (1969-1974), Gerald Ford (1974-1977), Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), and George H.W. Bush (1989-1993).

During an assassination attempt, a bullet ricocheted from behind the right rear door and struck President Reagan. Secret Service agents then pushed Reagan into the back seat and rushed him to the hospital. Reagan recovered and the vehicle, after being repaired, returned to service.

Looking Back 
This elegant carriage, used by President George Washington (1789-1797) at one of his inaugurations, shows just how much presidential transportation has changed over two centuries. And yet, with its formal lines and stately appointments, the carriage also points to an unchanging truth. Whatever else a presidential vehicle must do, it must reflect the power and the dignity of the highest office in the land.
Credits: Story

From The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation™.

See more artifacts related to presidential automobiles in The Henry Ford’s Digital Collections.


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