Presidential visits to our area
made a stop in the city on September 20, 1877 for unknown reasons. Presidents Grover Cleveland (twice) and Benjamin Harrison (once) each visited in the 1890s. President #25, William Mckinley opened Chickamauga Park on June 13, 1897.
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was the most frequent presidential visitor. During his seven-year stint in the White House, he made three trips to Chattanooga, and another shortly after his second term ended. The first was in 1902, to speak to the Brotherhood of Engineers and Firemen. No doubt he used his “bully pulpit.” (Note to young readers: Back then “bully” was a positive word, meaning “grand” or “excellent.”)
Woodrow Wilson spoke to the American Bar Association convention in Chattanooga in 1910, while he was president of Princeton University. He made it to the White House in 1912. During his single term as president, William Howard Taft was in the city on November 11, 1911. Just before his inauguration, President-elect Warren G. Harding visited Chattanooga on January 22, 1921.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt made three stops in the area. On November 21, 1938, accompanied by his wife Eleanor, he visited Chickamauga Dam while it was under construction. Along with numerous Washington dignitaries, he returned for the dedication of Chickamauga Dam on September 2, 1940. During World War II, he inspected the Women’s Army Center in Fort Oglethorpe on April 17, 1943.
While in his first year as a Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy spoke to the Downtown Rotary Club on December 10, 1953. He was a newlywed, having married Jacqueline Bouvier just three months earlier. He would be elected president in 1960.
Lyndon Johnson made an airport campaign stop during his successful 1964 campaign for a full term, on October 24th of that year. His successor, Richard Nixon also made a campaign appearance at Memorial Auditorium on September 27, 1968, speaking to an overflow crowd.
Although Jimmy Carter didn’t stop in during his single term in office, he and his extended family vacationed at the Chattanooga Choo Choo on August 23, 1991.
President Ronald Reagan’s visit to Chattanooga on May 19, 1987 was among the most memorable. The main event was at the UTC Arena. The first item on the agenda was lunch with some of the county’s top students. Most of his speech centered on the theme of “Excellence in Education.”
The event was filled with pomp and circumstance, literally, because it served as the commencement exercise for three thousand high school seniors.
Then-white House communications director Tom Griscom, a native Chattanoogan, remembers how the trip was arranged, and a fun fact about a local fast food favorite.
Griscom said, “The White House was looking for a graduation event. It was a surprise to learn that my hometown was chosen. This was a few months after Sen. Howard Baker had become chief of staff to President Reagan. Sen. Baker, a longtime Krystal hamburgers fan, felt it would be a great addition to the trip to serve Krystals on Air Force One. The Krystal Company set up grills in the hangar, adjacent to the presidential aircraft. As the hamburgers were being brought aboard Air Force One, the White House physician questioned whether they could be served to the President since there had not been a food test. Sen. Baker quickly interceded, and the burgers were served on the aircraft as it lifted off from Lovell Field for the return trip to Washington.”
Since then, George H. W. Bush (in 1992), his son George W. Bush (2007), and Barack Obama have visited Chattanooga while in office, most recently Obama’s speech at Amazon on July 30, 2013.
From military service, vacationing, campaigning, to dedicating government facilities, the Chattanooga area has proven to be a popular destination for our commanders-in-chief.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor and author, can be contacted by mail at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.