Presidents’ Day is around the corner! Wondering what you can do to celebrate the day? One option is to visit the Special Collections Department! Have you ever wondered which U.S. presidents have visited the Iowa State campus? The list includes William Howard Taft (1916, 1917), Herbert Hoover (1923), Dwight Eisenhower (1952), Jimmy Carter (1975), Gerald Ford (1976), Ronald Reagan (1958, 1961)…and the list continues. Some came before they were president, some during, and some after.
Since the rise of the importance of the Iowa caucuses in the 1970s (for a brief history of the Iowa caucuses, visit the University of Iowa’s election resources), the question of which presidents have visited Iowa State may not necessarily be a question many wonder about. However, before then a presidential visit to our campus was more infrequent and possibly a larger deal. If you are curious about these visits, news articles and other documents can be found in the University Archive’s collection Presidential Visits (RS 0/6/1). This collection includes a brief history of presidential visits to Iowa State from a January 1977 Iowa Stater news article (found in the Gerald Ford folder of RS 0/6/1 or January 1977 issue of the Iowa Stater, call number LH1 I6). Some may remember Ford’s remark “It’s great to be here at Ohio…Iowa State University…” (more of this portion of Ford’s speech can be found in the Iowa Stater article).
In 1976 Gerald Ford was the first incumbent president to visit Iowa State. Pictured above, Gerald Ford speaking in front of Iowa State’s Fisher Theater October 15, 1976 (photograph from University Photograph Collection, 0-6-A box 8).
William Howard Taft (U.S. president 1909-1913) visited the Iowa State campus twice, once in 1916 when he gave several lectures and in 1917 when he gave the commencement address. A copy of this address can be found in RS 0/6/1. Taft’s commencement address contains a discussion of World War I, which the United States would soon enter.
William Howard Taft’s procession along campus (above), west of the Laboratory of Mechanics. The Laboratory of Mechanics and Beardshear can be seen in the distance to the right, and Curtiss Hall in the upper left (photograph from University Photograph Collection, 0-6-A box 8).
Taft descending the steps of Beardshear. If you look closely, you can see a small arrow near the far right column, pointing to one of the spectators in the crowd (photograph from University Photograph Collection, 0-6-A box 8).
Not only do older photographs of campus give us a better idea of past events and what campus looked like in years gone by, but occasionally we also hear from the photographs’ former owners. Written on the back of the photograph showing Taft descending Beardshear’s steps is “yours truly under the arrow”. We may not know who “yours truly” is, but pictured above is a close-up of this portion of the photograph, with “yours truly” holding the brim of his top hat. (photograph from University Photograph Collection, 0-6-A box 8)
In addition to the Presidential Visits Collection (RS 0/6/1), you might find additional information on the presidential visits in various publications, including The Iowa State Alumnus (call number LH1 Io9a) and Iowa State’s yearbook, the Bomb (call number LD2548 Io9b).
Curious about other collections we may have related to U.S. presidents? Search our website, or the library’s search system (if you know the specific collection you are looking for). One of these collections is the James Raley Howard Papers (MS 157). Howard was a very active farmer and farm advocate who visited the White House several times. In addition, he himself was the first president of both the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation). Another collection you may want to look at is the Nils A. Olsen Papers, which contain Olsen’s diaries. Olsen was an agricultural economist who worked with Henry C. Wallace to establish a foreign service for the Department of Agriculture. The diary index at the end of the collection’s finding aid contains the page numbers where Olsen discusses President Hoover (who was not in favor of the Department of Agriculture’s foreign service).
Parks Library, and the Special Collections Department, will be open on Presidents’ Day (February 20, 2012).