On this day in 1843, William McKinley, who will become the 25th American president and the first to ride in an automobile, is born in Niles, Ohio. McKinley served in the White House from 1897 to 1901, a time when the American automotive industry was in its infancy. During his presidency, McKinley (who died from an assassin’s bullet in September 1901) took a drive in a Stanley Steamer, a steam-engine-powered auto built in the late 1890s by brothers Francis and Freelan Stanley. The Stanley Motor Carriage Company produced a number of steam-powered vehicles before going out of business in the early 1920s, after being unable to compete with the rise of less expensive gas-powered cars.
Theodore Roosevelt succeeded McKinley as president and during his administration the government owned a Stanley Steamer, although Roosevelt allegedly preferred horses to automobiles. William Taft, the 27th president, replaced the horses in the White House stables with a fleet of cars, including two gas-powered Pierce-Arrows and a White Model M Stanley Steamer. (In 1951, Congress officially eliminated horses and stables from the White House budget.) Warren Harding, the 29th commander-in-chief, was the first to ride to his inauguration in a car, a Packard, in 1921.
Calvin Coolidge, America’s 30th president, was the first in a long line of chief executives to be chauffeured in a Lincoln limousine (Lincoln has been a luxury division of the Ford Motor Company since the 1920s). President Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled in a 1939 black Lincoln convertible nicknamed the “Sunshine Special”; it featured steel armor plating and was the first presidential vehicle to be constructed to the specifications of the Secret Service. (Roosevelt’s fleet at one time also included an armored Cadillac that the U.S. Treasury Department had seized from gangster Al Capone.) John F. Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, was assassinated on November 22, 1963, while riding in a navy blue 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible in Dallas, Texas.
Cadillac, a division of General Motors, has also provided a number of presidential limousines, dating back to Woodrow Wilson, America’s 29th commander-in-chief. On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama rode to his swearing-in ceremony as the nation’s 44th president in a new Cadillac presidential limo referred to in the media as a “rolling tank with windows” and nicknamed “The Beast.” For security reasons, specific details about the vehicle were kept under wraps by the Secret Service. (In 2001, the Secret Service for security reasons instituted a policy of destroying presidential limos once they were taken out of commission.)