On Aug. 22, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt kicked off a tour of New England with a car ride through Connecticut. His journey marked the first time a United States president made a public appearance by automobile while in office.
According to The New York Times, cheering supporters greeted Mr. Roosevelt at all points along his parade route, which he traversed in “a handsome Victoria automobile, in charge of two expert New York chauffeurs.”
Mr. Roosevelt’s tour through the state culminated with a stop in Hartford’s Pope Park, where he spoke to 10,000 enthusiastic workers about the value of their labor and his appreciation for their work.
The president said, “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.”
For a trip with the goal of connecting the president with the country’s people, the automobile proved to be an ideal mode of transportation— allowing him to see more of each city and its people in less time. The Times noted that driving the president around the city “seems to have given the people the opportunity desired of seeing him.”
Mr. Roosevelt accumulated an impressive list of presidential “firsts” over time. According to the Theodore Roosevelt Association, Mr. Roosevelt was the first president to be submerged in a submarine; the first president to own a car; the first to have a telephone in his home; and the first to entertain an African-American, Booker T. Washington, in the White House.
The first president to ever ride in a car was William McKinley. It was a steam-powered vehicle. Mr. Roosevelt’s ride was the first time a United States president rode in a government car in public.
Also notable is that in 1910, Theodore Roosevelt became the first United States president to fly in an airplane, albeit not while in office. Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first to fly in a plane while serving as president, on his trip to the Casablanca Conference in January 1943.