Theodore Roosevelt and the First Presidential Car Ride

Theodore Roosevelt in a car, circa 1910.
Theodore Roosevelt in a car, circa 1910. / Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Because Theodore Roosevelt was a man of adventure who loved to experience new things, he experienced a lot of presidential “firsts.” He was the first president to ride in a submarine (and pilot it, apparently), the first to have a telephone in his home, and the first sitting president to leave the country when he went to Panama in 1906. He was also the first sitting president to take a public car ride, which happened on August 22, 1902.

Roosevelt’s predecessor, William McKinley, was the first president to ride in a car, but Roosevelt was the first to make it part of his official presidential duties when he toured Hartford, Connecticut, in 1902. The New York Times reported that Roosevelt was quite pleased with the “handsome Victoria automobile,” finding it to be an effective way to shake a lot of hands in a short period of time.

At least, that’s the snippet he gave the press. In private, Teddy the Rough Rider was less than impressed. “Motor cars are a trial, aren’t they?” he wrote in a letter to a friend in 1905. “I suppose that ultimately we will get them into their proper place in the scheme of nature, and when by law and custom their use is regulated in proper fashion their objectionable features will probably be eliminated; but just at present I regard them as distinct additions to the discomfort of living.”

Though he may have preferred real horses to horsepower, cars would continue to play a part in Roosevelt's career. He chose to ride in a carriage for his 1905 inauguration, but here he is riding in an "objectionable" motor car in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, in 1917: