For only the second time, historically significant cars made their way onto the National Mall in Washington, DC. Read on to learn more about this year’s event held in our nation’s capital.
Situated between the scaffolding-enshrouded Capitol dome and the still-under-construction portion of the National Mall, the capital city’s smallest museum sprang up just in time for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. As if overnight, a rectangular glass box looking like a giant Matchbox package appeared between the Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art. Located on the walkway between two of the most heavily trafficked museums in the D.C. area, this year’s Cars at the Capital featured a pair of presidential vehicles from seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum.
The event’s first week saw the arrival of President William Howard Taft’s 1909 White Model M Steam Car. With its radiant green body, wooden wheels and golden presidential seal, this massive and imposing vehicle drew quite a crowd throughout the week. Currently residing in the collection of the Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, MA, the White Steam Car was specifically selected by Taft to become the first presidential limousine. The first of four vehicles that would eventually constitute the White House fleet, the White held special significance for Taft.
A proud Ohioan, Taft jumped at the chance to showcase his home state’s automotive ingenuity by picking the best the Cleveland-based White Motor Company had to offer. Not only did it bring notoriety to the White Motor Company, the president’s use of an automobile helped the American people begin to better accept the burgeoning automotive age. By 1911, the total number of registered vehicles had more than doubled. Seeing the car back in the nation’s capital after more than a century proved an awe-inspiring sight, one made all the more spectacular by the display’s nighttime illumination.
The Reagan Jeep
At the opposite end of the spectrum, but no less historically significant was Ronald Reagan’s beloved 1962 Willys ‘Jeep’ CJ-6. Standing in stark contrast to the admittedly more presidential looking White Steam Car, Reagan’s Jeep serves as something of an automotive personification of the man himself.
During his years as both governor of California and President of the United States, the Willys was one of the only vehicles Reagan was able to drive himself and his preferred form of vehicular transport. On his Rancho del Cielo—often referred to as the “Western White House”—Reagan would spend his afternoon’s tooling around the ranch property in the Jeep, clearing brush, chopping wood and enjoying the beautiful terrain of Santa Barbara.
During the opening event held April 14th, both vehicles sat side by side as a group of speakers including members of the Senate, the Reagan administration, the Young America’s Foundation and the Heritage Museums & Gardens spoke to the significance of each and the importance of the National Historic Vehicle Register in preserving our automotive heritage.
“We’re here to call attention to America’s automotive heritage,” said HVA President Mark Gessler during Thursday’s remarks. “The purpose of the HVA is to share that automotive heritage with the American people. It’s a pleasure for us to have the honor of being here on the National Mall with such important vehicles that represent an important part of America’s past”
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