Heritage Museum’s presidential Steamer on display in D.C.

This article was originally published at boston.com by Bill Griffith on April 17, 2016


Who knew?

We were planning on making a short mention that the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich had opened for its 2016 season yesterday.

It would have been nice to note that a 1934 Derby Bentley is joining the museum car carousel display this year as part of its ongoing exhibition “Cut! Costume and the Cinema” that runs through October.

Frankly, I want to make a road trip to see both the cars and the display of United States maps made from recycled license plates by Stephen Blyth.

But a call to the museum produced a lot more. It seems that another car, a 1909 White Steam car from the museum’s collection, was spirited away a few weeks ago.

Now it’s on display on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., through April 26.

It turns out that the 1909 White was part of the first White House limousine fleet. Now it has become the ninth vehicle to be documented and recognized by the National Historic Vehicle Register and archived in the Library of Congress.

The 10th vehicle to be recognized is the 1962 Willys CJ-6 used by President Reagan at the Reagan Ranch in California, It, too, is on display on the mall.

The 1909 White Steam Car is the only known survivor of the first four automobiles in the inaugural White House fleet. It was capable of speeds of 60 mph (and more), a capability which Taft reportedly not only enjoyed but also encouraged.

“At Heritage, our American automobile collection inspires visitors to explore the evolution and revolution that the automobile represents … and their social impact,” says Ellen Spear, president and CEO.

“The D.C. exhibition brings to life the personal side of these two former presidents,” says Mark Gessler, president of the Historic Vehicle Association, which is organizing the second-ever Cars at the Capital exhibition. The first was in 2014.

“President Taft was the first president to promote the automobile. He insisted on an automobile parade in nearly all of the American towns he visited. For President Reagan, his Jeep reflected his unpretentious nature and the enjoyment he derived for working on his ranch,” says Gessler.

As the story goes, there was a debate in Congress about appropriating money for Taft’s automobiles.

“One legislator is said to have remarked about the 300-pound-plus Taft, “The President proposes to abandon horses for the reason that the gentleman does not wish to violate the law against cruelty to animals.”