This article was originally published at USAToday.com by Mark Phalen on April 17, 2016
Two famous presidential vehicles are being displayed this month at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in the second “Cars at the Capital” collection.
One is the Willys CJ-6 jeep that was Nancy Reagan’s 1963 Christmas gift to her husband. Reagan kept it for decades as his career progressed from actor to governor of California and president. The jeep is featured in many of the photos taken when President Reagan returned to Rancho del Cielo, his ranch near Santa Barbara. Pictures of Reagan using the jeep to clear brush, and driving the jeep accompanied by his dogs are among the iconic images of his presidency.
The other is a White Steam Car ,only survivor of four cars that President William Howard Taft used to accelerate the White House into the automotive era. There had been cars in presidential service before Taft, but he moved the White House permanently into the automotive age when he converted the White House stables into a garage and filled it with four cars.
“He loved driving it,” retired Secret Service agent John R. Barletta recalls. “He did a lot with this Jeep. I never remember it breaking down.”
The president relished the chance to drive himself around the ranch. The jeep was originally utility green, but the California National Guard painted it red with white pinstripes as a going-away present before the end of Reagan’s two terms as governor.
Taft loved cars. The open-topped Model M could hit 60 miles per hour. Taft frequently encouraged his driver to use that speed to get a little time away from the public and Secret Service, or to impress or intimidate a recalcitrant member of Congress. He was an unapologetic early supporter of the auto industry.
Automobile registrations in Washington skyrocketed after Taft started using the White. He made a point of using cars on trips around the rest of the country to popularize the automobile.
“President Taft’s vehicle of choice during his presidency, (it) echoes the love affair Americans have long had with their cars, and provides unique insight into the social impact they have on our way of life,” said museum president Ellen Spear.Taft’s steamer is part of the auto collection at the Heritage Museum and Gardens in Sandwich, Mass.
The steam-driven car built by White Motor Co., which was based in Taft’s home state of Ohio, was much quieter than gasoline vehicles and had served well in the U.S. Army, all factors that contributed to Taft’s choice.
President Taft’s White Steam Car and President Reagan’s CJ-6 are the 9th and 10th vehicles, respectively, to be documented in and entered in the National Historic Vehicle Register and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Historic American Engineering Record. The documentation for all vehicles on the register is archived heritage in theLibrary of Congress.