As the mercury climbs near and past 100 here in south Louisiana, we doubt that many residents are thinking about the yuletide season.
But a recent announcement from the White House Historical Association has brought us a little Christmas in June, along with a reminder of how much presidential travel has changed over the years.
The association, a nonprofit history group that’s not affiliated with the federal government, recently announced the design of its annual Christmas ornament, a gift item the group sells to help fund its educational programs. The ornament for the 2012 holiday season is an image of President William Howard Taft and his wife in a White Motor Company Model M, a seven-passenger steam-powered touring car. The ornament honors Taft’s role as the president who introduced the motor car to White House transportation.
Taft, who served as president from 1909-1913, was a fan of the White steamer, a pre-gasoline steam-powered car manufactured by the White Sewing Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Taft wanted a White steamer for his transportation when he entered the White House, but opponents in Congress expressed concerns about the expense and safety of this newfangled mode of transportation. Taft eventually secured a $12,000 budget that allowed him to purchase the steamer and several other cars. The remainder of the money was used to convert the White House stables to a garage and pay the chauffeurs.
Taft lost his re-election bid, and we’re not sure if his embrace of the automobile figured into his defeat. The new holiday ornament in Taft’s honor reminds us of the rapid evolution of presidential travel in just a bit more than a century. From Taft’s White steamer, we’ve now progressed to bullet-proof limousines, helicopters and Air Force One for the commander-in-chief. Perhaps no one would be more thrilled by these changes than Taft, an early adopter of new technology.