Before mechanical air conditioning, U.S. presidents often left Washington, DC during the hot and steamy summers for cooler locations in the Appalachian Mountains or along the Atlantic Ocean. By the early twentieth century, Michiganians began promoting Mackinac Island as an ideal place for the summer White House.After having received a variety of Michigan appeals and invitations, President William Taft felt an obligation to at least look at the site being touted as a prime location for our country’s hot-weather presidential mansion. As part of his Great Lakes tour, Taft visited Detroit on September 18, 1911. He then boarded a special train for the Straits, arriving at Mackinaw City the following morning. As his presidential car crossed the Straits of Mackinac to St. Ignace by carferry, the president listened to Michigan senator Charles Townsend explain the merits of establishing a summer White House on Mackinac Island. According to one observer, the President remained speechless, but “merely smiled.”
President Taft was the first – but not the last – president to decline an invitation to summer on Mackinac Island.
In the mid-1920s, President Coolidge received invitations to summer at Mackinac. Although Mrs. Coolidge reportedly “was very enthusiastic about the idea,” her husband was noncommittal. Instead, the First Family summered in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt also turned down offers to summer on Mackinac Island. At about the same time, the installation of air-conditioning in the White House reduced the need for the president to escape Washington during the summer months.
The last known official effort to recommend Mackinac Island to a sitting president occurred in the 1950s. As with his predecessors, President Dwight Eisenhower turned down the invitation. The final rebuff came in 1957 when Ike responded by saying that “if” he got away that summer, he planned to visit the U.S. Naval base at Newport, Virginia.
On the “too cool” front, here’s the caption for the above photo from the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-51613): Pres. Coolidge receiving a book containing oil paintings of scenes in Mackinac Island and a complete history of the island, on which he is being invited to spend the summer, from Mrs. W.W. Wittinghill of Detroit, as official representative of Gov. Green of Michigan.
For more the full story of Michigan’s efforts to entice presidents to summer on Mackinac Island, see “Summer White House?” in the May/June 2007 issue of Michigan History magazine. To subscribe, go to www.michiganhistorymagazine.com or call 1-800-366-3703.