Theodore Roosevelt was no stranger to Connecticut; his mother and second wife were Connecticans and his sister lived in Farmington for most of her adult life. While Roosevelt’s several visits to Connecticut to visit his family and friends often attracted plenty of press, his visit of August 22, 1902 was memorable not for why he visited the state — but how.
In 1902, during the second year of his Presidency, Roosevelt traveled through Connecticut as part of a multi-state trip through New England. Arriving in Hartford by train, he made history by climbing into a Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton automobile and then driving through the streets of Hartford, waving to thousands of onlookers who lined the streets to see the first-ever presidential motorcade.
Roosevelt’s trip marked the first time a sitting U.S. President rode in an automobile as part of his official duties; President William McKinley, Roosevelt’s predecessor, was technically the first president to ride in a car, albeit privately. Even though the Columbia Phaeton (manufactured with pride in Hartford) boasted a top speed of 13 miles per hour, Roosevelt’s leisurely car ride through the city took nearly three hours.
The image above, of Roosevelt riding through Hartford, is remarkable. It captures three distinct stages of the land transportation revolution in one photo. Ahead of Roosevelt, a union army veteran rides horseback, clearing the President’s path. Escorting him on three sides are uniformed police riding the then-most-advanced form of personal transportation — the bicycle. Roosevelt is riding in the vehicle of the elite – the automobile — designed to look like the horse-drawn carriages then in use by wealthy families, complete with nattily attired coachmen, riding high in the back. The famous Rough Rider enjoyed a smooth Presidential ride, today in Connecticut history.
“Roosevelt Rides in an Electric Car,” connecticuthistory.org
“Theodore Roosevelt Becomes First President to Ride in an Automobile,” The Learning Network (New York Times)
“New England Welcomes President Roosevelt,” New York Times web archive