U.S. Presidents visit Memphis

...before, during, and after their term in office 



Of our 44 U.S. Presidents, 30 of them (or 31, if you count Grover Cleveland twice) have visited Memphis either before, during or after their presidency.  Because travel was difficult in the early days of our country, the first six Presidents rarely traveled outside the original colonies.  Why do any of them visit, when most of their visits are meaningless?  Politicians have always understood the importance of public contact and the need to mingle with voters, especially during an election year.  Visits are also planned as "pay back" to wealthy individuals who are major contributors to "the Party".  Very few visits are marked by major speeches that are long remembered in history.    Below are the 30 Presidents who have visited Memphis.  Finding information about their visits on the internet was next to  impossible.



Click on small photos to see an enlargement 

Andrew Jackson



7th President - 1829-1837:  As one of the  founders of Memphis,  he would be the first President to visit Memphis and the 1st President from Tennessee.  Of course his visit was before he took office in 1829.  There are several written reports that he stayed at the Hunt-Phelan Plantation and the old Bell Tavern in Memphis.



Martin Van Buren




8th President - 1837-1841:  After a major defeat for a second term, Van Buren took a grand "Good Will Tour" to help redeem himself with the American people. He traveled through the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  From New Orleans he traveled to Memphis by steamboat and then across Tennessee to Andrew Jackson's home, and then continued up north.  He was the first President to have been born a U.S. Citizen and yet the ONLY President not to have spoken English as his first language (His family was Dutch).


James K. Polk



11th President - 1845-1849:   James Polk was the second President from Tennessee.  After leaving office he embarked on a tour of the South and visited Memphis in March of 1849.   From Polk's diary, we know that during this tour he contacted Cholera.  In Memphis he had decided not to go ashore but friends convinced him that he should, as this was the first point in his state that he had touched after an absence of more than four years.  He traveled in an open carriage to a hotel where he was received by hundreds of old acquaintances, friends, and relatives who resided at Memphis.  He was highly honored and gratified at the enthusiastic reception, but had not been well enough to stay for the full reception.  In June of 1849, James Polk died of the Cholera he had contacted during this tour.


Zachary Taylor



12th President - 1849- 1850.  Died in Office:  Taylor stopped in Memphis on the way to Washington for his inauguration in 1849.  Taylor was also commander of Fort Pickering in Memphis during 1808-09.


Millard Fillmore



  13th President - 1850-1853:   Millard Filmore embarked on an 1854 tour of the South, which was enthusiastically received.  From Louisville, he traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans on the Steamer Robert J. Ward.  At Memphis, Filmore praised it as a beautiful and hospitable city.  He received a reception and demonstration of respect that the reporters of one local newspaper stated was "...greater than those of Henry Clay".



Abraham Lincoln



16th President - 1861-1865. Assassinated:  Abraham Lincoln served as a flat boatman on the Mississippi in 1828 and 1831 and likely spent time in Memphis on both occasions.  On one of the journeys he saw a slave auction firsthand in New Orleans, which became essential in shaping his personal views on slavery.



Mississippi Flatboat


Andrew Johnson



17th President - 1865-1869:   Johnson was the 3rd President from Tennessee.  He left office in 1869 as an unpopular man in the South because he had stood with the Union during the Civil War.  After returning home for only a few months he decided to rejuvenate his political career with a speaking tour across Tennessee.  In 1869 he made a major speech in Memphis while campaigning for the Senate.  During this visit he stayed at the Peabody Hotel.  Johnson lost the election by 2 votes.






Ulysses S. Grant




All the above photos of Ulysses S. Grant were taken in Memphis by Memphis photographers during the Civil War occupation.


18th President - 1869-1877:   During the Civil War, General Grant was ordered to Memphis by Presidant Lincoln to become District Commander of the Union Forces.  He originally made his headquarters at the Hunt Phelan home but shortly moved to Hotel Gayoso after being joined by his wife and children.  Grant brought General Sherman to Memphis and Sherman sets up camp at Fort Pickering, using his time in Memphis to plan that  "march to the sea".


James Garfield



20th President - 1881-1881.  Assassinated 4 months after inauguration:   James Garfield arrived in 1878 as part of a Washington committee made up of House and Senate members sent by the President to investigate the Yellow Fever epidemics in Memphis.  The committee failed to do anything other than provide statistics from past epidemics.  Garfield's own Presidential term ended in an assassination and lasted only 200 days



Rutherford B. Hayes



19th President - 1877-1881:  Hayes visited Memphis in 1891.  He was one of the few presidents to keep a diary while in office.  Of his visit to Memphis he wrote, "13th Friday, Memphis.  The colored school visited.  Evening with Mr. Moore, Member of Congress.  Most agreeable".


Grover Cleveland



22nd President - 1885-1889:  Cleveland and his new wife visited in 1887  as part of his "Goodwill Tour" of the South and Midwest.  They traveled by train in a luxurious Pullman car.  During this visit the Cleveland's were entertained by the Fontaine's at their Adams Mansion.



Railway Car         

Arriving Memphis





Benjamin Harrison



23rd President - 1889-1893:   Harrison was the first President to travel in a private rail car on special trains.  He was also the first to campaign from the rail cars.  He visited Memphis in 1891 in one of the grand cars during a good will tour and enjoyed a reception at Court Square.  He stopped in 19 states and 72 cities.



Railway Car

Court Square



William McKinley




Mckinley - Court Square

McKinley Speaks

25th President - 1897-1901.  Assassinated:   McKinley visited in April of 1901 and made a speech at Court Square.  This visit was part of a "goodwill tour" of the country.  The President and 5 cabinet members traveled by luxury train, making brief stops all over the country.  In Memphis they arrived at Calhoun Street Station to a 21 gun-salute and an honor guard of Confederate Veterans.  They drove from the station to Court Square by fancy carriages.  After McKinley's speech, there was a reception at the Nineteenth Century Club, and then a huge banquet at the OLD Peabody Hotel (On Main Street).  The Commercial Appeal devoted 6 pages to all the festivities which didn't end until 1:30 AM.  In September of this same year, McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, New York.


Theodore Roosevelt


1902 1902 Church Auditorium Arriving 1907


26th President - 1901-1909:   Teddy Roosevelt came to Memphis several times.  In 1902 he attended a reception to honor Memphian General Luke E. Wright, who had been his Secretary of War.  And in 1902, Roosevelt addressed an audience at the Church Auditorium on Beale Street, speaking to an audience of over 10,000.  His appearance at this African American establishment was a direct acknowledgement of Robert Church's political prominence, not only in Memphis, but in the nation.   In 1907 he arrived with a fleet of steamboats to address the "Deep Waterway Convention".  In his speech he said, "The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental  problem.   Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to

solve all others ... In wealth of natural resources no kingdom of Europe can compare with the Mississippi Valley and the region around the Great Lakes..." 


Woodrow Wilson



28th President - 1913-1921:  Wilson gave a speech November 9, 1907 before the Princeton Alumni Association of Tennessee in Memphis.  And he was among the famous speakers in the Church Park Auditorium.


William H. Taft





27th President - 1909-1913:   William Howard Taft dedicated the new Memphis YMCA building in 1909.  He arrived aboard the steamer "Oleander" and was paraded through downtown to the YMCA.  His visit attracted governors from 40 States to the dedication, and Memphis paved Madison Avenue and extended the street 1/2 block east of the new building so the president wouldn't see that the street didn't keep on going.


Herbert Hoover



Train Wreck 1927

Memphis 1927

Broadcast 1927

31st President 1929-1933:   Hoover came in 1927 as Secretary of Commerce, to direct flood relief work during the Great Flood of the Mississippi.  His train wrecked near Heads, Mississippi.  The engine went into 40 feet of water, killing the engineer.  Hoover was unhurt and set up his headqauarters in Memphis to direct the  flood relief



Franklin Roosevelt



32nd President - 1933-1945:   Roosevelt visited February 13, 1928 on behalf of the 7th Annual Society for Crippled Children's Convention at the Peabody Hotel.  He spoke on several occasions during the 3 day event..


Harry Truman



33rd President - 1945-1953:   Truman came as a senator in 1942 for the "Truman Committee for Government Investigation" luncheon at the Peabody Hotel, and again during his election campaign of 1948.



Truman  1942


Dwight D. Eisenhower


34th President - 1953-1961:   Eisenhower visited in 1952.


Ike 1952




John F. Kennedy



35th President - 1961-1963.  Assassinated:  Kennedy came for a campaign speech in 1960.  That's the back of Kennedy's head in the photo below, as he speaks to a crowd at the Memphis riverfront.








Lyndon B. Johnson



36th President - 1963-1969:   Johnson visited in 1964.  In the photos below, he signs autographs shakes hands with Memphians.






Richard Nixon



37th President - 1969-1974.  Resigned:  Nixon stopped in Memphis in 1952 as Senator, in 1960 as Vice President and again in 1974, and 1978 as President.  In his 1960 campaign speech at Handy Park, Nixon said, "I'm very proud that in 1952 and 1956 the State of Tennessee voted for the Eisenhower ticket".


 1952 - Sen Nixon

1969 on Beale

1974 Airport




Jimmy Carter



39th President - 1977-1981:   Jimmy Carter visited during the 1972 campaign, again in 1978 for the Mid-term Convention in Memphis, and again in 1980.


1972 Campaign    

1978 mid-Convention


Gerald Ford





1973 1976 1978

38th President - 1974-1977:   Gerald Ford visited Memphis on several occasions, often on a PGA Tour.  One memorable time with a PGA Tour, he  hit a hole in one.  In 1973, as Vice President designate, he visited with California Governor Ronald Reagan to participate in the Republican Governors Conference.  In In 1976 Mr. Ford dedicated the Mid America Mall in Memphis.  In 1978 he visited St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and took time to sign autographs and wish the young patients "good luck". 


Ronald Reagan


1960 1973 1976 Campaign

40th President - 1981-1989:   Ronald Reagan visited Memphis on several occasions - once as Governor of California, and a couple of times when he was campaigning for President.  In 1973 he visited with Vice President designate Gerald Ford for the Republican Governors' Conference. 


George H.W. Bush




41st President - 1989-1993:   George H. W. Bush visited in 1989 to honor the Commercial Appeal.  Afterwards he toured St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital which conducts research and treatment on a number of childhood diseases, including leukemia, which claimed the life of Mr. Bush's daughter Robin in 1953.  He visited again in 1992.


Bill Clinton







42nd President - 1993-2001:   Bill Clinton has visited Memphis several times.  In 1993 he delivered a major speech.  There were two visits in 1999 - one was a surprise visit, the other was part of a campaign tour, and Clinton had requested to eat at the Blues City Cafe, where he dined on ribs and catfish.  Afterwards he toured the National Civil Rights Museum.  In 2012, he visited patients and their parents at St. Jude's. 


George W. Bush


2006 at Graceland


43rd President - 2001-2009:   George  W. Bush visited several times, the most recent in 2006 when he hosted the Japanese Prime Minister, who wanted to visit Graceland.


Barrack Obama




    2011 BTW

44th President - 2009-Present:   Barrack Obama has visited memphis twice.  He made a low-key visit in 2008 when he stopped in for a midnight game of basketball after the Presidential Debate in Oxford, Mississippi.   In 2011, he spoke at the graduation of Booker T. Washington High School.






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