On the Road Again: Presidential Visits to the West, Part II

Today’s post was written by Cody White, Archivist at the National Archives at Denver. This is part two in a three part series. Read Part I.

In 1930 Secretary of Interior Ray Lyman Wilber visited southern Nevada to inaugurate the construction of a long planned dam on the Colorado River. Known until then as Boulder Dam, Wilber announced a new name, one in honor of a man who had been an accomplished engineer in his own right before a long tenure of government service which in part involved advocating for the dam. That man was President Herbert Hoover.

Two years later on November 8, 1932, Hoover lost the presidency to Franklin D. Roosevelt. This photograph found in our Bureau of Reclamation holdings (RG 115, Public Relations Photographs, NAID 562813) was taken only four days later and shows President Hoover’s first, and last, official visit to the dam that bore his name. The ignominy continued when in 1933 the newly installed Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes reversed course and changed the name back to Boulder Dam. It stayed as such until 1947 when President Harry Truman signed a resolution restoring the name we know today, Hoover Dam.

5 Herbert Hooover (NAID 562813, Box 221)-res

BCP 1439 A Boulder Canyon Project, Nevada President Herbert Hoover, and official party in tunnel #2 during inspection tour of Boulder Canyon Project. 11-12-32, Bureau photo by B.D. Glaha


On October 2, 1937, the population of Mason City, Washington swelled as nearly 6,000 cars poured into the town, prompting police to close the highway leading in. The occasion? As seen in this photograph, people were hoping to catch a glimpse of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he toured the Grand Coulee Dam construction site, a project that he had set in motion as President. In his remarks that day:

“There is another phase that I was thinking about this morning. When the dam is completed and the pool is filled, we shall have a lake 155 miles long running all the way to Canada. You young people especially are going to live to see the day when thousands and thousands of people are going to use this great lake both for transportation purposes and for pleasure purposes. There will be sail boats and motor boats and steamship lines running from here to the northern border of the United States and into Canada.”

In 1942 as the dam gates were closed that lake was created – covering 125 square miles and indeed reaching all of the way to the Canadian border. While he was never able to return and see it, five days after his death the reservoir was renamed the Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake in his honor.

6 FDR (NAID 562813, Box 340)-res

 Grand Coulee dam. President’s visit. No caption.


On October 1, 1952, while on a nationwide train tour stumping for the Democratic Presidential ticket, President Harry Truman and his daughter Margaret arrived in Kalispell, Montana to dedicate the Hungry Horse Dam on the South Fork Flathead River in Montana. There are several photographs in our Bureau of Reclamation holdings chronicling the visit but this is one of the more entertaining, a jocular moment which shows the President throwing the switch to signal the start of first power production at the Hungry Horse Power Plant. This was the climax of the dam dedication ceremony held at the Flathead County High School gymnasium. Earlier in the day at the dam site Truman visited with workers and, according to the Missoulian newspaper “showed off his knowledge of civil engineering, asking some pointed questions about the building of the dam.”

Following his dedication speech, President Truman closed a switch on the stage of the Flathead County High School gymnasium to signal operators at the Hungry Horse Power Plant to throw the first generator on the line. Power from the Hungry Horse Plant began flowing into the northwest power pool at 11:35 AM, October 1, 1952. Standing with the President (left to right) are Secretary of the Interior Oscar L. Chapman and Donald C. Treloar, President of the Flathead Valley Citizens Committee which sponsored the dedication program. October 1, 1952

General Dwight D. Eisenhower had a deep Colorado connection, with his marriage to Mamie Doud and birth of son John both occurring here in Denver. Photographs of him show up in several places in our collection: while visiting the Hoover Dam during the 1952 campaign, on a 1954 air tour of reclamation project sites, and during his convalescence at the Fitzsimmons Army Hospital after his 1955 heart attack. But in this photograph, found in our Record Group 461 Records of the U.S. Air Force Academy holdings (Construction Project Study Files, NAID 568045), we see President Eisenhower visiting one of his administration’s lasting accomplishments – the U.S. Air Force Academy.

President Eisenhower signed into law the creation of the Academy in 1954 and five years later he visited the newly constructed campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado where he spoke to the cadets assembled in the dining hall. In this, one of several images we hold from that day, we see the president arriving in Colorado.

[President Eisenhower arriving at the Air Force Academy, 1959]

This summer, choose your own POTUS Vacation with 13 of our Presidents.  Your first destination is @USNatArchives on Instagram.

Additional Sources