After watching all the hoopla surrounding John Kerry’s visit on Sept. 17, I couldn’t help but wonder: How many presidents—or presidents-to-be—have visited Penn over the years?
— Eyes On The Election
Dear Dear Wannabe Presidential Historian,
As it turns out, Penn has welcomed more than its share of presidents—a total of 18, to be exact—though not always during their time in the White House.
Of those 18, seven were sitting presidents and two presidents-elect when they visited West Philly. The rest either stopped by before or after their presidential eras.
George Washington himself was the first president to visit Penn in 1789, not too long after his inauguration. Just a year and a half later, Washington returned to campus, bringing his vice president and successor, John Adams, along with him.
When the U.S. capitol moved to Washington, of course, it became more difficult for presidents to visit Penn, but the school persevered: James Garfield visited in 1881; Grover Cleveland in 1887; and William McKinley in 1898.
Theodore Roosevelt, while vice president, attended the 1901 Army-Navy game at Franklin Field, and returned in 1905 as president. William Taft visited in 1909 as president-elect and Franklin Delano Roosevelt stopped by in 1940.
In the years that followed, Penn would welcome Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman—just not during their time in office.
And in 1996, Democratic hopeful Bill Clinton held a campaign rally at Penn’s Hill Field—the same spot Kerry held his event last month.
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Originally published on October 7, 2004