Hoover slept here (and other campus visits by U.S. presidents, sitting and otherwise)

As the 2012 race for the White House heats up, a new library exhibit is taking a look back at the history of presidential visits to UC Berkeley dating to 1891.

That’s the year President Benjamin Harrison rode in a horse-drawn carriage up University Avenue from the Berkeley train station, pulling to a stop in front of the old Bacon Library on the still-dusty campus.

Harry Truman at Faculty Glade

Bess and Harry Truman, on left, enjoy box lunches at Faculty Glade with Ida and Robert Gordon Sproul, UC's president, in June 1948.

Exhibit photos and narratives highlight some of the more amusing or poignant aspects of the visits: Harry Truman lunching in Faculty Glade with “a Secret Service man behind every bush”; politically embattled Woodrow Wilson greeting an adoring crowd at the Greek Theatre just weeks before suffering the stroke that would effectively end his presidency; former President Herbert Hoover caught napping on stage during a speech by Frances Perkins, secretary of labor to Hoover’s successor and nemesis, Franklin Roosevelt.

To date, six sitting U.S. presidents have come to the Berkeley campus, including Harrison, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Truman and John F. Kennedy. (William McKinley scheduled an official campus visit, but canceled.) The ceremonial occasions ranged from Harrison offering brief remarks from his carriage to the energetic Teddy Roosevelt giving no fewer than seven speeches during two separate visits to Berkeley, in 1903 and 1911.

Five other U.S. presidents are known to have made campus visits either before or after their time in the White House. The total count, to date, is six Democrats and five Republicans. No sitting president has come to the campus for 50 years, since John F. Kennedy spoke to 88,000 in California Memorial Stadium in 1962.

The exhibit, “All Hail to the Chief,” will remain on display through the November election. It can be seen for free in the University Archives’ Rowell exhibit cases at the Doe / Bancroft library complex. 

(Steven Finacom, a campus staff member, is a curator of the exhibit.)