50 famous White House visits
Whether it’s foreign dignitaries, rock stars, military heroes, or ordinary people who did extraordinary things, you know you’ve made it when you’re invited for a visit to the White House. From the time of the Founding Fathers, a visit to the White House—particularly one that includes an audience with the president—has been a special honor that guarantees you a place in the history books.
Some people use their time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to pitch their pet cause, others to entertain the most powerful person on Earth, and others still are just in it for the photo op. Either way, those who have passed through the gates and onto the White House grounds on a special invitation are instantly in a class by themselves.
Read on to find out about 50 famous visits to the White House.
Frederick Douglass/Abraham Lincoln
You might assume that one of history's most famous escaped slaves would be fond of a president nicknamed the Great Emancipator. Famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, however, was an early critic of Abraham Lincoln—until, that is, Lincoln penned his famous Emancipation Proclamation. Douglass visited the White House in 1863 and 1864, first to argue for equal pay for black Union troops and a year later upon the request of the president himself.
General Tom Thumb/Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was one of America's tallest presidents, but in 1863, he hosted the wedding reception of one of the country's tiniest celebrity couples. P.T. Barnum was history's greatest showman and promoter, and it was Barnum who organized the wedding of 3-foot-tall Charles Stratton, better known by his stage name General Tom Thumb, and his 32-inch bride Lavinia Warren. The event drew massive publicity and was topped off with a White House reception hosted by the 16th president of the United States.
Booker T. Washington/Theodore Roosevelt
Few White House visits have ever stirred more controversy than that of civil rights pioneer Booker T. Washington, who accepted Teddy Roosevelt's invitation to the presidential mansion in 1901. Other African-Americans had visited the White House before Washington, but none had ever sat down and eaten dinner with the president. This was the dawn of the Jim Crow era when it was forbidden for whites and blacks to dine together because it implied social equality. The affair sparked outrage in the South and led to a barrage of inflammatory press cartoons and articles, which shifted the national discussion on race.
King David Kalākaua of the Kingdom of Hawaii/Ulysses S. Grant
The meeting between Hawaii's King David Kalākaua and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant in 1874 signaled the beginning of one of the White House's most time-honored traditions—it was the first state dinner. Ever since Grant's meeting with the island king, the state dinner has been an ultra-fancy way for presidents to honor important heads of state when they visit the White House.
Marie Curie/Herbert Hoover
Enshrined in history as the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the famed Polish scientist Marie Curie visited the United States twice, both times to receive radium. On her second visit in 1929, President Herbert Hoover invited her to the White House, but the trip was overshadowed by much larger and more dire global events. Two days earlier, history's worst financial crash obliterated the stock market, which rang the opening bell of the Great Depression.
Winston Churchill/Franklin D. Roosevelt
In 1941, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy had conquered most of Europe while their Japanese allies were conducting their own imperialistic campaign of terror in the East, which included a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. An angry and anxious American population was soothed when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill braved a Nazi U-boat-infested Atlantic Ocean to meet with FDR in the White House. It was there that Roosevelt and the White House staff witnessed firsthand Churchill's famous drinking habits and legendary eccentricities, which included walking around naked in his room while smoking a cigar and drinking sherry.
Charles de Gaulle/Harry Truman
During World War II, hero general and French Resistance leader Charles de Gaulle missed a chance to meet with Franklin Roosevelt because of simmering tensions between the two men. By August 1945, however, the war was won, celebrations filled the streets in both countries, and Harry Truman sat in the Oval Office. That year, the plain-spoken, modest Missourian and the grandiose general who by then was the president of France, made up for lost opportunities when they met in the White House.
Helen Keller/Dwight Eisenhower
President Eisenhower and pioneering author, educator, and advocate for the disabled Helen Keller were both admirers of each other. When they finally got to meet at the White House in 1953, they didn't shake hands. Instead, Keller touched the unsuspecting president's face to “see“ him while her assistant “wrote“ Ike's words in sign language in the palm of Keller's hand.
Nikita Khrushchev/Dwight Eisenhower
In 1959, the Cold War was raging full force. That year, there was a brief—very brief—thaw when Dwight Eisenhower honored Nikita Khrushchev with a state dinner. Eisenhower was scheduled to visit Moscow the following year, but that trip was called off when the U-2 spy incident moved the two superpowers ever closer to a state of war.
Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III/John F. Kennedy
JFK was one of the most glamorous presidents in history, and in 1961, he hosted the power couple that embodied the word. By that time, movie star Grace Kelly was Princess Grace of Monaco, and that year, JFK welcomed her and her royal husband Prince Rainier to the White House.