Appearances by US Presidents at MIT


President William J. Clinton is the first sitting president of the United States to speak at MIT.

Harry S. Truman accepted an invitation to address the MIT mid-century convocation in 1949, shortly after he was elected. President Truman withdrew on March 21, 11 days before his scheduled appearance in Boston Garden.

MIT President J. R. Killian Jr. said the president cited "the unexpected pressure of his official duties" in canceling his appearance. Many people thought the real reason was that Mr. Truman felt he was being upstaged by the other principal speaker, Great Britain's wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, who was scheduled to talk the day before President Truman. Former Minnesota governor Harold Stassen, then president of the University of Pennsylvania, pinch-hit for the president.

By the time Mr. Truman spoke in Kresge Auditorium on Sept. 28, 1956, he was an ex-president. This talk was sponsored by the MIT Lecture Series Committee and the Harvard Law School Forum.

In a partisan campaign speech, Mr. Truman accused President Eisenhower, then running for his second term, of providing ineffective leadership. Coincidentally, Mr. Stassen was the rebuttal speaker for the Republicans a week later. Again, he was a pinch-hitter, this time filling in for Attorney General Herbert Brownell.

Archivists at the FDR Library have identified the woman in this photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt at MIT in 1916 as his wife, Eleanor. The photographer identified only Mr. Roosevelt (wearing the top hat) and the man at the right, E.S. Webster, partner in the engineering firm Stone and Webster, which built the new MIT campus.

Mr. Truman's predecessor in the White House, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was an assistant secretary of the navy when he attended dedication ceremonies for the Cambridge campus on June 12, 1916. Mr. Roosevelt, who was elected to his first term as President in 1932, viewed portions of the celebration with MIT President Richard C. Maclaurin and other dignitaries from the yacht of Charles A. Stone, chair of the reunion committee.

George Bush was vice president when he addressed the annual dinner meeting of the MIT Sustaining Fellows in DuPont gymnasium on Oct. 30, 1981. President John F. Kennedy taped remarks that were played at the MIT Centennial banquet in Boston on April 8, 1961.

James Donovan, class of 1928, wrote to former MIT Museum director Warren Seamans in 1984 to inform him that President Calvin Coolidge had visited MIT. Mr. Coolidge "went to Walker Memorial where he was served tea," wrote Mr. Donovan, now deceased. There is no other record or recollection of that visit.


Topics: History of MIT, Special events and guest speakers

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