President Taft Drove an Electric Car

By David Thomas  on October 21, 2008

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Most of the time, press releases are pretty boring and not great fodder for a blog — especially press releases from insurance companies. But not one we came across a few minutes ago, from Hagerty Insurance. The company specializes in covering collectible cars and classic boats.

Hagerty came up with a top 10 list of past presidents of the United States and what they drove, as well as the current candidates, as a tie-in to today’s presidential race.

The most interesting to us is the first one mentioned: William Taft’s Baker Electric — yes, there were electric cars in the earliest days of automotive history. Not surprisingly, Jay Leno (pictured, apologies to President Taft) owns one. 

The full top 10 list and Hagerty’s comments are below.

1. William Taft (president from 1909-1913): Baker Electric — Taft was the first president to own and drive cars during his presidency. One of the most interesting cars he owned was, ironically enough, "green" — a Baker Electric. This electric vehicle was especially popular with women in the era, as it did not require any cranking and was virtually maintenance-free. 

2. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945): 1939 Packard 12 — In the 1920s and ‘30s, Packard produced some of the most beautiful and innovative cars of the era. Packard's V-12 engine was especially smooth and provided exceptional performance in its time.

3. Harry S Truman (1945-1953): 1945 Ford Super DeLuxe Tudor Sedan — All automakers shut down their production during World War II and did not return to making passenger cars until 1946. The very first car assembled after World War II was a white Super DeLuxe Tudor Sedan assembled on July 3, 1945, and it went to President Truman.

4. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961): 1956 Chrysler Imperial — The 1956 Chrysler was updated with the new 1956 "Forward Look" styling. This particular model was frequently used by President Eisenhower and became known as "The Detroit Car." 

5. John F. Kennedy
(1960-1963): 1961 T-Bird convertible — This was the first year for the much sleeker "Bullet Bird" styling. The Thunderbird was 1961's Indianapolis 500 pace car and was featured prominently in President Kennedy's inaugural parade. (This was probably helped along by the appointment of Ford executive Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense.) 

6. Richard Nixon (1969-1974): 1950 Oldsmobile — This particular car owned by President Nixon is of historic impact because it was referred to during his infamous "Checkers" speech that was said to save his candidacy for vice president when his honesty and loyalty were in question. 

7. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): 1952 Army Jeep, Model M-38A1 — This was a gift to President Reagan from his wife, Nancy, and was considered highly collectible by the time he received it in the late 1970s.

8. Bill Clinton
(1993-2001): 1967 Mustang convertible — President Clinton owned this Mustang as a collector car prior to and during his presidency. He has been quoted as saying that this car was the hardest thing for him to leave behind when he moved to the White House. 

9. John McCain (2008 candidate): First car: 1958 Corvette — This is considered a highly coveted collector car and was the first year for the dual front headlights, which gave the car a much more aggressive look than any earlier Corvette.

Current car: 2006 Cadillac CTS — The CTS is Cadillac's entry-luxury sport sedan, designed to compete with the best European sport sedans. This is a midsize luxury car that gets respectable fuel mileage — up to 27 mpg.

10. Barack Obama (2008 candidate): First car: Ford Granada — This was reportedly Obama's grandfather's car and the car he learned to drive in. To quote Obama: "It may be the worst car that Detroit ever built. ... This thing was a tin can. (Detroit was) trying to compete with the Japanese. They wanted to keep the cars big, so they made them out of tin foil. ... You basically couldn't go over 80 [mph] without the thing getting out of control."

Current car: Ford Escape Hybrid — Nearly 100 years after William Taft drove an electric vehicle, Obama traded in his Chrysler 300C for a more fuel-efficient Ford Escape Hybrid. It makes sense that Obama owns a hybrid, as he is a big supporter of researching the best methods for alternative fuels for transportation

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Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David