Theodore Roosevelt Visits Lansing
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Michigan Agricultural College, or MAC (later known as Michigan State University) planned to observe its Fiftieth Anniversary in May 1907. President Snyder contemplated whom to invite as the keynote speaker. He wanted the anniversary celebrations to showcase the nation's first agricultural college and the respect the institution had earned since his presidency began in 1896 (In his decade as College President, the student population had more than doubled, a high school diploma had been added to admission requirements, and state funding had dramatically increased.). In his mind, only one man could embody this purpose: the progressive President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.
In the spring of 1906, Snyder visited Washington, D.C. and met with President Roosevelt. Snyder extended an invitation to speak at MAC's Semicentennial Celebration and the President accepted immediately.
Civic leaders were thrilled to have the President visit their city, but knew there was much to do. In the weeks before the President's arrival, the city prepared for what became known as "Roosevelt Day." Lansing citizens were encouraged to decorate their business and homes "to the best of their ability," sweep their streets, and be gracious and hospitable. Many residents also put up pictures of Roosevelt in their windows. The President's visit would showcase Lansing to the country, and they wanted to make a good impression.
On May 31, 1907, Roosevelt arrived at the Lake Shore Depot on East Michigan Avenue. Governor Fred M. Warner, Lansing mayor Hugh Lyons, and M.A.C. president Snyder all greeted him there. Roosevelt's first stop was the Capitol, where he gave a speech from the balcony to the ecstatic public outside. Recalling Michigan's participation in the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt spoke on the need for more National Guard troops. Next, he headed to the House Chambers. There, he cautioned the legislators against making campaign promises and not following through on them once in office. He also thanked the state legislature in their efforts to break monopolies and trusts, a key part of the Roosevelt Administration's agenda.
Roosevelt left the capitol at 11:30 a.m. and was personally driven to MAC by Ransom E. Olds, proprietor of REO Motor Company. This was a novel gesture of the time, intended to bring attention to the Lansing automobile industry. Roosevelt sat beside President Snyder with the President's personal secretary seated in front with Olds (see photo above). After a tour of the campus and lunch at Snyder's home, President Roosevelt headed to the speaker platform.
Before a crowd of about 20,000 people. Roosevelt began his speech. He emphasized the importance of agriculture in an economy shifting into industry. He also discussed the dignity of manual labor and the importance of family. Roosevelt concluded by emphasizing the "happiness" of performing one's duty, not shirking it. He then personally handed a diploma to each graduate, including Myrtle Craig, MAC's first African American alumnus.
Roosevelt left campus in an Oldsmobile. After learning of the rivalry between REO and Oldsmobile, the President insisted on arriving in one company's car and leaving in the other's, so as to not show preference. Upon arriving once again at the depot, "Roosevelt Day" had come to an end. Although the entire celebrations occurred in less than a day, the Lansing area remembered the event for decades to come.
The Sept./Oct 1995 issue of Michigan History Magazine featured an article comparing the visit of President Roosevelt in 1907 to President Clinton's visit to the area in 1995. To learn more about Michigan History Magazine, please visit http://www.michiganhistorymagazine.com/
-Nicole Garrett, Project Archivist
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Archives of Michigan
Michigan Library and Historical Center
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Lansing, MI 48913
Phone: (517) 373-1408
This page is the Archives Image of the Month page for May 2007.