Utah's most important visitors — president of the United States

Published: Sunday, Oct. 2 2011 4:08 p.m. MDT

Way out here in the West far away from the streets of Washington, D.C., the citizens of Utah had yet to participate in a visit from a president of the United States. But on Oct. 4, 1875, 136 years ago, they finally got their chance.

President U.S. Grant, while visiting Colorado, decided that he would go farther west than any other chief executive by visiting the city of the Saints. Grant's train pulled into Ogden, where LDS Church President Brigham Young and George Q. Cannon, along with the territorial governor, George Emery and other officials, boarded the Presidential Special.

Upon boarding the train, Young was introduced to Grant by George Q. Cannon, Utah's congressional delegate at the time. When Young was introduced, he at first did not understand who he was being introduced to, but when he realized who it was, he said to Grant "President Grant this the first time I have ever seen a president of my country." After a few words, Young went into the next car and met Mrs. Grant and the other members of the traveling party.

Young would never know that he had met a man who would become president three years after his death in 1877. Gen. James A. Garfield, a member of Congress, visited Utah in 1872 and again just a few months before Grant in 1875. Unfortunately for Garfield, he became president in March 1881 only to be fatally shot in July. He was standing with Robert Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's son, in the Washington's train station. He died several months later.

One hundred years ago this coming Wednesday, Salt Lake City greeted another president, William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States. Taft was one of the first VIPs to stay at the Hotel Utah and one of many presidents to follow.

Taft, also known as our largest president at a little more than 300 pounds, enjoyed the fine food at the Hotel Utah. (You can view his huge menu shown in our photo gallery). Taft had been in Utah before in 1909 on a two-day visit of the city.

While in Salt Lake City, Taft visited the state fair, went to Fort Douglas to review the troops and spoke at a number of special gatherings at the Commercial Club and the Alta Club. He also addressed elderly residents of Utah gathered in the Tabernacle. You can see photos of these historic visits at the gallery on this page.

Joining Taft on his visit was his military aide, Maj. Archibald Butt. The major became a close friend of both Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Taft. After returning to Washington, Taft, who was concerned about his good friend's health, sent him to Europe on a well-deserved vacation. There was only one thing wrong with the major's plan, he would come home on a new ship named the HMS Titanic. Butt was lost, and Taft was depressed for months.

Since Grant's visit of 1875, almost every president has visited the Beehive State. Only three presidents have not visited the state since Grant, Presidents Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge. It's something to note that Cleveland, who gave birth to the state of Utah, never came to visit. President Barack Obama came to Utah as a candidate in 2008 but not yet as our nation's chief executive.

We invite you to submit photos to us at UtahHistoryPhotos@gmail.com. We are looking for any photos or scans of any presidential visit to Utah. If you would like to find out a little more about the importance or value of your old photographs, send them to us. Please consider donating your old photos to colleges and universities and state and local historical societies or church history libraries, rather than see historic images fall into disrepair or be tossed away.

Ronald Fox owns a governmental relations and marketing firm. He is a photo historian and co-author with Mike Winder of the book "When the White House comes to Zion." He has served as an advance man for five U.S. presidents.

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