Written by Sam Marks
Most people have a daily commute to their jobs. Whether it is by walking, bike, car, or public transport, the daily 9-to-5 journey is a staple in most professional lives. Everyone from museum curators to astronomers finds a means of traveling from their home to their place of work and back again. While most can imagine “office jobs” requiring some form of commute, it is hard to imagine that a president of the United States had a daily drive to his place of work. For the first ten days of his presidency, 38th US President Gerald Ford commuted to the White House from his suburban home.
Currently, Ford stands out among presidents as the only person in US history to become US president and vice president without being nationally elected. Before serving as either, Ford was the Republican House Minority leader. He was confirmed as vice president by Congress following Spiro Agnew’s resignation, mainly due to Ford’s disconnect from the scandals of the Richard Nixon administration. Known for his moderate and bipartisan record, Ford was one of the few Republicans the Democratic Congress would confirm for the position. After Nixon had resigned on 9 August 1974 due to the Watergate Scandal, Vice President Ford, in the natural line of succession, was sworn in as US President.
When Ford swore his oath of office, he entered one of the most unusual and unchartered times in American history. It was the first time a US president had resigned from office, an economic crisis rivalling the Great Depression was on the rise, the US had just pulled out of the Vietnam War, and the Cold War was a permanent backdrop to the global politics of the time. To add to the cavalcade of abnormality, Ford did not begin his executive duties from the White House. The Nixon family’s abrupt departure from the presidential home meant that it was not ready for the new first family to move in when he became president. While the White House was being made ready for Ford’s family, for ten days straight he journeyed to DC from his home at 514 Crown View Drive, Alexandria, Virginia.
In her biography, First Lady Betty Ford described the scene: “the President of the United States, in baby-blue short pajamas, appears on his doorstep looking for the morning paper, then goes inside to fix his orange juice and English muffin” before beginning his daily commute to the White House. Police blocked off the streets from vehicle access. Secret Service members escorted the president on the drive, thirty minutes there-and-back, each day. Various television trucks were camped on the ends of the street for days. Ford’s house was wired with security equipment and surveillance cameras. For those ten days, the normally quiet suburban drive was the center of political focus. Despite all this fervor, one neighbor found it delightful “to think that the President of the United States lived on Crown View Drive” in a red brick house like theirs.
On 19 August, the White House was ready to welcome the Ford family. The president served the remainder of his term as a resident of the White House, even seeing his daughter Susan host her high school prom there in 1975. After the Fords left office as a result of losing the 1976 presidential election, First Lady Ford wrote in her biography that “leaving the White House wasn’t nearly so much of a wrench as leaving that house in Alexandria”. The Fords lived in the White House for three years; they lived in Alexandria for nineteen. 514 Crown View Drive became a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
DePaul, Amy. “Former Ford Home A Historic Landmark Family Lived in Alexandria House.” Washington Post, March 20, 1986. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1986/03/20/former-ford-home-a-historic-landmark-family-lived-in-alexandria-house/153e4c78-8207-4dbc-8fa6-c0f2661ee6bf/.
Ford, Betty. The Times of My Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1978.
Fraga, Kaleena. “After the Storm: Ford’s First Week as President.” History First (blog), August 14, 2018. https://history-first.com/2018/08/14/after-the-storm-fords-first-week-as-president/.
Gonyea, Don. “An Unprecedented Transfer Of Power Marked Ford’s Presidency.” NPR, August 18, 2014, sec. Politics. https://www.npr.org/2014/08/18/340347549/think-youve-had-a-rough-work-week-just-ask-gerald-ford.
National Event Pros. “Great Moments in Event History: Prom at the White House,” January 18, 2017. https://nationaleventpros.com/great-moments-in-event-history-prom-at-the-white-house/.
Jones, Mark. “When the White House Was in Alexandria.” Boundary Stones: WETA’s Washington DC History Blog. Accessed October 28, 2022. https://boundarystones.weta.org/2013/05/08/when-white-house-was-alexandria.
Kennerly, David Hume. “David Hume Kennerly: Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer.” David Hume Kennerly, October 4, 2013. https://kennerly.com/.
Featured image credit: Photograph by David Hume Kennerly. Accessed via MPR News: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/08/18/president-ford. Used under fair use policy.