Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Webpage: Presidential Museum

General Description: The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is located in downtown Grand Rapids, however, there is sufficient free parking at the museum along the Grand River for visitors.  The Museum highlights the life of Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President, from his beginnings as a boy growing up in Grand Rapids.  As a boy he attained the rank of Eagle Scout with the BSA, a distinction that he viewed as a major contributor to his integrity later in life.  He attended Grand Rapids South High School where he was the captain of the football team.  Ford then joined the football team at University of Michigan were he contributed to two undefeated seasons in 1932 and 1933.   A number of key injuries the following year tanked the team, which one only a single game in 1934.  Ford graduated in 1934, earning a BS in Economics.  Turning down to offers to play professional football, Ford attended law school at Yale earning his LLB in 1941.  He then returned to Grand Rapids where he opened a law firm with friend Phillip Buchen.  However, World War II intervened and Ford enlisted in the US Navy in 1942 where he served for a year as an instructor and sports coach at the Navy Preflight School in Chapel Hill, South Carolina.  After applying for sea duty in 1943, he was assigned to the new aircraft carrier, USS Monterey where he served as the assistant navigator, Athletic Officer, and antiaircraft battery officer.  The Monterey saw a lot of action in the Pacific serving with the 3rd and 5th Fleets in 1943 and 1944.  Although never damaged by the Japanese, the Monterey was one of several ships damaged and/or sunk by the typhoon that hit Halsey’s Third Fleet in December, 1944.  The Fleet lost 3 destroyers and 800 men during the typhoon.  The Monterey was severely by a fire that broke out when some of the planes broke loose during the storm.  Following the war, Ford once again returned to Grand Rapids where he married Elizabeth Warren in 1948 and got involved in local politics.  He surprised everyone by beating the incumbent Congressman Bartel Jonkman winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 1949.  He continued to serve in the House for 25 years where he was largely notable for his modesty.  He gained valuable experience on the House Appropriations Committee where he was a prominent member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.  In the early 1950s he declined offers to run for the Senate or Michigan Governor, as his goal was to become Speaker of the House.  In November, 1963 Ford was appointed to the Warren Commission by President Johnson to investigate the Kennedy Assassination.  Following Johnson’s landslide victory for a second term as President and the loss of 35 seats in the House, the Republican Party lost their House majority.  Ford was selected by his colleagues to serve as House Minority Leader, the closest he ever came to his goal.  After President Nixon was elected in 1968, Ford became an advocate for the President’s policies in the House.  His work was instrumental in the passing of many key pieces of legislation including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Tax Reform Act of 1969, and a Revenue Sharing program for state and local governments.  When Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned over tax evasion and money laundering charges, Gerald Ford was nominated and confirmed by Congress to serve as the new Vice President, the first time the vice presidency provision of the 25th Amendment had been implemented.  He joined the White House as the Watergate scandal was tearing apart the Presidency.  When Richard Nixon resigned in August, 1974, Gerald Ford became the 38th President and the first not to have been elected on a Presidential ticket.  His main goal as President was to reestablish confidence in the US Government which included a pardon for Nixon in September, so the country could move on.  While controversial at the time, his decision has proven to be the correct one.  Ford’s Presidency was noted for its efforts to stem inflation and unemployment on the domestic front and continuation of the SALT talks and treaties with the Soviet Union.  After losing a bid for reelection to Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976, Gerald Ford retired to Grand Rapids.  He continued to active on the national and international scene making appearances at several historic and ceremonial events.  He considered a rematch with Carter in 1980, but Ronald Regan obtained the Republican Party Nomination.

Ticket

Impressions:

1) The Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum is a beautiful building on the banks of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The all glass front provides spectacular reflections of the river and Grand Rapids skyline.

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2) The inside of the museum is divided up in a number of interesting exhibit spaces for each phase of Gerald Ford’s life and career, beginning with his childhood and the achievement of Eagle Scout.  The next area is devoted to his college and football career, followed by his time in the US Navy.  There is then a large area for his career in the House of Representatives which spans 25 years of his life.  Notable exhibits include his work on the Warren Commission and lessons learned while being on the Appropriations Committee.

3) There is then a large exhibit about his nomination to be Vice President, the Watergate scandal, the resignation of President Nixon, and the subsequent pardoning of Nixon.  They have a mock up of his Oval Office in the White House, as well as, a model of the White House itself.  Finally there is a set of exhibits about his post-Presidency period.  Throughout, the exhibits are very well done, with a lot of information and the opportunity to dig even deeper with touch screens that can be used to pull up additional information.  They only thing that was missing that we have enjoyed in other Presidential Museums are the “gifts” from foreign governments and dignitaries that can be quite spectacular.

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4) Outside the museum is the tomb where President Ford and his wife are buried in a very nice tree lined area.

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