Twelve sitting presidents have visited Bangor. Sound like minor bragging rights? It’s a bigger deal than it seems, since more than a quarter of all presidents have visited a small city without a large population base.
Today, Bangor’s population represents barely over 1 percent of 1 percent of the nation’s total — on an East Coast that has more than a third of the country’s people. Even Penobscot County’s roughly 154,000 people is still not quite 5 percent of 1 percent. To be fair, when our first presidential visitor arrived in 1871, it was just over 20 percent of 1 percent. No matter how you cut it, Bangor has never been a prime spot to reach a large chunk of the constituency.
Many future presidents have stopped by, such as William McKinley, James Garfield, and Barack Obama, and past presidents such as Herbert Hoover. No president has come from Maine, and only one of the 32 vice presidents who never served as president, Hannibal Hamlin, was.
Ulysses S. Grant dropped in first on October 17-18, 1871, one of only two who stayed overnight; he did so at the Bangor House. He was here to officiate in the inaugural ceremony of the European & North American Railroad line opening in Bangor; back then, many were pushing for an east-west railway to connect Canada with New York. This sounds eerily familiar to our current east-west corridor debate. The railroad, however, didn’t fly.
Chester A. Arthur and Benjamin Harrison made campaign whistle stops here — Arthur on September 13, 1882 and Harrison on August 8, 1889.
Theodore Roosevelt was next, when he spoke at the Bangor House on August 27, 1902. He then visited Maplewood Park (now Bass Park), where people paid a dollar to hear him speak — the rough equivalent of nearly $25 today, which caused something of a local uproar.
William Howard Taft was spending time on Mount Desert Island before taking a train to Bangor on July 23, 1910. After a 40-minute automobile tour in a 40-horsepower White Steamer, he gave a speech from the portico of the Bangor House. Thousands gathered to listen, but the BDN reported that it wasn’t a political speech. After lunch in the hotel, Taft took the train back to the MDI ferry.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was in Maine for a fishing trip in the Rangeley Lakes region. Before leaving, he stopped at Dow Air Force Base in Bangor and spoke to Gov. Edmund Muskie, members of Maine’s congressional delegation, and others at 8:33 p.m. on June 27, 1955. He also came through Bangor on the way back from a summit in July.
John F. Kennedy visited the University of Maine at Orono on October 19, 1963, where he delivered his last major foreign-policy speech before his assassination. JFK arrived at Bangor on Air Force One before taking a helicopter to Orono. He flew out of Bangor later that day.
Lyndon B. Johnson passed through Bangor on August 21, 1966. He was on his way to Campobello Island, New Brunswick, to speak to political dignitaries and others from the U.S. and Canada, and briefly appeared before a crowd of about 4,000. There were no anti-LBJ groups reported.
Richard Nixon arrived at Bangor International Airport on August 6, 1971, on his way to a weekend vacation at the home of Jack Dreyfus on Minot Island. Presumably, Nixon returned to Bangor to fly out. He was greeted by thousands of supporters, but also a small group of hecklers and Vietnam War protesters.
Jimmy Carter did something on February 17, 1978, that no president today would likely pull off: He stayed at someone’s house. Carter spent the night with the middle-class Murray family on Maple Street, as part of his efforts to get in touch with his constituents.
Bill Clinton made a campaign stop at Bangor International Airport on November 1, 1996. After he left the presidency, he returned on Jan. 9, 2006, to greet troops.
George W. Bush is the last sitting president to stop here. He made a campaign visit on September 23, 2004.
Although Barack Obama visited Maine in 2010, he hasn’t come to Bangor as president. The fact is, if we go beyond Bangor, many presidents have visited Maine — such as both George Bushes, who regularly vacationed in Kennebunkport.
Statistically, we’ve averaged a presidential visit about every 11 years from 1871 to 2004. That would put 2015 as our next statistically probably year for a visit.
It took 82 years for Bangor to receive its first presidential visitor, but since then the city has drawn more than a quarter of all presidents — and 12 of 27 since the first one visited. The little city with its meager population, one located way off the usual political path and at the northeast end of everywhere in the U.S., has certainly beaten the presidential odds.