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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-15-004    Date:  May/June 2015
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-15-004
Issue No: Vol. 78 No. 6
Date: May/June 2015

 

On The Road With Ike and Niki

by Richard F. Weingroff

During Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s 1959 visit to the United States, President Eisenhower thought showing off U.S. roadways would demonstrate the country’s prosperity. The President had two chances. Neither worked.

At Andrews Air Force Base, President Eisenhower (second from right, with hat, in front row) and Premier Khrushchev (to the President’s right) walk from the Premier’s TU-114 airplane. After taking office in 1953, the Premier had been embarrassed by the Soviet Union’s small official airplane. He ordered aircraft designer Andrei Tupolev to build the biggest airplane possible. According to author Peter Carlson,
At Andrews Air Force Base, President Eisenhower (second from right, with hat, in front row) and Premier Khrushchev (to the President’s right) walk from the Premier’s TU-114 airplane. After taking office in 1953, the Premier had been embarrassed by the Soviet Union’s small official airplane. He ordered aircraft designer Andrei Tupolev to build the biggest airplane possible. According to author Peter Carlson, the TU-114 was “a 177-foot [54-meter], 220-passenger plane that stood 50 feet [15 meters] off the ground—the world’s tallest aircraft.” Carlson added, “Khrushchev was so pleased that he kept a model of the TU-114 on his desk in the Kremlin.”

On September 15, 1959, Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for talks with President Dwight D. (“Ike”) Eisenhower and a whirlwind 2-week tour of the United States. After ceremonies and speeches, the President, the Premier, and Mrs. Khrushchev entered the President’s open-topped limousine for the trip to the District of Columbia.

Dana Adams Schmidt of The New York Times reported: “In the President’s open Lincoln automobile, General Eisenhower was to have been seated on the left, Mr. Khrushchev on the right and Mme. Khrushchev in the middle. But somehow President Eisenhower got in the middle and it seemed to be a tight squeeze for the three of them.

“Mr. Khrushchev looked as if he were sitting on something. Though he is a short man, his head was a little higher than the President’s in the car. He sat with his arm on the back of the seat behind the President, waving his hat with his other hand whenever he heard applause.”

Peter Carlson, author of K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America’s Most Unlikely Tourist, quoted iconoclastic journalist I. F. Stone as saying President Eisenhower looked “as if the [Central Intelligence Agency] had advised him to keep his famous smile carefully hidden lest the visiting Old Bolshevik appropriate it.”

The Motorcade To Washington

The motorcade left Andrews Air Force Base and entered Suitland Parkway. The New York Times’ Schmidt reported: “The grass on the center strip and sides of this four-lane highway had been neatly clipped. . . . On both sides the trees, just beginning to turn to autumn hues, crowded the highway.”

With the vehicle moving at a steady pace of 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour, the President and his two visitors observed a motel under construction about 6 miles (10 kilometers) from Andrews Air Force Base and a new apartment house “with spacious balconies,” Schmidt wrote. “A little farther on there was a playground, where a group of . . . school children gave the visitor’s party perhaps the most enthusiastic and certainly the shrillest greeting of the day.” The Ace and Van Storage Company displayed a huge sign: “Visit Our Warehouse. Product of Free Enterprise.”

President Eisenhower (center, dark suit, with hat) walked to the ceremonial greeting for Premier Khrushchev (behind the President) at Andrews Air Force Base. The Premier’s wife, Nina (holding bouquet), watches.
President Eisenhower (center, dark suit, with hat) walked to the ceremonial greeting for Premier Khrushchev (behind the President) at Andrews Air Force Base. The Premier’s wife, Nina (holding bouquet), watches.

They crossed into the city and drove over the curving South Capitol Street Bridge (now called the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge), which had opened in 1950. The bridge provided a stunning view of the Capitol dome, at the time “clothed in scaffolding,” wrote Schmidt. The motorcade passed through “several blocks of slums” in southwest Washington. Schmidt continued: “The first heavy crowds began as the motorcade swung from Canal Street into Independence Avenue. Now the Soviet Premier saw broad streets, monumental Government buildings, and well-kept public gardens.”

They turned north on 14th Street and drove past the Treasury Building before turning left onto Pennsylvania Avenue.

The motorcade headed toward Blair House, where the Premier, his family, and entourage would stay, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Schmidt reported that “the faces of 200,000 multiracial Americans were what may have caught his eye as he rode into the capital.”

The Evening Star (a DC newspaper of that time) described “the tightest security cordon ever arranged for a foreign dignitary.” The paper continued: “The 15-mile [24-kilometer] parade route from Andrews Field to Blair House was guarded by more than 4,000 police, National Guardsmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines.”

Suitland Parkway

The Suitland Parkway in Maryland.
The Suitland Parkway in Maryland.
The Public Roads Administration (now FHWA) built Suitland Parkway for the War Department during World War II to connect the new Camp Springs Army Air Field (later Andrews Air Force Base, now Joint Base Andrews) in Maryland with Bolling Field (later Bolling Air Force Base, now part of Joint Base Anacostia–Bolling) on the east bank of the Potomac River in the District of Columbia. The Public Roads Administration completed construction in 1944. President Harry S. Truman approved legislation on August 17, 1949, transferring the parkway to the Department of the Interior for operation by the National Park Service (NPS).

The transfer reflected the diminished military importance of the parkway after the war. While primarily serving local travel, the parkway is best known outside of the Washington area for its role in transporting dignitaries. An NPS history says that Suitland Parkway “has hosted both triumphal and mournful processions of public officials: from presidents returning from diplomatic achievements to the funeral procession of President John F. Kennedy.” It also carried Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during his visit to the United States in 1959.

As for the public, the Evening Star reported: “However, only sparse crowds were along the route until the motorcade reached the downtown area. There the noon-hour pedestrians and spectators thronged the streets and a crowd estimated by police at 10,000 was in Lafayette Square and on the sidewalks in front of the White House.”

Onlookers were uncertain how to react to this leader from the other side of the Iron Curtain who in 1956 had stated that history was on the Soviet’s side and that “We will bury you.” The Washington Post and Times Herald (the Post used the merged title for a time after buying out the Herald) said of the reaction: “The press in the United States uniformly described the reaction as quiet, courteous, restrained, undemonstrative, and curious, but with almost no show of hostility. British newspapers used phrases such as ‘icy,’ ‘frozen mitt,’ and ‘deep-freeze treatment.’”

A woman on 14th Street told a New York Times reporter, “It seems more like a funeral procession than a parade.”

In the Soviet Union, by contrast, Pravda reported that “shouts rolled up like waves [and] all around a sea of raised hands was swaying.” The newspaper estimated that more than 300,000 people saw the motorcade, adding that “not even the end of World War II brought such a sea of people onto the streets of Washington.”

Carlson, author of K Blows Top, recalled the Premier’s reaction: “People were looking at us,” Khrushchev noted, “as if we were some kind of oddity.”

From Eisenhower’s perspective, the trip into the city had been a good start because he wanted the Premier to see a diverse, prosperous America.

The Kitchen Debate

The President knew that Premier Krushchev would take every opportunity to comment on the superiority of the Soviet Union. Vice President Richard M. Nixon had encountered this tendency on July 24, 1959, when he and the Premier visited the U.S. exhibit at the American National Exhibition in Moscow’s Sokolniki Park. Told that the United States was 150 years old, Khrushchev said that the Soviet Union, only 42 years old, “will be on the same level as America” in 7 years. As reported by Carlson, the Premier added with a mocking little wave, “When we catch up to you, in passing by, we will wave to you.”

The two men entered a typical American subdivision house on display at the exhibition. Once in the kitchen, the Premier refused to be impressed by the labor-saving devices on display. Again, as reported by Carlson, when Nixon said these devices made life easier on American housewives, Khrushchev said, “The Soviets do not share this capitalist attitude toward women.” He claimed that Soviet homes already had all these devices. Nixon suggested it would be better to compete in washing machines instead of rockets, but Khrushchev countered that it was U.S. generals who wanted to compete in rockets.

After a few more rounds of comparisons of consumer goods and which country was fighting harder for peace, they concluded what soon became known as the “kitchen debate.” Leaving, Premier Khrushchev told Nixon, “Thank the housewife for letting us use her kitchen for our argument.”

Boasting of Bumper-To-Bumper Traffic

During preparations for the Premier’s visit, the President had proposed a brief sightseeing excursion over the city by helicopter. Eisenhower biographer Stephen Ambrose explained that with the Nixon-Khrushchev kitchen debate in mind, the President “wanted Khrushchev to see all those middle-class homes, and all those automobiles rushing out of Washington in the late afternoon to get to them.” They symbolized the success of the American economic system.

Khrushchev initially declined the tour, saying he did not like helicopters. Actually, he feared it was a plot to assassinate him in a crash. However, during the drive into the city, he agreed to the tour when President Eisenhower said that he would be in the helicopter, too. As reported by Carlson and recalled in Ike’s memoir, the Premier said, “If you are to be in the same helicopter, of course, I will go.”

Following afternoon discussions, the two entered a Marine helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House and took off during the afternoon rush hour for what Earl H. Voss of the Evening Star called “the coup of the day.” Voss, in one of the following helicopters, described the trip: “The bumper-to-bumper exodus to Virginia and Maryland suburbs was at its peak when the President and his guest took off. . . . The Premier was provided with a detailed map, in color, so he could follow the route his helicopter took.”

On Independence Avenue near 4th Street, SW, a motorcade carries President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev (in the lead limousine) to the White House for discussions. The building on the right housed the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare at the time. It is now called the Wilbur J. Cohen Federal Building.
On Independence Avenue near 4th Street, SW, a motorcade carries President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev (in the lead limousine) to the White House for discussions. The building on the right housed the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare at the time. It is now called the Wilbur J. Cohen Federal Building.

The helicopter headed for the Washington Monument before turning toward the Capitol, hovering briefly over the Supreme Court building, the Library of Congress, and the Senate and House office buildings. Turning west, the helicopter passed over the Smithsonian Institution buildings on The National Mall and the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.

The aerial tourists then flew along the Potomac River, before turning south to follow the river to Jones Point in Alexandria, VA (site of the original Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, then under construction, on the Capital Beltway). According to Voss, the Soviet Premier saw the “jammed highway bridges” carrying traffic out of the city and then the Washington National Airport, the runways of which had been too short for his giant Soviet TU-114 turboprop airplane.

The first families formed a receiving line for a reception at the White House on September 15, 1959. From left: Nina Khrushchev, Mamie Eisenhower, Premier Khrushchev, and President Eisenhower.
The first families formed a receiving line for a reception at the White House on September 15, 1959. From left: Nina Khrushchev, Mamie Eisenhower, Premier Khrushchev, and President Eisenhower.

The helicopter flew over the George Washington Memorial Parkway to Alexandria and passed over the Hunting Towers Apartment. After passing the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, the helicopter crossed over the Fairlington and Parkfairfax apartments, the Shirley Highway (then designated I–95, now I–395), and “the giant Springfield housing development and several big shopping centers, including one at Seven Corners.” Voss continued: “There were neatly landscaped areas, with trees and shrubs, along Arlington Boulevard, the sleepy community of Falls Church aroused for the evening traffic jam, the pretty homes in rural settings along the Leesburg Pike and the impressive Great Falls of the Potomac, where the Premier’s party crossed into Maryland to see the plush, white-fence places along River Road.”

President Eisenhower (leading the group at right) and Premier Khrushchev (partially hidden on the President’s right) walk to a helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House for an aerial tour of the Washington area. The President wanted to show his Soviet counterpart the homes and traffic that reflected American prosperity.
President Eisenhower (leading the group at right) and Premier Khrushchev (partially hidden on the President’s right) walk to a helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House for an aerial tour of the Washington area. The President wanted to show his Soviet counterpart the homes and traffic that reflected American prosperity.

In Maryland, they passed over Burning Tree Country Club, where the President often played golf, and passed the National Institutes of Health and the National Naval Medical Center (now the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center). Carlson, the author, added the detail that “Ike pointed out cars on the roads below--their red brake lights flashing on and off in the stop-and-go traffic.”

Carlson wrote: “The president asked the chairman if he played golf. Khrushchev said he knew nothing about it. Eager to show the premier his favorite sport, Ike told the pilot to drop a little lower. The chopper swooped down over the sixteenth green, where the noise and wind of the rotors caused a golfer to muff an easy four-inch putt.

“By sheer coincidence, the golfer was Senator J. William Fulbright, who had invited Khrushchev to tea with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the next day.”

The helicopter takes off from the South Lawn of the White House with the Washington Monument in the background.
The helicopter takes off from the South Lawn of the White House with the Washington Monument in the background.

The helicopter flew back to the Potomac and followed it into the District, past the Naval Observatory and Georgetown before touching down at the White House before 6 p.m. Voss wrote that they had seen: “Homes of the wealthy, the middle classes, and the poor, of the aged and the young, one-family houses of solid brick standing in great clusters, apartment villages, two-car driveways--all passed beneath Mr. Khrushchev’s bubble-window.”

The Strategy Fizzles

The Premier had seen exactly what the President wanted to display. The President was, however, disappointed in the Premier’s reaction. As biographer Ambrose put it, Khrushchev “would not say anything, or even change expression.”

In President Eisenhower’s 1965 memoir, Waging Peace, he recalled: “I would have given a good deal to know what he thought of the spectacular flow of thousands of automobiles so dramatically displayed below us. In Moscow, Khrushchev had simply refused to believe Vice President Nixon’s statement that most American families owned cars. Our helicopter trip occurred as the government offices were closing; so cars formed literally continuous ribbons of movement, on highways and bridges, for as far as we could see. He must have been persuaded of the truth of Nixon’s statement, but stoically refrained from saying so or even changing expression.”

The most powerful tourists in the world—Premier Khrushchev (standing next to the officer) and President Eisenhower (on the ground after exiting)—leave the helicopter after their tour of the Washington area.
The most powerful tourists in the world—Premier Khrushchev (standing next to the officer) and President Eisenhower (on the ground after exiting)—leave the helicopter after their tour of the Washington area.

The Premier did, however, admire the helicopter. He ordered three of them for his own use.

Premier Khrushchev received wide publicity throughout his trip across the country, especially when he visited the set of the movie Can-Can, ate with a crowd of Hollywood celebrities, and met Marilyn Monroe, the Nation’s reigning sex symbol. (As reported by Carlson, the Premier told her, “You’re a very lovely young lady.” Later, she told reporters, “He looked at me the way a man looks on a woman.”) One of the most widely recalled aspects of the tour was that Premier Khrushchev was angered and his family disappointed when their much-anticipated trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, was canceled, reportedly for security reasons.

Presidential Limousines

In 1954, President Eisenhower suggested adding a Plexiglas® cover to the White House convertible for all-weather use. In this photo, President Eisenhower salutes the crowd from the convertible on his way to participate in the bicentennial celebration of Fort Ligonier, PA, on September 26, 1958.
In 1954, President Eisenhower suggested adding a Plexiglas® cover to the White House convertible for all-weather use. In this photo, President Eisenhower salutes the crowd from the convertible on his way to participate in the bicentennial celebration of Fort Ligonier, PA, on September 26, 1958.
In 1950, the Ford Motor Company leased 10 Lincoln Cosmopolitans (nine sedans and a convertible) to the White House for President Harry S. Truman’s use in return for a nominal annual fee. All were black, with roofs high enough to accommodate top hats. Upon taking office on January 20, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower continued using the limousines the company had provided to President Truman. In 1954, President Eisenhower had the convertible retrofitted with a dome-shaped Plexiglas® bubble-top that allowed spectators to see the occupants of the vehicle while protecting the occupants from the weather.

 

Back to DC

After a final stop in Pittsburgh, PA, Premier Khrushchev returned to Andrews Air Force Base on an Air Force plane, arriving around 5:30 p.m. on September 24. In the absence of President Eisenhower, officials held brief welcoming ceremonies before Khrushchev entered the White House’s bubble-top limousine that enabled spectators to see the passengers. The motorcade traveled the Suitland Parkway again to Blair House. However, this trip was less momentous than the first, as Russell Baker explained in The New York Times: “Like the second All-Star baseball game [two were played each year from 1959 to 1962], Premier Khrushchev’s second arrival in Washington today was one spectacle too many for a single season.”

Baker wrote: “His first entry Sept. 15 had the sense of a great, if sober, occasion. Today, he was just another distinguished visitor in a town that has become blasé about them.

“Crowds on the sidewalks were thinner than at his first arrival. . . . The crowds seemed largely composed of office workers who paused en route home. There seemed to be more waving and cheering than when he first was here, but many visitors have attracted more.”

The Star agreed that “the reception. . . . was again cool, if anything more restrained than on his first arrival here 10 days ago.” Police estimated that about 100,000 people saw the motorcade on its return to Blair House. Most of those along the way “watched him pass in silence. The only cheers came from children.”

Premier Khrushchev attended a reception at the Embassy of the Soviet Union. His next stop was at a hotel for a dinner. The Star reported: “The Soviet leader startled his cordon of security guards by walking the two blocks from the Embassy to the Sheraton-Carlton. Shunning a carefully arranged motorcade, he strolled down 16th Street surrounded by a swarm of newsmen, seemingly unperturbed by the chaos he was causing.”

On to Camp David

The following day, he joined the President for a half-hour helicopter ride to Camp David in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains. There, talks lasted 2 days, but the two leaders took a break at one point for a helicopter ride to the President’s farm in Gettysburg near U.S. 30, the Lincoln Highway, the same road a young Dwight D. Eisenhower had followed to California in 1919 with the U.S. Army’s first transcontinental convoy of military motor vehicles.

During the visit to the farm, the Premier met the President’s son John and daughter-in-law Barbara, and joked with grandchildren David, Barbara, Susan, and Mary. Khrushchev invited the children to join their grandfather for his planned visit to Moscow in June 1960. The children, if not the parents, were delighted by the invitation.

After talking with the President about the farm’s Black Angus herd, Khrushchev described his country’s efforts to produce more consumer goods. The President recalled that Khrushchev belittled the individual homes he had seen in the United States, saying they meant increased work and expense for their owners for heating, transportation, repairs, and upkeep for the surrounding grounds.

On September 25, 1959, President Eisenhower (left in dark suit and hat) and Premier Khrushchev (center with medals) went to Camp David to resume negotiations on international issues. The Premier is shaking hands with White House press secretary James Hagerty.
On September 25, 1959, President Eisenhower (left in dark suit and hat) and Premier Khrushchev (center with medals) went to Camp David to resume negotiations on international issues. The Premier is shaking hands with White House press secretary James Hagerty.

Then, President Eisenhower recalled in Waging Peace, the Premier turned to the highways he had observed: “When I again called his attention to our magnificent highways and the automobiles that crowded them--as I had done on our helicopter trip around Washington ten days earlier--he now had a ready answer. He said that in his country there was little need for this type of road because the Soviet people lived close together, did not care for automobiles, had slight interest in driving around the countryside on a Sunday afternoon, and rarely changed their residences from one city to another. To this he added to my amusement: ‘Your people do not seem to like the place where they live and always want to be on the move going someplace else.’”

A Race Against Time to DC

If the President was disappointed in Khrushchev’s reaction to U.S. highways, he had a measure of revenge on September 27 when they returned to Washington. The Premier was due at the National Press Club at 4 p.m. and had to stop at Blair House first. Time was of the essence, but instead of taking the helicopter, the leaders and their entourages, as well as the assembled security forces and journalists, traveled by road. United Press International described the trip: “President Eisenhower treated Premier Khrushchev today to a breathtaking eighty-mile-an-hour [(mi/h), 129-kilometer-per-hour (km/h)] ride from Camp David to Washington. The driver [45-year-old special agent Deeter Flohr of the Secret Service] . . . took the two leaders on a trip that Mr. Khrushchev, at least, is not likely to forget.

Washington National Pike

When the convoy carrying President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev of the Soviet Union raced at high speeds from Camp David to Washington on September 27, 1959, they traveled the Washington National Pike, a new freeway designated I–70S.

The main road between Washington and Frederick, MD, had been U.S. 240, which continued along Wisconsin Avenue in the District and ended at a connection with U.S. 50 near the Lincoln Memorial. In 1949, the Maryland State Roads Commission began building a freeway alternative on a new alignment. By 1958, the Washington National Pike was nearing the District, but controversy over how it would continue through the city halted the freeway near the Capital Beltway. The south end of the freeway was split, with southeast and southwest legs connecting to the beltway.

In 1975, the Washington National Pike was renumbered I–270.

“The way was paved by Maryland and District of Columbia troopers with sirens wide open most of the time. Every intersection between Camp David and Blair House was blocked. Down the mountain side, the speed was moderate, limited by one-lane roads, wooden bridges, and blind curves. But once on the highway, the driver opened up.

“‘Speed Is More Dangerous Than a Cobra,’ a sign said. The Presidential car went by at about seventy miles an hour [113 km/h]. The speed zones called for varying limits, sixty [97 km/h] on the highway and thirty [48 km/h] in the tiny towns, but these were ignored.

“When the sixteen-car motorcade reached U.S. 240, a dual highway, Mr. Flohr touched eighty-five [137 km/h] several times. The cars went down Wisconsin Avenue in Washington at seventy-five [121 km/h] and pulled to a stop in front of Blair House eighty minutes after leaving the Catoctin Mountain cabin. The distance is about forty-five miles [72 kilometers].”

According to reporters, they left Camp David shortly after 2 p.m. and arrived at Blair House at 3:29 p.m.

Khrushchev’s reaction to the high-speed race to Washington is unknown. President Eisenhower reported that the Premier “was much interested in the countryside and continued to talk about his visit through the Nation.”

At Blair House, the two leaders said goodbye, as the Evening Star’s John Barron described: “The Soviet leader remained in the limousine a full minute talking with the President.

“Standing on the steps of Blair House, Mr. Eisenhower, even in his dark business suit, looked like a general and displayed none of the uneasiness he had revealed in the past when near the Russian.

“As they talked, Mr. Khrushchev gripped Mr. Eisenhower’s hand for a long time. The President looked him in the eye all the while. . . . Mr. Khrushchev watched as the President drove away to the cheers of several hundred persons gathered on the corner.”

Carlson, the author, added: “Khrushchev reminded the President to bring his grandchildren with him when he came to Russia in the spring. ‘I’ll bring the whole family,’ Ike said. ‘You’ll have more Eisenhowers there than you know what to do with.’”

Home to the Soviet Union

After a news conference at the National Press Club and a speech to the country on NBC, the Soviet Premier, his family, and his entourage returned along Suitland Parkway to Andrews Air Force Base. According to Barron, of the Evening Star, as the motorcade reached the floodlights at the base, “a resplendent guard drawn from all the armed services was arrayed in their honor.” Vice President Nixon presided over the final ceremonies, which consisted of a few speeches of farewell and good wishes, a 21-gun salute, and goodbyes among the U.S. and Soviet officials, reporters, and others.

In front of the Aspen Lodge at Camp David, President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev posed for photographers.
In front of the Aspen Lodge at Camp David, President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev posed for photographers.

“Laden with large bouquets of roses,” Barron reported, “Mr. and Mrs. Khrushchev walked down a red carpet,” shaking hands with dignitaries: “A limousine took them a mile to the end of the runway, where the TU-114 waited. . . . An Air Force officer explained that the plane is so heavy that if moved on the ground when loaded with gasoline its front tire would burst. Thus, the propjet earlier was towed into position and gasoline pumped into it for six hours.”

W.H. Lawrence of The New York Times added: “It appeared that the party had done some shopping during their twelve-day visit. Two big Army trucks were needed to cart their luggage to the airfield from Blair House. . . . Among the luggage were two suit boxes bearing the name Saks-Fifth Avenue. Other boxes bore the imprint of Woodward & Lothrop, a Washington department store.

“There also were twenty-six suitcases, fourteen packages wrapped in brown paper, six garment bags, two large cardboard packing boxes and a wooden crate which required two men to carry. In addition, there were two round hat-boxes and half a dozen small boxes.

“Several station wagons were used to carry hand baggage to the planes.

“Also among the luggage were two portable typewriters carrying labels marked in Russian: ‘Do not put in baggage compartment.’ This led to the speculation that some of the twenty-eight members of the party wanted to get in some work on the way home.”

Carlson, described the TU-114’s takeoff: “The plane lumbered down the runway, slowly picking up speed. It had almost run out of pavement by the time it finally managed to lift off, rising like an overstuffed goose. As spectators on the ground gasped, it just barely cleared the treetops and headed towards Moscow, 5,000 miles [8,057 kilometers] away.”

Or, as Barron of the Evening Star put it, “For about 30 seconds, [the TU-114] acted as if it intended to remain, in one form or another, on American soil.” He added: “When it finally was airborne, American and even Russian officials remained on the field, wandering about in the manner of people who cannot decide whether to straighten up or go to bed.”

As for the President’s visit to the Soviet Union with his large family of Eisenhowers, it never happened. On May 1, 1960, the Soviet Union shot down an American U-2 spy plane flown by a Central Intelligence Agency pilot named Francis Gary Powers. After initially denying that the plane was spying on the Soviet Union, President Eisenhower had to admit that it was, indeed, a spy plane after Premier Khrushchev released photos the plane had taken of Soviet military sites. When Eisenhower refused to apologize for sending spy planes over the Soviet Union, Premier Khrushchev canceled the President’s visit to that country.

Ribbon Cutting

Opening a section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia, President Eisenhower (center) snips the ribbon held by Director Conrad L. Wirth (left), of the National Park Service, and Assistant Secretary of the Interior Roger Ernst (right). Behind them are Harry T. Thompson (left), superintendent of National Capital Parks, and U.S. Representative Joel T. Broyhill (R-VA).
Opening a section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia, President Eisenhower (center) snips the ribbon held by Director Conrad L. Wirth (left), of the National Park Service, and Assistant Secretary of the Interior Roger Ernst (right).
Behind them are Harry T. Thompson (left), superintendent of National Capital Parks, and U.S. Representative Joel T. Broyhill (R-VA).
Presidents have attended highway ribbon-cutting ceremonies only on rare occasions, but President Eisenhower attended two within 1 year.

A few weeks after Premier Khrushchev left Washington, President Eisenhower took part in two ceremonies, one of them a highway opening, on November 3, 1959. The highway ceremony took place in Virginia on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. His motorcade stopped at Spout Run so he could cut a ribbon opening a 5-mile (8-kilometer) section of the parkway. In a ceremony lasting about 2 minutes, he used two gold-plated scissors bearing the seal of the National Park Service. The Evening Star reported: “After clipping the red, white, and blue ribbon in two places, Mr. Eisenhower was presented with one of the shears as a memento of the occasion. The President also kept a bit of the ribbon as a trophy.”

The motorcade then drove to Langley for a nonhighway ceremony, namely the ceremony for laying the cornerstone for the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA headquarters was to be built on a Federal tract partly occupied by a research facility (now called FHWA’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center).

President Eisenhower also participated in a highway ribbon cutting on October 17, 1960. He said the Hiawatha Bridge (later renamed the Eisenhower Bridge in his honor) carrying U.S. 63 across the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin was “another effective example of Federal-State partnership in meeting both local and national needs.”

Instead, his former Vice President became the first U.S. President to visit the Soviet Union. On May 22–30, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon visited the Soviet Union for a summit with General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. The summit, which included the signing of the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, was a major milestone in relations between the two superpowers.

A Mighty Network

President Eisenhower was in Walter Reed Army Medical Center following surgery when he launched the interstate construction program by signing the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 on June 29. Despite this inauspicious beginning, he was proud of the new program, often citing it in his reelection campaign speeches. At the University of Kentucky Coliseum on October 1, he outlined his vision of what he would like the country to accomplish in the next 4 years, including: “I see an America . . . where a mighty network of highways spreads across our country.” At Madison Square Garden in New York City on October 25, he asked his critics, “Was it they who inspired and launched the greatest highway-building program in our history?”

Despite Premier Khrushchev’s reaction, or nonreaction, to Washington’s bumper-to-bumper peak period traffic and Deeter Flohr’s pedal-to-the-metal driving, the interstate system was by far Eisenhower’s favorite domestic program, according to biographer Ambrose. President Eisenhower’s pride in what he helped create never diminished. He explained why in his 1963 memoir, Mandate for Change 1953–1956: “More than any single action by the government since the end of the war, this one would change the face of America. . . . Its impact on the American economy--the jobs it would produce in manufacturing and construction, the rural areas it would open up--was beyond calculation.”

In 1990, Congress changed the name of the interstate system to honor the man who once showed off America’s bumper-to-bumper traffic to the Cold War rival who promised to wave goodbye as the Soviet Union passed the United States by. Its official name is The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.


Richard F. Weingroff is an information liaison specialist in FHWA’s Office of Infrastructure. He also writes articles for the agency’s “Highway History” Web site (www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/history.cfm), where all of his Public Roads articles also can be found.

For more information, contact Richard Weingroff at 202–366–4856 or richard.weingroff@dot.gov.

 

 

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