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U.S. President Warren G. Harding makes his last speech in Seattle on July 27, 1923.
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On July 27, 1923 at 1:15 p.m., U.S. President Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) arrives at Seattle from Alaska. President Harding, the 29th President of the United States (1921-1923) and the sixth President to visit Seattle and King County, is on a 40-day tour of the Western United States. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), who would be elected U.S. President in 1929, accompanies President Harding on the trip.
A Small Mishap
Two destroyer divisions and a squadron of U.S. Navy planes escorted Harding into Elliott Bay. All did not go well. In a dense fog, the U.S. Army transport Henderson, carrying the President, rammed one of the destroyers. Nevertheless, Harding arrived safely and had a busy six-hour stay in Seattle. The President reviewed the Navy fleet in the harbor and visited the Port of Seattle's Bell Street Pier. At 2 p.m. he rode in a parade through downtown. Harding then proceeded to Volunteer Park to greet school children and then to Woodland Park where he led an estimated 50,000 Boy Scouts and children in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Harding's Last Speech
At the University of Washington Stadium, Harding spoke about Alaska to 25,000 people. He said:
"Words seem inadequate to portray the grandeur, to measure the magnificence, to express the mightiness, or acclaim the glory of monumental mountains and their jeweled valleys ... . [w]ith God himself making merry in tossing ribbons of falling water, 500 to 2,000 feet long, like confetti at the carnival" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
About conservation he pronounced that:
"If ... we shall go on decimating the fisheries year by year till they have been ruined; and if then, because a rise in the price of paper shall have made it profitable, we shall turn over the forests for a like exploitation and a like destruction; if, in short, we are to loot Alaska as the possibility of profit arises now in one direction, now in another, then we shall never have a state or states in Alaska, we shall never have a community of stabilized society and home-tied people ... . Against a program of ruinous exploitation we must stand firmly" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
Harding spoke about oil:
"There is petroleum in the territory. A small production is already affording a profitable return refined in Alaska for Alaskan consumption. There are developments now in process by some of the larger commercial oil interests and there are dreams of measureless oil resources in the most northerly sections which are expressed in terms which sound more fabulous than real" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
As it turned out, Alaska's oil reserves proved to be more real than fabulous.
Some in the audience noticed that the president seemed to rush through his address, skipping periods and pauses that might have elicited applause. Mrs. Harding paid close attention to the President, which many ascribed to her concern over the reception of his remarks on Alaska.
From the stadium the presidential party traveled by automobile to Queen Anne Hill and Children’s Orthopedic Hospital. The First Lady rather than the President greeted well-wishers on the way, and at the hospital he did not leave the car during the visit.
At 7:35 p.m., Harding boarded the train for California. Harding's Seattle speech would be his last. He had fallen ill, probably while he was in Seattle. President Warren G. Harding died of pneumonia and thrombosis in San Francisco on August 2, 1923.
A memorial was erected in Woodland Park in 1925 to commemorate the president's final address. It was demolished in the late 1970s and is buried under the central knoll in the Woodland Park Zoo's African Savanna exhibit. Part of the memorial featured two life-sized bronze statues of boy scouts saluting the President. These were the work of Seattle sculptor Alice Robertson Carr, and were donated to the Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts (on 3120 Rainier Avenue S, in Seattle). They were placed in the foyer, where one of the figures remains (as of 2002).
Other Presidents to visit Seattle up until this time were Rutherford Hayes in 1880, Benjamin Harrison in 1891, President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, William Taft in 1909, and Woodrow Wilson in 1919.
J. Willis Sayre, This City of Ours (Seattle: Seattle School District No. 1, 1936), 161-162; Barbara E. Lind, “Hail to the Chiefs: Seattle’s Presidential Visitors,” Portage: The Magazine of the Museum of History and Industry, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Fall/Winter 1988), 6-7; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 28, 1923, pp. 1,6; Woodland Park Zoo history, (www.zoo.org); Information on Alice Robertson Carr statues provided in Reverend Michael Bruce Johnson to Scouting magazine, March-April 2001 (www.scoutingmagazine.org); “Harding Showed Signs of Illness in Seattle,” The New York Times, August 1, 1923, p. 3..
Note: This essay was revised on July 24, 2002, and expanded on November 20, 2006.
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President Warren G. Harding in motorcade on 1st Avenue, Seattle, 1923
Courtesy UW Special Collections (A. Curtis 45501)
Warren G. Harding (1865-1923), 1921
Courtesy Library of Congress
Washington's Fairest Daughter Greets the President
Cartoon by Tom Thurlby, Seattle Daily Times, July 27, 1923
President Harding in Seattle, July 27, 1923
Courtesy Bonnie Duncan Peters