List of McKinley Firsts Part 9: McKinley was the first President to visit California.[1]

On April 29, 1901, the McKinleys began a cross-country train tour from San Francisco. Railroad syndicates on whose rails the eight-car train traveled, absorbed the entire $75,000 cost of the trip.[2] According to Carl Sferazza Anthony, historian and author of Ida McKinley: The Turn-of-the-Century First Lady Through War, Peace, and Secret Disability the McKinleys planned a cross-country trip during the Spring and summer of 1901, despite Ida’s fragile health.

Before they could rest again beneath the shade of Canton’s trees, however Ida and the Major would see more of the United States than any previous president and First Lady. Eight weeks after Inauguration Day, they began a seven-week national journey by train, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. Cabinet members and special guests would join at some junctures, with the indispensable Cortelyou and [Dr. Marion] Rixey there throughout. It would be a fully functional, travelling presidency with three stenographers to maintain ongoing presidential correspondence, a telegraph technician and cable technician to ensure timely contact with Washington, and two railroad officials to handle and transportation problems. The press corps joining them consisted of a wire-service reporter, two newspaper-syndicate reporters, three weekly magazine reporters, three reporters representing Washington papers, and a photographer.

Dr. Marion Rixey

Dr. Marion Rixey later served as United States Surgeon General (1902-1910). He accompanied the McKinley’s on this cross-country tour, and was present to treat Ida when she became ill on the trip. Photo retrieved 8.17.2016 from

Events were tightly scheduled on the promise of a presidential appearance: a Confederate parade in Memphis, a New Orleans riverboat excursion, an address to the Texas legislature in Austin, the flower festival in Los Angeles, the launch of the battleship Ohio in Oakland, a cruise from Tacoma to Seattle, a stagecoach drive at Yellowstone National Park, an ascent of Pike’s Peak in Colorado, a college address in Kansas City, an arsenal inspection at Rock Island, Illinois, and a gargantuan banquet in Chicago. Before returning to the White House, Ida and the Major would make one last stop. Officials had already declared June 13 as “President’s Day” to lure tens of thousands of citizens to glimpse the president and First Lady and take in the wonders of the modern age at the new Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.[3]

And so the first couple’s transcontinental trip began on April 29, 1901. Although the first part of the trip occurred as planned, the second part of the trip was mostly cancelled due to Ida’s health. According to Anthony, the journey began with stops in Memphis, New Orleans, Houston, and Austin. Ida skipped the President’s speech on May 6 and attended a breakfast to which she had been invited. This breakfast was in the border town of Juarez, Mexico making Ida the first First Lady to visit a foreign country. At that time, a small cut on one of her thumbs became infected, and had to be lanced several times throughout the trip. The journey proceeded through the territories of New Mexico and Arizona.

Del Rio, TX stereoscopic viewStereoscopic view of McKinley’s first stop on the Mexican-American border—Del Rio, Texas. Stereoscopic views featured two nearly identical images of the same scene, and required a special viewer for seeing the image as one, in three-dimensional style. Many families used these viewers to see places and events to which they could not travel. Image retrieved 8.22.2016 from

McKinley in ArizonaStereoscopic view of a miner’s daughter photographing President McKinley in Arizona. Retrieved 8.22.2016 from

On May 8, the McKinleys became the first President and First Lady to visit California. Their train arrived at Redlands, CA, where the President spoke and shook hands. The journey proceeded on to Ontario, California and Alhambra. Later that day, the Presidential couple arrived at Los Angeles, with their train entering at Chinatown. They attended many functions that day. The last function was a dinner with publisher Harrison Gray Otis. By that time, Ida’s finger had become badly infected and she had developed dysentery.


Arrival in Redlands, CA 581901William and Ida disembarked from their train for the President’s speech in Redlands, CA. Photo retrieved 8.17.2016 from

The McKinleys remained in Los Angeles for two days, then proceeded on the train northward. They made stops at Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo, where the President made speeches and shook hands with those in attendance. The train then made an unscheduled stop at a small railroad station called Surf, which was outside Santa Cruz. While there, Rixey again lanced Ida’s infected finger. She also suffered from acute dysentery and her finger remained swollen.

BMcKinley in Santa BarbaraBeautiful tribute to a beloved ruler – President McKinley entering Santa Barbara, California in a carriage of roses.  Retrieved 8.22.2016 from

By the time the group reached the Hotel Del Monte in Monterrey County, Ida was feverish. McKinley wished to remain close to his wife’s side, and so he sent aides to cover his scheduled appearances. When Ida slept uninterrupted for three hours, McKinley delivered his scheduled speech at Monterrey. McKinleys scheduled appearances at San Jose on May 11 were cancelled due to Ida’s health.

The McKinleys arrived in San Francisco on May 12, 1901. They stayed at the Henry T. Scott residence, which was across from Lafayette Park. Ida was indeed very ill, with her fever holding on. Press and other onlookers gathered in Lafayette Park for briefings by Cortelyou. Ever the outward optimist, McKinley insisted that the reports should only be positive, and they furthered the notion of McKinley’s absolute devotion to his wife. The reports stated only that Mrs. McKinley was “improving.” The President stayed by her side until such time as she was no longer in danger.


The Henry T. Scott residence at the corner of Clay and Laguna Streets in San Francisco. Ida and William stayed here. This is where Ida nearly died. William McKinley never left her side.

On May 18, 1901, William McKinley went to Oakland to launch the battleship Ohio. Telegraph lines connected the President to the Scott residence, and if any change occurred in her condition, he was to be notified immediately. [4] The President, who was escorted by Mary Barber, Ida’s sister, launched the ship.

USS Ohio LaunchStereoscopic view of McKinley stepping onto the platform to launch the USS Ohio. Retrieved 8.22.2016 from

The President was able to re-schedule some of the appearances he had missed due to Ida’s illness. These rescheduled events took place between May 19 and May 24, 1901. This included speeches and appearances in and around the San Francisco area. A previously scheduled presentation at the San Francisco Botanical Garden to the First Lady of a new hybrid carnation named for her, went ahead without her. The Chinese Embassy presented a memorial of the trip to the President on May 22, 1901.




DSCF6168   chinese case

Chinese Memorial and case given to President McKinley by the Chinese embassy in San Francisco, CA May 22, 1901. The item on the left is hand sewn. The box in which it came is pictured on the right and is hand carved. This is on display at the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial. The text on the tapestry is written in Chinese and translates as follows:

San Francisco, Calif. May 22nd, 1901 To His Excellency McKinley, President of the United States of America

Dear Sir—

     By the will of Heaven everyone has to follow the destinies of the world. Recent happenings in the Orient have brought all different nations together into as it were, a theatre for an international drama to which all eyes and hearts are attracted. Each nation impersonates a role, but amidst this scene and confusion the stately figure of the great United States of America through its august and noble Leader, and President, is very plainly and forcibly visible enacting the part of Hero. Extending its trusty and powerful arms and voice to protect its exhausted and innocent friend China.

     The world is at the dawn of a new era. The oldest race is meeting and amalgamating with the new, which must necessarily become the controlling factor in the world’s future destinies of politics.

     Conscious of your Excellency’s acts of wisdom, nobleness and accomplishments the Chinese hail and congratulate you as the most beloved and respected man in the Universe, for you have the respect of the five hundred million subjects of China as well as the love of the seventy-odd million inhabitants of the United States.

     No ruler or individual whether dead or living has ever enjoyed the proud distinction, which will be the history of posterity.

     As a token and memorial of our sincere respect and administration we, the Chinese Community of San Francisco who are now temporarily domiciled within American territory, beg of you and Mrs. McKinley to accept these accompanying testimonials and souvenirs together with our well wishes for Mrs. McKinley’s and your good health and everlasting prosperity.

On Friday May 25, 1901, having been given the all-clear, the President, Mrs. McKinley, and their staff began the train trip returning them to Washington, DC. They had been scheduled to continue on to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, however due to Mrs. McKinley’s health, it was decided that they should instead return to Washington, DC. The train used the most direct route possible. Rixey later recalled that the train crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains into Nevada and Utah. While they stopped once to refill the water tanks, the President stepped outside the train to shake hands with members of the Digger Tribe. The train arrived in Washington, DC on May 30[5], thus ending what became the couple’s last cross-country tour.


[1] Kevin Phillips, William McKinley. The American Presidents Series, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (Ed.).  New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2003. 30.

[2] Carl Sferazza Anthony, Ida McKinley: The Turn-of-the-Century First Lady through War, Assassination, and Secret Disability. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press. 2013.

[3] “Full Itinerary of the President’s Trip West,” New York Times, April 14, 1901. Reprinted in Anthony, Ida McKinley,

[4] New York Times, “Battleship Ohio Launched.” New York Times, May 19, 1901. Retrieved 8.18.2016 from


[5] Ibid., Chapters 14 and 15.

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