When the POTUS (President of the United States) has to get around, he usually does it in style. And if he’s not in style, at least we know that he’s often surrounded by millions of dollars’ worth of security detail.
Yes, for the U.S. president, cars and vehicles have always been expensive, as has been Air Force One. History has put a spotlight on the presidents’ one-of-a-kind planes: mobile White Houses, with all of the protections therein.
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Perhaps it’s for a good reason, though. As Americans, we’ve lost four presidents while in office, with many more having survived assassination attempts both during and after holding office (including one very stubborn man by the name of Teddy Roosevelt, who got shot during a speech and kept going anyway). But the task of transporting the president wasn’t taken very seriously until a late November day in 1963 in Dallas, Texas.
The President’s Car
Until the President Kennedy assassination, car travel was often done using an open-top vehicle, so that people could see officials being paraded about. In fact, the first president to ride in a car, Taft, rode in the back of a $4,000 White Model M: a quasi-safe, completely open, steam-powered vehicle, which camera-shy Taft loved because he could use the bursts of steam to hide himself from photographers. He also loved outrunning the Secret Service and the press and saying “you ate my dust!” (That’s right; the first presidential car was used to tease the Secret Service.)
In the following half-century, presidents’ cars were largely considered to be that: fancy, expensive parade vehicles, like the Sunshine Special, which was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s beauty, and the first car to be commissioned specifically for presidential use with Secret Service specifications.
After the assassination of President Kennedy, though, the military and government took a much closer look at each vehicle, and the sweeping, open-top parade vehicles began to resemble square, boxy limousines.
In the time of President Obama, car designs were created from the ground up. At about $1.5 million, we now know the limo by a new name: the Beast. President car specifications of today include some pretty intense parts, beyond the obviously bulletproof windows: steel plates underneath the car to protect against grenades, a sealed cabin against biochemical attacks, puncture-resistant tires, and containers of the president’s blood hidden in the trunk in case a medical emergency.
The President’s Plane
And, if we think presidents’ cars have gotten both ridiculous and ridiculously expensive over the years, that’s nothing compared the Air Force One plane. Because U.S. leaders have to move so much more quickly and frequently today, this has been one of the more costly presidential expenditures. Not to mention, it’s required to hold and feed almost 100 people and serve as a mobile command center if needed. That’s not the only plane, either: A “Doomsday Plane” often tails the president’s flight in case the worst should happen, and built to out-pace nuclear explosions. That’s ignoring all of the de-stressing needs the team might have, like meals with fancy silverware, its own mini Oval Office, or a hairdresser.
Naturally, the Air Force One history is similar to that of The Beast. There was a time when presidents weren’t as paranoid of nuclear war or as used to living in luxury. The first Air Force One was hardly more than a fancy air-yacht and puddle-jumper. Of course, it’s hard to say whether or not FDR actually rode in it, so the real Air Force One, in everything other than name, may be the Dixie Clipper.
But technically, the first president to ride in a plane was Theodore Roosevelt, who bravely flew in a newfangled Wright Flyer, though he wasn’t in office at the time. (Did we mention he got shot in the middle of a speech and kept going?! What is it with Roosevelts?)
Will a Teddy-like, insane fearlessness help reduce the skyrocketing costs of both the new Air Force One plane and the Beast? Or can we, and should we, invest in the safety of one of the world’s most important leaders? These presidential car and Air Force One plane facts may give us key insight into the future!