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History Lesson: Trump At Least 10th Sitting President To Visit Luzerne County

August 3, 2018

President Donald Trump will be at least the tenth president to visit Luzerne County while in office.

Campaign stops and visits after flooding accounted for most previous presidential visits to our corner of the country:

Rutherford B. Hayes, 1878

The county’s first visit from a sitting president came when Hayes visited for an event marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Wyoming.

Hayes was not on the program to speak at the inaugural commemoration of the battle, but he gave some brief remarks to the crowd on July 3 at the Wyoming Monument and at another event on Independence Day in Wilkes-Barre.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1905

Roosevelt visited in 1905 to speak to the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America and to miners in the area. He met with United Mine Workers Association president John Mitchell and the Rev. J.J. Curan, a local priest involved in the labor movement. Roosevelt had met Mitchell a few years earlier, when a strike by coal miners had closed mines for months.

A photograph from the visit shows Roosevelt in the audience along with about 80,000 miners to hear Mitchell speak.

He also visited the area several times after leaving office.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1936

A levee was under construction when the Susquehanna River flooded the region. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was using labor from the Works Progress Administration, a Roosevelt “New Deal” program that put unemployed people to work on public projects, when the floodwaters came in March 1936. Twice that month the river rose above its banks to flood homes in the Wyoming Valley, causing seven deaths and about $7 million in property damage.

The president left the White House on Aug. 13 for several days of travel. He toured Johnstown, which had also been flooded, visited the Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, and saw the aftermath of flooding in Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre and Kingston before taking a train for his home in Hyde Park, N.Y.

He was back in Wilkes-Barre for a brief stop that October, during which he spoke in favor of the Social Security Act, which he signed into law the year before.

Harry S. Truman, 1948

Truman was in Wilkes-Barre on Oct. 23, 1948, part of a long day of campaigning during which he also made stops in Scranton, Johnstown and Pittsburgh. Truman lost Pennsylvania but won re-election.

He told voters to support Dan Flood, another Democrat seeking re-election, praised labor unions and spoke in favor of a bill that would help World War II refugees. He also talked about issues familiar to voters today: affordable housing, education funding, the minimum wage (Truman called for at least $0.75), Social Security and inflation. He invoked his predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his “New Deal” policy.

“We can build the kind of prosperous nation in a peaceful world that I want — and that you want,” he said.

Richard Nixon, 1972

The ’50s and ’60s passed without a visit from a sitting president, although they included one from John F. Kennedy, who came to the area while campaigning for the office.

In 1972, Nixon witnessed the devastation left behind by Tropical Storm Agnes as he traveled along the Susquehanna River by helicopter.

After inspecting the damage, he stopped in Kingston, where he gave a speech that recalled other scenes of destruction: San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, and Rotterdam and Kiev after they were destroyed in war.

“The thing that I wondered about the most was whether the people of Wilkes-Barre had the spirit of the people of San Francisco, the spirit of the people of Rotterdam, the people of Kiev. And I think I saw it,” Nixon said.

Jimmy Carter, 1980

Carter held a campaign rally in Pittston on Oct. 15, 1980, the second of three stops he made that day in the weeks before the 1980 election.

He landed at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport around 3 p.m. before taking a motorcade to Pittston Area High School. He spoke for about 15 minutes then answered questions from the audience. About 2,000 people attended. After a TV interview, Carter was whisked back to the airport and left before 6 p.m. for Newark, N.J., his final campaign stop of the day.

The stop didn’t change Carter’s fate in Pennsylvania. Voters in the state and across the country chose Ronald Reagan to be their next president. 

Bill Clinton, 1996

Melting snow from the Blizzard of 1996 and heavy rains caused rivers and streams across the Northeast to swell and overrun their banks in January.

Remembering the devastation of Hurricane Agnes, officials in the Wyoming Valley feared that would happen here and evacuated 100,000 people.

The river crested below the levees, which were 36 to 39 feet high at the time, but flooded lower-lying areas unprotected by levees. Plains, Jenkins and Plymouth townships and Shickshinny and Mocanaqua incurred the most serious damage.

Clinton toured the area the next month with Gov. Tom Ridge and participated in a discussion about the flooding at King’s College.

George W. Bush, 2004

Bush visited the area twice in the last month of the 2004 Presidential campaign, stopping here on Oct. 6 and 22 as part of a flurry of campaign stops ahead of Election Day on Nov. 2.

Bush would go on to win his re-election campaign against John Kerry, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, but despite numerous visits to Pennsylvania, he did not carry the state.

He was back in the region two years later, when he stumped for incumbent Republican Rep. Don Sherwood at Keystone College, the last time before President Trump’s visit Thursday a sitting president campaigned in Northeast Pennsylvania for a congressional candidate.

Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964

Johnson made a brief campaign stop at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport on Oct. 14, 1964. He arrived shortly after noon to a crowd of about 20,000 supporters and left around 12:35 p.m. for New York City.

Johnson was powering through the waning weeks of campaigning. On the day of this campaign stop, he was dealing with a sore throat and napped on the flights to and from Luzerne County.

“Within the past week I have talked to people in 15 States. I have seen more than 2 million Americans,” he said. “I came to this clear conclusion: Americans are more excited about their future than they have ever been before. They are willing to work hard to build America’s greatness. They are proud. They are not ashamed of their country. They know that we have problems to solve, but they are eager to solve them.”

Before they were president

Four other men who would become president also visited the county: William Howard Taft, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit in 1964.

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