It was not always a 50-car motorcade for the US President. Sometimes a mere horse carriage was used to ferry him to places. All that started to change when automobile became the preferred mode of transportation.
The image of the US President's motorcade is one of the most commonly recognisable symbols of power and safety. But it did not begin like that. The sleek, black limousines with darkened windows and advanced security elements were not always the features of the presidential limousine. Here is a look at how the President's motorcade has changed over the years.
It all started with horses and horse-pulled carriages. The Secret Service initially used horses and carriages, but these were gradually phased out with when the automobile became the preferred mode of transportation in the early 20th century.
In the early 1930s, it started to change when cars were first used to carry the US President around. A 1936 Packard Touring Limousine was used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt while visiting New York City on June 30, 1938.
With the United States' entry into World War II, the Secret Service increased its protective web around the President. In December 1941, Franklin Roosevelt became the first President to use an armoured vehicle. Originally belonging to infamous gangster Al Capone, the car was seized by the Treasury Department in 1932 on an income-tax evasion charge. The car's armour actually was comprised of only bulletproof glass; the body of the car was still vulnerable. The vehicle was used until limousines in the presidential fleet – such as the 1939 Lincoln “Sunshine Special"– were armour-plated in the early part of 1942.
President Dwight Eisenhower rode in a 1955 Chrysler Crown Imperial during a visit to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 14, 1955. Equipped with a sunroof, the limousine was powered by a 250 horsepower version of Chrysler's famed "hemi" V-8, an engine later favoured by drag racers.
President John F Kennedy traveled in his 1961 Lincoln Continental Limousine during a visit to San Diego, California on June 6, 1963. The limousine included a series of removable steel and transparent plastic roof panels that could be installed in various combinations. It also contained a hydraulically operated seat, which could be raised around 10 inches to give the gathered crowds a better view of President Kennedy and his fellow passengers. After President Kennedy's assassination in 1963, the entire vehicle was armoured and returned to the Secret Service in May 1964. The finished product weighed about one ton more than the original weight of 7,800 pounds.
The 1972 Lincoln Parade Limousine was used by President Ronald Reagan on Inauguration day, January 20, 1981. In the aftermath of the assassination attempt on President Reagan on March 30, 1981, the vehicle was returned to the Ford Motor Company for refurbishing. It received a new interior and the exterior was updated to appear as a 1979 Lincoln.
On Inauguration Day 2005, President George W. Bush rode in a 2006 Cadillac DeVille Touring Sedan (DTS). The limousine actually was a refurbished 2005 model that gave the appearance of the 2006 Cadillac, available to the general public. The vehicle was wider, longer and taller than its predecessor.
President Barack Obama travels in a 2009 customized DTS Cadillac that was in production for two years prior to being unveiled on Inauguration Day. Slightly more upright than its predecessor, the vehicle features 19.5 inch wheels and enough room for five seated passengers. The interior is ornate, complete with a fold-out desk for the President. The limousine is designed to Secret Service specifications, which includes a heavy duty chassis, extended length and armored material, and offers the President secure communications with encrypted measures. At the time, the Assistant Director for the Office of Protective Operations noted, "It is safe to say that this car’s security and coded communications systems make it the most technologically advanced protection vehicle in the world."
The last update that happened to The Beast was in 2018 after Donald Trump took over as the President. The Presidential Cadillac is actually a giant Chevrolet SUV platform underneath a body designed to look like a Cadillac. That gives it the ability to be armoured, tough and able to hammer its way out of a crisis situation, while at the same time being a rolling symbol of American class.