The Presidential Motorcade
The image of the presidential motorcade is one of the most commonly recognizable symbols of Secret Service protection. But sleek, black limousines with darkened windows and advance security elements were not always features of the presidential limousine. 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.
1936 Packard Touring Limo - 1936
A 1936 Packard Touring Limousine was used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt while visiting New York City on June 30, 1938.
Advent of the Armored Limo - 1941
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 armored 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 armor 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 armor-plated in the early part of 1942.
Railroad Horse Car - 1944
Before utilizing today’s methods of transporting vehicles for protective visits by airplane, in the old days, the President's limousine and follow-up vehicles were driven across the country for use upon the President's arrival. Soon however, the agency realized that the distance needed to transport each vehicle produced wear and tear on the vehicles as well as driver fatigue, so the search for alternative means of transportation kicked into full gear. Beginning in 1944, the Secret Service transported motorcade vehicles using a revamped railroad horse car that could hold four automobiles. It was fitted with portable ramps so that the vehicles could be loaded on and off the railroad car quickly. The railway car also was equipped with water tanks to wash the cars en route and held racks for extra tires and accessories for emergency maintenance. For overseas destinations, the vehicles were loaded aboard ships.
President Dwight Eisenhower - 1955
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 favored by drag racers.
John F. Kennedy - 1963
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 10 ½ 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 armored 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.
Air Travel - 1965
In the 1960s, air travel began to provide the Secret Service a much more convenient and effective means of transportation. Official vehicles were able to be loaded aboard aircraft to destinations in advance of protective visits.
Ronald Reagan - 1981
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.
George W. Bush - 2005
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.
Barack Obama - 2009
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."
Today and Beyond
The Secret Service continues to be responsible for procuring, driving, maintaining and securing the vehicles at all times. Each vehicle is outfitted with a variety of equipment to provide the protectees with a secure environment throughout the entire trip. As the agency has adapted its protective and investigative responsibilities to keep pace with evolving security needs, the Presidents' limousines too have changed over the years to reflect the tastes, needs and security considerations of each generation.
Note: For security reasons, the Secret Service does not detail current presidential transportation.