A Look Back

The Alamo takes a look back at the many Presidents and presidential candidates that have visited the historic site over the years.

The first sitting President to visit San Antonio was Benjamin Harrison. His visit to San Antonio is tied to the origins of San Antonio’s biggest party, Fiesta. Fiesta began in 1891 with a single event, the Battle of Flowers parade. The parade was organized by a group of San Antonio women to honor the memory of the Alamo defenders and to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. The parade was scheduled for April 20, rather than the anniversary of San Jacinto on the 21st, to coincide with the visit by the President to San Antonio. Due to rain, however, the parade ended up being postponed until April 24 and President Harrison had long since departed San Antonio.

Front page of San Antonio Daily Light newspaper
Credit: San Antonio Light Archive
The front page of the San Antonio Daily Light on April 20, 1891 announcing the arrival of President Benjamin Harrison in San Antonio.

Another notable presidential visitor to the Alamo was President Gerald Ford, whose visit on April 9, 1976 was somewhat notorious. The President’s visit included a tour of the church with the Alamo’s curator and members of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Following the tour there was a reception in Cavalry Courtyard where President Ford was treated to some Tex-Mex, including tamales. Apparently, this was the President’s introduction to this South Texas staple and he began to eat a tamal without first unwrapping the shuck. A photograph of what became known as “The Great Tamales Incident” made national news and was even parodied on Saturday Night Live.

President Gerald Ford and San Antonio Mayor Lila Cockrell walking through iron gate to enter Alamo
President Gerald Ford and San Antonio Mayor Lila Cockrell enter the grounds of the Alamo, April 9, 1976.
President Ford eating a table surrounded by a group of people
Credit: Associated Press
President Gerald Ford eating a tamal at the Alamo, April 9, 1976.

President Harry Truman, who visited the site during his 1948 bid at re-election, is credited as being the first presidential nominee to visit the Alamo as part of an election campaign.

President Truman in front of a US flag in front of the Alamo on a stage
Credit: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum
President Harry S. Truman speaks from a platform in front of the Alamo in Texas. A group of unidentified men join President Truman on the platform, and three unidentified Boy Scouts stand in the foreground. Credit: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

The Alamo Church has become a popular backdrop for speeches — campaign and otherwise — over the years, and the speeches given here usually reference the bravery and character of the Alamo defenders. Speaking to a crowd on June 11, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

Fate has been kind to me today. In my many travels, a visit to the Alamo has hitherto been impossible. I, therefore, welcome this opportunity of visiting this shrine to pay my small tribute to the heroes who laid down their lives a hundred years ago, in order that Texas might become, first, an independent Nation, and later a mighty State of the Union.

We are not lacking in many monuments of noble deeds, but the Alamo stands out in high relief as our noblest exemplification of sacrifice, heroic and pure.

Travis and Bowie and Crockett and Bonham, and the hundred and seventy-eight who were their comrades, by their supreme sacrifice, made Texas live.

Without the inspiration of the cry, “Remember the Alamo,” this great Southwest might never have become a part of the Nation.

Without the tradition of the Alamo, every community throughout the land, every young man and every young woman about to enter upon the duties of citizenship, would have lacked one of our noblest symbols of the American spirit.

I cannot help feeling that the brave men who died here saw on the distant horizon some forecast of the century that lay ahead. I hope they know that we have not discarded or lost the virility and ideals of the pioneer. I hope they know that the overwhelming majority of the Americans of 1936 are once more meeting new problems with new courage — that we, too, are ready and willing to stand up and fight for truth against falsehood, for freedom of the individual against license by the few.

Unlike them, we do not need to take up arms; we are not called upon to die; we can carry on a national war for the cause of humanity without shedding blood. The heroes of the Alamo fought not solely for their individual homes or their individual communities. They knew their families and their immediate neighbors could not survive if the great Southwest fell. United action alone could win. So we, in this latter day, are thinking and acting in terms of the whole Nation, understanding deeply that our firesides, our villages, our cities and our States cannot long endure if the Nation fails.

Travis’ message, “I shall never surrender,” is a good watchword for each and every one of us today.

It is with a feeling of deep reverence and humble veneration that I have placed a wreath on this shrine where the blood of a hundred and eighty-two Americans was shed — but not shed in vain.

Carriage and horses riding through Alamo Plaza in the middle of a crowd of spectators on either side
Credit: PhotoQuest/Getty Images
President Theodore Roosevelt riding through Alamo Plaza on April 1, 1905.
President Roosevelt speaking to a large crowd of people in Alamo Plaza
President Theodore Roosevelt giving an address at the Alamo. San Antonio Texas. Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

As with other notable visitors to the Cradle of Texas Liberty, presidential visitors are asked to sign our VIP guest book. The book has signatures of presidents going back to Teddy Roosevelt. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was born only 73 miles from the Alamo, was a frequent visitor. His signature appears multiple times in our guest book. Johnson regularly brought other high profile visitors with him to the site, including another future President, John F. Kennedy, who joined him at the Alamo in October 1956.

President Nixon signing an open book placed on a table
Credit: Associated Press
Then Vice President Richard Nixon signs the Alamo’s guest book in 1960.
Open guestbook with pages of signatures
Credit: Texas General Land Office
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush examines the signatures of then Vice President George H.W. Bush and future First Lady Barbara Bush in the Alamo’s guest book.
Paper with two columns of signatures
Future presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson’s signatures from their October 1956 visit to the Alamo.
Jimmy Carter behind a podium in front of Alamo Church
Credit: Associated Press
Then presidential candidate Jimmy Carter campaigns in front of the Alamo, October 30, 1976.
Jimmy Carter at the podium on a stage in front of Alamo Church
Credit: Associated Press
Joining Carter on the podium are many of the state’s prominent Democrats, including Gov. Dolph Briscoe, Sen. Lloyd Bensen, and Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez.
Ronald Reagan at a podium in front of Alamo Church with a banner underneath that says REAGAN
Then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in front of the Alamo during his campaign in 1980.
Ronald Reagan wearing a sombrero
Then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan dons a sombrero in San Antonio in celebration of Mexican Independence Day, September 16, 1980.


Martin Kuz. “Presidential visits to San Antonio,” San Antonio Express-News, July 21, 2015. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Address at the Alamo, San Antonio, Texas.,” June 11, 1936. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

Tom Shelton. “Presidential Nominees Visit San Antonio,” The Top Shelf: A blog about Special Collections at the UTSA Libraries. October 10, 2016.