Three Presidents Glimpse Dexter, Iowa–One Gives a Major Speech

September must have been a popular month for presidents to take a train ride across Middle America.

Dexter, Iowa, is a town that never boasted a population of 1000 souls, and yet it was along The Rock–the Rock Island Railroad.

Usually noted people–such as presidents–booked a “special” train, which did not stop in small towns. But On September 19, 1910, President William Howard Taft was lured into stopping in Dexter for a souvenir. The whole town showed up to see and cheer the President of the United States.

President Taft’s train–September 19, 1910, Dexter, Iowa.

[Taft later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, from 1921-1930, and as such, he swore into office Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. ]

In 1936, the whole country suffered from terrible heat and drought. That September President Franklin D. Roosevelt took a train tour of drought areas of the country. According to Leora Wilson, his “special” was to rush through Dexter on September 3, 1936, headed to Des Moines for the governors’ conference, after stopping for a short speech in Atlantic, Iowa.

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FDR gave a speech September 6 about what he’d seen across the country. He was up for reelection that fall.

Dexter is famous for Harry Truman’s visit a dozen years later. He rode in a robin’s-egg blue Cadillac from the Rock Island station to the 1948 National Plowing Match, held north of Dexter on September 18, where he gave a speech. His visit was  a great success, and he won the presidential election that fall.

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I wonder how many towns the size of Dexter in the middle of America have had three presidents take notice of it.

Source: 1968 Dexter Centennial history, pages 41-42.

William McKinley and Robert Lincoln stopped in Dexter on a campaign tour in *1896, according to old-timer Bill Welch. “[E]ach gave a short talk from the observation car on the rear end of the train. The school was dismissed early to give the scholars a chance to see and hear these great men.”

Lincoln wasn’t running for office. William McKinley was elected President that fall, with Garret Hobart as his Vice President.

Bryon Weesner found a clipping from *1894, that when McKinley was still Governor of Ohio,  he came through Iowa delivering speeches at every depot along the Rock Island Railroad. Mr. Welch’s memory might have been from 1894 instead of 1896.

This is from The Dexter Sentinel, September 16, 1948, leading up to the National Plowing Match. Instead of mentioning that FDR had Rocketed through Dexter in 1936, it says that Harding passed through Dexter in 1923. I cannot make the dates line up for President Harding to be anywhere near Iowa during that time.

According to Dexter historian Bryon Weesner: “Harding came through in October 7, 1920, it wasn’t on his western trip that ended with his death, but rather when he was running for President just ahead of the 1920 election. I did find mention in the Earlham and Stuart papers that his train had stopped there.”


  1. I don’t think we’ve ever had a president stop in, much less even visit the San Luis Valley. I’s have thought that at least one or two of them would have liked hunting or fishing, or a least a good bowl of red chili.

    • Helped to sit along a major railroad. I’ve been told that the RR wanted the towns to have short names, so the ones along White Pole Road are Adair, Menlo (changed from Guthrie Switch, where the Liza Jane branch train turned around and headed back north to Guthrie Center), Stuart, Dexter, Earlham, etc.

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