The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is dedicated to preserving the memory of President Ford and educating the public about the values of democratic citizenship. The 38th President served from 1974-1977 following the resignation of Richard Nixon; Ford led the United States out of the turmoil following the Watergate Scandal and the end of the Vietnam War. His museum was established in 1981 as part of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum; although it is one institution, the Library is located in Ann Arbor. The museum has been expanded and renovated twice, in 1997 and 2016. It possesses thousands of artifacts from the life of Gerald Ford, his wife Betty, the 1976 campaign, and the 1976 American Bicentennial. The museum features multiple exhibits, including a replica of the Oval Office; a series of lectures and events; and the DeVos Learning Center, which provides educational program to students.
Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr.
was born on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska. He grew up in Grand Rapids,
Michigan and in 1931 began attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
He became a celebrated football player on the college team but turned down offers
to play professionally in order to pursue law school. He joined the Navy during
World War II and served on board the aircraft carrier USS Monterey in the Pacific. After the war he became a lawyer
before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1948. Ford was
elected to Congress twelve times and for eight years served as House Minority
Leader for the Republicans. His ultimate goal was to become Speaker of the
House, but in 1973 President Richard Nixon nominated him to replace Vice
President Spiro Agnew, who resigned over charges of tax evasion. The growing
Watergate scandal in 1973-1974 caused Nixon to resign on August 9, 1974 in
order to avoid impeachment. Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th
President on the same day.
Ford faced a number of
issues upon coming into office, ranging from regaining the trust of the
American people to dealing with economic problems. The most controversial
action of his presidency was to issue a pardon for Nixon; Ford argued that it
was necessary in order to avoid a long drawn-out trial and to focus on more
important problems. As President, Ford oversaw the evacuation of Saigon and the
collapse of South Vietnam in 1975; the celebration of the American Bicentennial
in 1976; and the negotiation of the Helsinki Accords with the Soviet Union and
Eastern European countries. He also negotiated for economic reform bills with
Congress, which included measures such as tax and spending cuts, and
deregulation of certain industries. In 1976 Ford lost a close election campaign
against Democrat Jimmy Carter. After leaving office Ford continued to speak out
on political issues and gave hundreds of lectures; he also established the
American Enterprise Institute’s World Forum in 1982. Gerald Ford passed away on
December 26, 2006. He and his wife First Lady Betty Ford are interred on the
grounds of the museum.
The Gerald R. Ford
Presidential Library & Museum was officially opened in 1981. The library was
built at Ann Arbor on the University of Michigan campus, as Ford had decided to
donate all of his documents to the university. The museum meanwhile was
constructed in his home town of Grand Rapids. They are the only presidential
library and museums to be in separate locations, but they are still designated
as a single entity. The two-story, triangular-shaped, 44,000 square-foot museum
was developed by Marvin DeWinter Associates. It cost $11 million to build, and
funds were raised by over 14,000 private donations. The museum was dedicated on
September 18, 1981 with President Ronald Reagan delivering remarks. In 1997 the
museum was renovated and expanded to include more exhibits and programming. In
2016 the museum underwent a massive, $15 million overhaul that included the
creation and redesigning of new exhibits; the incorporation of audiovisual
technology and other interactive features; and the construction of the 8,000
square-foot DeVos Learning Center.
Today the Gerald R.
Ford Presidential Museum contains around 20,000 artifacts from throughout Ford’s
life and his presidency. It includes a series of permanent and temporary
exhibits focusing on the life of Ford, his wife Betty, the 1976 Bicentennial,
and events from the time of the Ford Administration. One of the most popular
exhibits is a complete replica of the Oval Office during Ford’s presidency. Ford
intended for his museum to not just preserve history, but to continue educating
the public on American values and democracy. The DeVos Learning Center contains
facilities where school students participate in lessons and activities that
teach about leadership, character, respect, democracy, and American politics. The
museum continues to host a variety of programs year-round including lectures
and performances. It is also available to rent for private events.