Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
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.
Backstory and Context
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.
Barnes, James. “It’s a new day at Gerald Ford museum.” The Detroit News. May 20, 2016. Accessed April 15, 2018. https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2016/05/19/new-day-gerald-ford-museum/84637000/
Clark, Patrick. “Visiting the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids.” Fox 2 Now. February 12, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2018. https://www.fox2now.com/2018/02/12/visiting-the-gerald-r-ford-presidential-museum-in-grand-rapids/
“Gerald R. Ford Biography.” Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum. Accessed April 15, 2018. https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/grf/fordbiop.asp
GRFordLibraryMuseum. “A Time to Heal: Gerald Ford’s America” (video). Posted May 22, 2013. Accessed April 15, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbrRPgAhAII
GRFordLibraryMuseum. “The New Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum” (video). Posted October 3, 2016. Accessed April 15, 2018. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hSnJCrpdxKg
Jordan, Aaron. “Revamped Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.” WOODTV.com. June 7, 2016. Accessed April 15, 2018. https://www.woodtv.com/news/grand-rapids/a-grand-reopening-ford-museum-set-to-reopen-tuesday/1086791273
Reagan Library. “President Reagan’s Remarks at the Dedication of the Ford Presidential Museum on September 18, 1981” (video). Posted April 12, 2017. Accessed April 15, 2018. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OUF_MaDnOY8
Image 1: https://www.artprize.org/2016/gerald-r-ford-presidential-museum
Image 2: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/Gerald_Ford%2C_official_Presidential_photo.jpg
Image 3: http://www.xibitz.com/portfolio/gerald-r-ford-presidential-museum-2/
Image 4: http://rivergrandrapids.com/take-a-look-at-these-photos-of-the-newly-redesigned-gerald-r-ford-presidential-museum/
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