Gerald Ford 38th President, 1974-1977

Birthplace Memorial, Omaha, Nebraska
On July 14, 1913, Gerald R. Ford, Jr. the only Nebraska native to become President of the United States, was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. in a Hanscom Park mansion, which then stood at the corner of 32nd Street and Woolworth Avenue in Omaha.

His mother soon divorced King’s father, a wife-beating alcoholic, and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she remarried Gerald Rudolph Ford, a paint store owner. His mother, Dorothy Ayer Gardner, renamed Leslie after her new husband, who adopted the future president in 1916. Gerald R. Ford, Jr., remembered his adoptive father, who died in 1962, as a man of great integrity who affected him more than any other person in his life.

Ford first learned that he was adopted at age seventeen when his biological father walked in on him at the boy’s part-time restaurant job. Leslie King, Sr., shocked Gerald and left after a brief conversation. It was the first and last time the two ever met. Gerald had three half-sisters and one half-brother on his father’s side, who had remarried. Ford also had three half-brothers on his mother’s side from her second marriage.

The Gerald R. Ford Birthsite Park, adjacent to the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center, commemorates the birth of Gerald R. Ford, Jr. who was eventually sworn in as the thirty-eighth president of the United States of America in 1974.

The ornate Victorian house at 3202 Woolworth Avenue was one of the finest homes in Omaha. The three-story, fourteen-room house reflected the status of its wealthy occupants, the King family. The King’s only son, Leslie, married Dorothy Gardner and, in the summer of 1913, the young couple lived in this house with Leslie’s parents as they awaited the birth of their first child..

In 1971 President Ford’s birthplace home was razed following a fire. Upon Ford’s succession to the presidency in 1974, Omaha businessman James M. Paxson purchased the property intending to build a memorial on the site. In 1977 the birthsite was dedicated. The following year a rose garden was added in honor of former First Lady Betty Ford. The Birthsite and Gardens are administered by the city of Omaha. The lovely gardens are open to the public daily from early morning until dusk and are also available for private rental events.

Home, Alexandria, Virginia
In March 1955, the Fords moved to a brick and clapboard house in Alexandria, Virginia, built for them at a cost of $34,000. Steven Ford and Susan Ford were born here. The Ford family added a swimming pool the backyard in later years, and Gerald Ford regularly used it for exercise. This was the family home until Gerald Ford became president in August 1974. Gerald Ford spent his first night as president in this home, while Richard Nixon remained in the White House. In January 1977, the Fords sold the house privately. The house is still privately owned.

Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Gerald R. Ford Library collects, preserves, and makes accessible to the public a rich body of archival materials on U.S. domestic issues, foreign relations, and political affairs during the Cold War era. Current holdings include 21 million pages of memos, letters, meeting notes, reports, and other historical documents. Also there are one-half million audiovisual items, including photographs, videotapes of news broadcasts, audiotapes of speeches and press briefings, film of public events, and televised campaign commercials.

The 1974-77 presidential papers of Gerald Ford and his White House staff form the core collection. These are supplemented by the pre- and post-presidential papers of Gerald Ford, the papers of Betty Ford, collections of Federal records, and more. Former government officials have donated personal papers, researchers in the period have given copies of research interviews, and private individuals associated with the issues and events of the time have given their materials.

The Library serves students of all ages, scholars, mass media production staff, government officials, journalists, and others regardless of national citizenship. The Library is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the North Campus of the University of Michigan, Gerald Ford’s alma mater (B.A., 1935).

The Library is part of the Presidential libraries system of the National Archives and Records Administration, a Federal agency. Unlike other Presidential libraries, the museum component is geographically separate from the library/archives. The Ford Museum is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 130 miles west of Ann Arbor, in Gerald Ford’s hometown and the congressional district he represented from 1949-73. Despite the separation, the library and museum are a single institution sharing one director.

Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan
The Ford Museum opened to the public in September 1981. It is part of the Presidential libraries system of the National Archives and Records Administration, a Federal agency. Unlike other Presidential libraries, the museum component is geographically separate from the library/archives. The Ford Museum is in Grand Rapids, Michigan and the Library is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Despite the separation, the library and museum are a single institution sharing one director.

The permanent exhibits are the core of the Museum’s program. They allow visitors to participate in history, not just view it, while reviewing the highlights of the lives of President and Mrs. Ford. In addition to the permanent exhibits, a succession of temporary exhibits draw upon the rich holdings of the entire Presidential libraries system, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, and others.

Not all museum programs revolve around the exhibits schedule. Museum staff organize and and host special events, everything from a 1940s fashion show to activities for school children. The Museum also hosts naturalization ceremonies for new citizens and opens the grounds to the community festivities and fireworks on the fourth of July. The Museum Sales Shop sells items relating to President and Mrs. Ford and other Presidents and First Ladies, along with a number of souvenirs.

Where the Ford Library offers an analytic approach to our past and our government, the museum provokes emotions that stimulate learning, reflection, and a sense of democratic citizenship. For visitors, the presidency is theirs to see and touch (almost), to use, and to hold accountable.