Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The First Presidential Limousine - You Won't Believe It!

It's been a while since I have posted on this blog.  December was hectic and January just took off.  I am sorry.  Hopefully you will find this story fascinating and share it with your family and friends.  Gabe   

Just hours after Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, the Secret Service found itself with a major dilemma - an unusual problem. President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked to speak to an emergency session of Congress on Tuesday morning, December 9.  He chose to wait until Tuesday to address Congress as he wanted as many of the elected state representatives present and wanted to give them time to get back to Washington when he made his address to the nation. This joint session on December the 9th is where he gave his powerful “This is a Day That Will Live on in Infamy” speech. 

Though the actual trip from the White House to Capitol Hill was short, Secret Service agents at the time were concerned about his personal safety. Standard vehicles had always been used to transport the President wherever he travelled; however now with the possibility of war pending, they thought a more secure and safer mode of transportation should be used.

Federal Laws in place at the time prohibited government agencies and departments from purchasing vehicles that cost more than $750. The only recourse the Secret Service had was to get emergency authority and funding from Congress to purchase a safer vehicle; however
with all the mayhem erupting in Washington, nobody had time for that. 

As luck would have it, one of the older (or should we say long-term) agents working for the Secret Service, remembered the US Treasury Department had seized a bulletproof car from a mobster a few years ago that might work. 

The mobster they seized the vehicle from was none other than Al Capone - the famous Chicago crime boss. Capone, you may recall, was sent to prison in 1931 for tax evasion.  He failed to file and pay taxes on $150,000 of income he earned from his illegal operations. The car the Treasury Department seized from Al Capone was now sitting in a Washington D.C. warehouse.

Capone’s seized car was a 1928 Cadillac Town Sedan which had a V-8 engine. 

Interestingly, Capone had his car painted black and green to look identical to the Chicago police vehicles of that era. Capone also had the 1928 Cadillac Town Sedan modified with 3,000 pounds of armor plating and one-inch thick bulletproof glass. Furthermore, he had a police siren and flashing lights installed behind the front grille of the vehicle which he used often to speed his way through Chicago’s congested traffic quickly.

Throughout Sunday night, all day Monday, and all of Monday night mechanics and Secret Service agents labored to clean the car and make sure it was in perfect running condition. On Tuesday morning, December 9, they had Capone’s car ready to transport President Franklin Roosevelt to Capitol Hill. 

The point we should all remember from this fascinating little story is: The very first "Official" White House Limousine ever used to transport a US President was a bulletproof Cadillac, formerly owned by the notorious Chicago gangster, Al Capone.