No person in the world is more recognizable than an American president. These men are larger than life, and as the leader of the free world they have the opportunity to shape history in ways that most of us cannot imagine. Some objects, such as the Resolute desk, Air Force One, or the presidential seal, are symbolic of the position itself, but each president has at least one artifact that largely defines his life and his presidency. For example, George Washington’s ill-fitting dentures plagued him for most of his life, affecting the very image of his face that we have all come to recognize. Millions of Americans were comforted by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” as he spoke into a radio microphone during the Great Depression and World War II. John F. Kennedy memorialized a coconut husk, with a message he wrote after his PT boat was destroyed in the Pacific Ocean, into a paperweight he kept on his desk in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton appeared on late night television playing the saxophone to appeal to younger voters.
Exploring the American Presidency through 50 Historic Treasures brings together significant artifacts from the lives of the men who have led our nation through times of great prosperity and terrible tragedy. When we look at our presidents through the lens of the material culture they left behind, it humanizes them and creates relevance to our own lives. This book features full-color images of 50 artifacts that were chosen by the very people who work at presidential sites and historical museums, stewarding the legacies of our presidents.
Kimberly A. Kenney became Curator of the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum in October 2001 and was promoted to Executive Director in 2019. She graduated summa cum laude from Wells College in Aurora, NY with a major in American history and minor in creative writing. She earned her Master of Arts degree in History Museum Studies at the Cooperstown Graduate Program.
Exploring the American Presidency through 50 Historic Treasures is Kim’s ninth book. Her other books include Interpreting Anniversaries & Milestones at Museums & Historic Sites, Stark County Food: From Early Farming to Modern Meals (with co-author Barb Abbott of Canton Food Tours), and Murder in Stark County. Her work has been published in The Public Historian, the journal of the National Council for Public History; White House History, the journal of the White House Historical Association; The Repository; The Boston Globe; Aviation History; and the literary magazine Mused. Kim has appeared on The Daily Show, First Ladies: Influence & Images, and Mysteries at the Museum. Her program “The 1918 Influenza Pandemic” was featured on C-SPAN’s series American History TV.
“From George Washington’s dentures (not made of wood), to James Madison’s gold-capped cane (Thomas Jefferson's lovely gift), to Ronald Reagan’s piece of the Berlin Wall (a well earned souvenir), 50 historic treasures indeed they are. The photographs are striking, and Kimberly Kenney’s interesting narrative gives them life, depth, and relevance with unusually revealing insights about the presidents who owned them.”
"What makes a president? Kimberly Kenney’s vignettes of the men elected to lead our nation use carefully chosen objects—some famous like Washington’s dentures and others unknown—that connect these, sometimes towering figures, to the ordinary challenges of human beings. Through their possessions we are privy to their triumphs and their failures. Open the book to your favorite President and discover him anew."