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U.S. Presidents Abroad

How travel-happy have U.S. presidents shown themselves to be?

January 31, 2003

How travel-happy have U.S. presidents shown themselves to be?

The irony of any U.S. presidency is that the candidate for that high office almost always runs on a domestic platform — only to become embroiled in global affairs afterwards. Yet, serious U.S. presidential involvement in global affairs is a rather recent phenomenon. Our Globalist Factsheet examines how U.S. presidents have fared abroad.

What did it take for U.S. presidents to start visiting Europe?

When he set sail for Paris in the SS George Washington in 1918, Woodrow Wilson became the first U.S. president to go to Europe. He went to visit the WW I peace conference.

(European Union)

Was he the first to go abroad?

Actually, Theodore Roosevelt was the first to go abroad, when he went on a tour of Puerto Rico and Panama in 1906. He was the first U.S. president to go abroad for an official visit.

(White House)

But who had any foreign experience prior to being elected president?

When Thomas Jefferson served as Minister to France in 1787, he was the first future U.S. president to have ever traveled abroad.

(Boston Globe)

Who made it to Africa first?

In 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first incumbent U.S. president to set foot on African soil, when he met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Casablanca to discuss war tactics.

(St. Petersburg Times)

But who visited Africa first for Africa's sake?

In his 1978 state visit to Nigeria, Jimmy Carter became the first U.S. president to visit sub-Saharan Africa.

(U.S. Department of State)

Which president traveled to Asia first?

In 1959, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first U.S. president to visit an Asian country when he visited India.

(Sydney Morning Herald)

What made Richard Nixon's visit to China so important?

In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon arrived in China — becoming the first American president to visit any country not diplomatically recognized by Washington.


How long did Japan have to wait for a U.S. presidential visit?

In 1974, Gerald Ford became the first U.S. President to visit Japan. A trip planned by U.S. President Eisenhower in 1960 had been canceled.

(Central News Agency Taiwan)

Have U.S.-Cuba relations progressed at all since Fidel Castro took over in 1959?

On September 6, 2000, Fidel Castro shook hands with U.S. President Bill Clinton — the first time he had ever shaken hands with a U.S. president.

(New York Times)

What heralded a new beginning in U.S.-Russia relations?

In early June 2000, Bill Clinton delivered the first speech ever by a U.S. president before the Russian parliament.

(Financial Times)

How much did Bill Clinton travel during his term?

In his eight years in office as president, Bill Clinton made 133 visits to foreign nations — more foreign visits than presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon combined.

(Washington Post)

And finally, why did George W. Bush's first presidential visit abroad create a precedent?

U.S. President George W. Bush made his first official trip abroad to Mexico in February 2001 — marking the first time ever that a recent U.S. president did not make Canada his first visit abroad.

(Deutsche Bank)