Seventy-five years ago today, Gerald R. Ford, Jr., was elected to his first term as a U.S. Congressman from Grand Rapids, Michigan, receiving 60.5% of the vote. Earlier that fall, Ford had defeated incumbent Bartel Jonkman in the Republican primary, earning 62.2% of that vote. He would go on to be elected to thirteen terms, ending his career in the House of Representatives as the Minority Leader in 1973.
In 1948, Ford and his supporters operated out of a Quonset hut set up in a parking lot in downtown Grand Rapids. (Today, you can see a small replica of this Quonset hut if you visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum during the holidays as part of the Presidential Express Train exhibit.)
In Ordinary Man, Richard Norton Smith writes: “Ford scored points with his relentless canvassing at factory gates, Kiwanis lunches and church socials. At least three times a week he visited rural parts of the district to chat up farmers on their tractors and dairy-men milking their herds.”
Over the course of his congressional career, Ford served on various committees including Public Works, Appropriations (where he also served on subcommittees such as Defense Spending and Intelligence), and the Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration. He was also selected by President Lyndon Johnson to serve on the Warren Commission following the assassination of President Kennedy (which will be addressed in a future blog).
Ford’s ultimate career goal was to one day become Speaker of the House. While that never happened, Ford would always reminisce fondly of his time serving the Michiganders of his district.
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Authors: Brooke Clement and Joel Westphal