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The President's White

The President's White

The President's 40-horsepower White Model M steam-powered touring car. March 1909. Photographed on the White House grounds in the early days of the Taft administration. In the back is the State Department, now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. View full size. George Grantham Bain Collection. Question for the old-car experts: Does each tire really have multiple valve stems?


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Taft's Car Restored

President Taft's White Steamer as it appears in the present day at the Heritage Museum in Sandwich, MA.

President Taft's Automobile

Seen in use:

Mr. Taft's Steamer

The Washington Post, Jan 21 1909

In the Automobile World

That President-elect Taft is going to be a good motorist is demonstrated by his continuous use of a White steamer at Augusta, where he is spending his winter vacation.

The Washington Post, Feb 24 1909

In the Automobile World

The interesting announcement is made that President-elect Taft has purchased a White steamer. The car, which is a seven-passenger touring car, has the coat-of-arms of the United States painted on its doors, and will be delivered to Mr. Taft before the inauguration. The President-elect has had three years experience in White steamers, and his choice is naturally pleasing to the makers of the White. A gasoline town car also has been purchased for the use of Mrs. Taft.

The Washington Post, Mar 1 1909

In the Automobile World

The White steamer purchased for the use of President-elect Taft was driven from the factory in Cleveland to this city. The color of the car is a little unusual, being a harmonious blend of subdued greens, with the United States coat-of-arms painted on each of the doors.

The Washington Post, Mar 14 1909

The White House Garage

The "White House stable" is no more. The one-story brick structure on Seventeenth street, which for so many years has sheltered the horses and carriages of the Presidents, is now the "White House garage." The feed bins have given place to the gasoline tank. From the pegs which formerly supported the harness, now hang inner tubes and casings. Exit the coachman, enter the chauffeur. Ring out the, "hay motor;" ring in the steam engine.
The garage will be in charge of George Robinson, who has been detailed from his duties in the War Department, to drive the presidential White steamer, the car purchased by Mr. Taft for his personal use.

Taft White Steamer

You can answer the tire question yourself. The actual Taft White Steamer is at the Heritage Plantation Museum in Sandwich, Massachusetts. A good day trip as there is something for everyone.

1909 White Model M Presidential Steamer

This is a 40 HP White steam car, built in Cleveland Ohio. Note the "inner" steering wheel which is actually the throttle for the car. The "radiator" is a condenser to recycle the water back into the boiler under the front seat, hence the five air vents under the driver to keep the seat from getting too warm. Exhaust was vented out the back under the floorboards. Headlights ran on acetylene gas carried in the cylindrical tank on the side of the car and kerosene lights were mounted on the dash and rear of the car (also visible). The engine was a two cylinder compound steam engine operating at very high pressure and temperature. The car offered a neutral, high and low gear in the rear axle. There was no transmission. The engine was operated in reverse when backing the car by changing the setting of the inlet valves on the engine.

Tire Clamps

Here's a picture of a car with the same type of clamps. Says 1908 on back.

Tire Clamps, Cont'd.

From this car.

Old Tires and More

The real reason for the clamps is the very low pressure at which the early and very flimsy pneumatic tires had to run. As the technology improved, higher pressures would press the tire hard enough against the rim to keep it in place.

Earlier tires were solid rubber, which would shake the mechanicals to pieces. Even straw innards were tried in the search for the right technology.

As for right-hand driving positions, it was very common in all countries in expensive cars. I have a French car with RHD from 1937, and they never drove on the left side of the road.

Tire retainers

They're a clamp sort of arrangement that holds the tire to the rim. In modern tubeless tires, air pressure and a close fit to the rim's raised edge hold the tire to the wheel. In these older, very early pneumatic tires, the tire is necessarily fitted loosely to the rim, as tires were changed with small hand prybars, and fairly frequently due to damage to the tube. To keep the tire from slipping on the rim, there's a clamp that goes inside, and pulls down on the lip of the tire.

Fairly common for the time, but short-lived as tire technology improved rapidly.

Re: Steam?

The car is a White Model M steamer. From "William Howard Taft and the First Motoring Presidency" by Michael Bromley: "The White Model M could power a car load of motorists, including Taft, one of the largest enthusiasts in the land, and run for great distances, needing only an occasional refill of water for steam and fuel for the burners. ... Taft's choice for the touring car and that it be a White was immutable."


I notice that the car doesn't have a starting handle. Electric starters didn't arrive until Cadillac used them for the first time on their 1912 model. The White Motor Co. produced steam cars along with petrol cars until 1911. Could this have been a steam car? If so, the "radiator" is actually the condenser. I don't know of other clues as to this car's powerplant, but maybe there are experts out there who will be able to tell.

Re: Wrong side?

Of course not. He's sitting on the right side!

Wrong side?

Looks to me like six balance weights, distributed evenly along the rim, and one valve stem between two of them. I wonder if balancing would have made any difference at the speeds this car would travel, on the other hand manufacturing tolerances for artillery wheels and the tyres of those days could have induced wheel flutter etc. at speeds as low as 30 mph. BTW: I notice that the driver sits on the right. What side of the road were you Americans driving on in those days?

Segmented inner tubes?

I've been an old car fan, but I've never heard of segmented innertubes. Can anyone provide a citation supporting their existence?

clarity? weights/valves?

ok ___ i agree this is fascinating ___ so did anyone settle whether we're seeing valve stems from tube segments or balancing disbursements?


Perhaps they should have opted for solid rubber...


Taft was the first President to use automobiles regularly. There was a debate in Congress whether money should be appropriated to acquire autos for the White House. One Congressman remarked during the debate: "The incoming President [Taft] proposes to abandon horses for reasons that the gentleman well knows: he does not wish to violate the law against cruelty to animals"

William H. Taft

I find the discussion about this car and its tires and low pressure quite interesting. Taft became president in March, 1909, and was on record as being the "heaviest" (OK, fattest!) President we've ever had, with his weight reportedly topping 355 by the time he left office. Could Taft have just been deposited back at the White House by this very ornate vehicle, following his inauguration, and the tires are, uh, groaning a bit in relief?

Valve stems

Some cars used weights distributed around the tire on bolts to balance the tire. The balance wasn't critical, but could provide a smoother ride at speeds over 30mph.

Safety First

In any case, that left front looks a little low to me. This is the President's car, for corn's sake!

Five? Six? Seven?

Tire clamps

Dirt motorcycles use clamps to hold the tire on the rim. I think there are five of those plus a valve stem. The valve stem is on the top of the left front tire.


Looks like five valve stems per tire to me. I mention this only because I'm guessing it's of vital importance.

Valve Stems

yes, some early tires had segmented inner tubes

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