Tag Archives: Woodrow Wilson

What Presidents Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft & Wilson Sounded Like

Rare Audio Recordings of the Presidents

Would you vote for any of these men based upon their photographs (or voices)?


Let’s not generalize and say modern Americans are shallow, but research confirms that public image and to a lesser extent how someone talks, does influence the electorate.

One classic, yet apocryphal example, is the first televised presidential debate in 1960, in which supposed surveys showed people listening on the radio thought Richard Nixon was the clear winner of the debate, whereas people watching on television thought John F. Kennedy was the victor.

Today we are bombarded by media 24/7. It has becomes a challenge to capture anyone’s attention. The current presidential debates have devolved into images and soundbytes that convey little when it comes to substantive ideas and solutions for making our country functional. The public and media analyze Donald Trump’s hair;  if Hillary Clinton has “had work done” or why Ted Cruz “talks weird.”

So now, imagine life 100 – 125  years ago. Most Americans never ventured more than a few miles from where they were born. There was no internet, television or radio. Images were viewed in newspapers and magazines. If you heard a politician speak, it was, in person addressing an attentive crowd.

The technological revolutions around the turn of the century were stunning to the masses. The development of motion pictures, x-rays, electric appliances (beginning with the toaster), airplanes and audio recordings astonished people.

Maybe you’ve seen grainy silent films of the men who served as presidents of the United States at the turn-of-the-century. They are silent, stoic and graven in image. What did they sound like? How did they talk?

Most people do not realize that these early president’s voices were recorded and preserved for posterity, usually by the Edison Company on wax cylinder disks. The following recordings are part of the Vincent Voice Library at Michigan State University. It is very interesting to hear what these men sounded like.

Based upon their photographs and voices, could any of these men be elected today?

Grover Cleveland photo locFirst we have President Grover Cleveland (the 22nd and 24th president 1885-1889 & 1893-1897) the only man ever to be elected twice in non-consecutive terms.

Cleveland was mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York before becoming president. In 1884 a book was published called Off-hand Portraits of Prominent New Yorkers by Stephen Fiske.  The coda to the profile on Cleveland accurately predicted “If he shall make the same sort of a Governor as he has a Mayor, the road to the White House is open to him, and this sketch may yet be entitled the portrait of President Cleveland.”

Grover Cleveland’s voice, recorded during a campaign speech in 1892 is a bit hard to hear with all the static, but is comprehensible.

The way most politicians in the 19th century wrote, is the way Cleveland speaks. Cleveland puts out his speech with melodrama and clear diction.

William Mckinley photo locNext, the 25th President William McKinley (1897-1901) who never left his front porch at his home in Ohio to campaign. McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in 1901, which put Theodore Roosevelt into the executive office.

McKinley on this recording from 1896, talks about the Republican platform. Similar to Grover Cleveland, McKinley speaks the way you’d imagine a 19th century politician would talk. McKinley’s speech pattern  epitomizes the 20th century movie portrayal of 19th century diction, emphasizing certain words, and like Cleveland, drawing out his syllables.

Theodore Roosevelt photo locTheodore Roosevelt Continue reading