John F. Kennedy’s Enduring Legacy

Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the presidential limousine in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This limousine is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.

But our Kennedy-related collections encompass much more than this limousine. They include materials that relate to such topics as his presidential campaign, inauguration, vision for a New Frontier, media coverage of his assassination, and the public commemoration after his death.

While we already had many Kennedy-related collections, the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to expand upon these collections. In keeping with our interest in highlighting innovation stories at The Henry Ford, this new collecting focused on President Kennedy as a social innovator—that is, the ways in which his impact radically altered the status quo in our society. Using this approach, we focused our recent collecting upon the following topics:

  • Kennedy’s unprecedented use of the medium of television to influence public opinion
  • The reinforcement of the Kennedy image in popular magazines
  • President Kennedy’s establishment of a Peace Corps
  • Kennedy’s stepping-up of America’s space program to eventually land a man on the moon

Here is a sampling of our collections relating to Kennedy’s presidency, his role as a social innovator, and his enduring legacy.

Kennedy Campaign Bumper Sticker


(Object ID: 2001.79.1) Political campaign bumper sticker, 1960.

Using giveaways like this campaign bumper sticker, Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy launched an exhaustive campaign in 1960 against Republican opponent Vice-President Richard M. Nixon. Despite charges that he lacked experience and that his Catholic background would hurt him, Kennedy eventually won the very close 1960 election.

Kennedy Inaugural Parade

(P.833.132854.3) John F. Kennedy Inaugural Parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., January 20, 1961.

On January 20, 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s swearing-in as 35th President of the United States was followed by an official parade up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. As shown in this photograph, President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline rode in a 1949 Lincoln that had served Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. The presidential limousine we generally associate with President Kennedy was not completed until June of that year.

President Kennedy Souvenir Card

(Object ID: 2013.91.1) Souvenir Card, President John F. Kennedy at televised Press Conference, April 3, 1963.

From the outset of his presidential campaign, Senator Kennedy seemed to understand instinctively how to harness the power of the new medium of television to influence public opinion. The first televised debate between Senator Kennedy and Vice-President Nixon was considered a key turning point in the 1960 Presidential election. As President, Kennedy also held live televised press conferences, like the one shown on this souvenir card.

Kennedy Magazine

(Object ID: 2013.71.1) Look Magazine, “Our New First Family,” February 28, 1961.

Americans were enchanted by the Kennedy family and they wanted to know more, always more. Photographs and feature articles of young President John F. Kennedy and his attractive family fostered a sense of intimacy between the Kennedys and the American public—and, of course, sold magazines. Life and Look magazines, the popular documenters of American life at the time, often featured behind-the-scenes photo-essays of President Kennedy and his family.

JFK Look Magazine

(Object ID: 2013.75.3) Look Magazine, “JFK’s legacy: The Peace Corps,” June 14, 1966.

Kennedy viewed his vision for a Peace Corps as an opportunity for young Americans to spread hope and goodwill across the world while also serving as a new weapon against the Cold War. By 1964 this program—which had been established March 1, 1961—had received an all-time high of over 45,000 applications. In 1966, less than three years after President Kennedy’s tragic death, Look magazine commissioned Norman Rockwell to portray Kennedy’s Peace Corps legacy for the cover of its June 14, 1966 issue.

(Object ID: 2013.54.1) Souvenir Card, Astronaut Alan Shepard Receiving Distinguished Service Medal from President Kennedy, 1961

(Object ID: 2013.54.1) Souvenir Card, Astronaut Alan Shepard Receiving Distinguished Service Medal from President Kennedy, 1961.

President John F. Kennedy’s vision to explore the “new frontier” of outer space was an overt Cold War strategy against the Soviet Union, which had launched the first man into outer space on April 12, 1961. Kennedy’s bold vision for a stepped-up space program—that would land a man on the moon before the decade was out—ignited the public’s imagination. Americans cheered every new achievement. This souvenir card shows President Kennedy awarding NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal to the first U.S. astronaut, Alan Shepard, three days after his successful space flight on May 5, 1961.

 (Object ID: 97.1.1798.3) Teletype Message with Wire Service News Coverage of John F. Kennedy Assassination, November 22, 1963


(Object ID: 97.1.1798.3) Teletype Message with Wire Service News Coverage of John F. Kennedy Assassination, November 22, 1963.

From the moment of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, reporters struggled to make sense of exactly what happened and how events unfolded in ensuing moments, hours, and days. Our collection of teletype dispatches, newspapers, and magazines reflect how breaking news of this tragic event was reported and how it changed over time.

 (Object ID: 2013.50.23) Commemorative United States Postage Stamp fro John F. Kennedy, 1964


(Object ID: 2013.50.23) Commemorative United States Postage Stamp fro John F. Kennedy, 1964.

Stunned and disillusioned Americans embraced commemorative items relating to President Kennedy after his death. These items, including books, magazines, phonograph records, and this postage stamp, helped people mourn and enabled them to re-connect with their charismatic—and now deceased—leader. Commemorative items recalling the optimistic era when John F. Kennedy was President and Jacqueline Kennedy was First Lady are still popular today.

Check out these and many more of our Kennedy-related collections via the links below:

Also be sure to visit our Pic of the Month for November 2013, which describes in more depth our recent collecting efforts relating to Kennedy’s presidency and enduring legacy.

Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, was in third grade when President Kennedy was assassinated. She would like to thank Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Prints and Photographs, and Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts, for their assistance in writing this blog post.