February 10, 1920: Former President William Howard Taft speaks at Duluth’s First Methodist Church

On this day in Duluth in 1920, former president William H. Taft spoke at Duluth’s First Methodist Church. The event was sponsored by the David Wisted American Legion Post as one of 100 speaking engagements Taft would make that winter. The legion committee that brought Taft to the Zenith City included F. Rodney Paine, son of F. W. Paine; Robert McGonagle, son of William McGonagle; Cavour Hartley, son of Guilford Hartley; and Hubert d’Autremont, son of Charles d’Autremont and son-in-law of Chester Congdon. Taft arrived on the Soo Line at 10 a.m., having travelled from Chicago. After a rest and a greeting by the Commercial Club, it was off to lunch at the Kitchi Gammi Club before a car ride along the Boulevard (Skyline Parkway) and a tour of the Minnesota Steel Plant. The Duluth News Tribune complained that Taft spent too much of his time promoting the League of Nations, formed exactly one month before Taft’s Duluth visit. He had been promoting the idea for two years and, the newspaper pointed out, had lost a lot of weight staying in shape for his campaign. Mr. Taft, the newspaper said, was not “thin in comparison to other men, but exceedingly thin in comparison with the former Mr. Taft” and noted he walked for 90 minutes on Woodland Avenue as part of his fitness regime. While in town Taft stayed at the home of Thomas S. Wood at 1927 East Superior; the two met when both were part of the Cincinnati Law School’s Class of 1880. At the church, Taft’s topic was “Signs of the Times,” and again pushed for America to join the new league. “The wound made by the world war will heal, but it must be healed from the bottom clean to the surface…. We are a healthy body politic. The wounds of war, unrest, and Bolshevism will heal, but they must heal slowly. They must not be permitted to close over the surface, to foster underneath. We are suffering from a reaction from the war, but it is not really serious.” Of Duluth he said, “I felicitate you upon your climate. This day, I understand, is an average day, just as your lowest score in golf is your average score…. Nine inches of snow in New York simply paralyzed it. Such an event would not be noticed by a city like Duluth.”

ALSO ON THIS DAY in 1850: Camille Poirer, founder of what has become Duluth Pack, started walking from St. Paul to Duluth; learn more about Mr. Poirer here.

William Howard Taft photographed outside the Kitchi Gammi Club in 1920. (Image: Zenith City Press)