On This Day In History: The Death of President Warren G. Harding

President Harding’s funeral procession through Marion before his burial at Marion Cemetery, 1923. Via Ohio Memory.
The Seattle Chamber of Commerce presented this photo album to President Harding on July 5, 1923, before he sailed for Alaska. The album includes photographs of places he would visit on his trip, including the Inside Passage, Ketchikan, and Juneau. Via Ohio Memory.

On this day 96 years ago, August 2, 1923, President Warren G. Harding died of a heart attack while on a cross-country tour of the western United States. That summer on June 20th, President Harding and First Lady Florence Harding embarked on a two-month train tour of the United States, which Harding called the “Voyage of Understanding.”

This tour took Harding across the country from Washington, D.C., to Colorado, then headed north to visit the western states, and eventually sailed from Tacoma, Washington, for a three-week journey across Alaska, marking the territory’s first ever presidential visit. Along the way, Harding stopped in cities where he gave public speeches, hoping to lay the groundwork for his re-election in 1924, and visited many national parks. You can see the official “Voyage of Understanding” itinerary, plotting President Harding’s trip, on Ohio Memory.

Illustration published in the August 9, 1923, issue of The Amherst News-Times, showing Uncle Sam and World Peace mourning the late President. Courtesy of the Amherst Public Library via Ohio Memory.

Although accounts suggest Harding enjoyed the tour very much, lingering health problems troubled him throughout, and eventually caused his unexpected death at a hotel in San Francisco. Had he survived the final leg of the trip, Harding would have concluded the tour by sailing the Panama Canal from San Diego to Puerto Rico, returning to Washington in late August.

Stunned by his sudden death, communities throughout the country sought to commemorate his life and presidency by publishing in memoriam pieces in national and local newspapers, and organizing city-wide days of remembrance by closing businesses and stopping day-to-day operations. At the time of his passing, Harding was well-liked and American citizens mourned the loss of their president.

President Harding’s body was first housed in the Receiving Vault at Marion Cemetery, pictured here decorated with flags, garlands, and wreaths. Via Ohio Memory.

After his death, Harding’s body was transported back to Washington, D.C., where a private viewing was held in the White House on August 7th, and his funeral took place the following day at the Capitol building before Congress. A final funeral service took place in Marion, Ohio, where he had lived for nearly all his adult life before his presidency and established a career as owner, publisher, and editor of The Marion Daily Star newspaper. Harding’s body was temporarily laid to rest in the Receiving Vault at Marion Cemetery while the Harding Memorial Association worked to raise funds to construct a memorial. Florence Harding was laid to rest in the Vault following her death in 1924 as well, and in December 1927, both the President and First Lady were interred in the memorial upon its completion.

As the centennial of Harding’s 1920 presidential victory approaches, explore Ohio Memory to view photographs documenting his life in Marion and his front porch campaign, campaign pins and other promotional materials, and correspondence.

Thanks to Kristen Newby, project coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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