INDIANAPOLIS — To many in 21st century, the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, one of the last of the 19th century, seems like ancient history.
Elected to the nation’s top political office in 1888, Harrison remains the only president from the state of Indiana (he was born in 1833 in North Bend, Ohio, but moved to Indianapolis in 1854). He also has the distinction of being one of the few presidents elected to office despite failing to win the popular vote: Harrison received 100,000 fewer popular votes than incumbent President Grover Cleveland, but carried the Electoral College 233 to 168.
In 1867, Harrison purchased a tract of land on North Delaware Street near downtown Indianapolis. It was on this site Harrison built an impressive Italianate structure for a sum of $24,818.67 (more than $500,000 in today’s dollars).
But, Harrison’s one term in the Oval Office came at a pivotal time in American history. Some interesting facts about Harrison:
- Harrison led a failed attempt to pass civil rights legislation
- Harrison installed electricity in the White House for the first time, but his wife didn’t want to turn on and off the lights at first for fear of being shocked
- Six states (Washington, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho and Montana) entered the union during Harrison’s tenure, the most since George Washington
- Harrison’s first wife, Caroline, died just before the 1892 election and Harrison
- Harrison is the great-grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the grandson of William Henry Harrison, the ninth president
- Harrison has a reputation as an exceptional orator
Harrison’s widow, his second wife, sold the home and a number of family artifacts in 1937 to the Arthur Jordan Foundation, which used some rooms for a dorm and kept others as a museum. In 1966, the house was declared a National Historic Landmark.
From the 1950s until a 1974 renovation, guests could visit the Benjamin Harrison Home by appointment only. Following the renovation, the home opened for regular hours.
Today, the museum offers a unique insight into the nation’s 23rd president, an oft-overlooked president.
One of the most compelling pieces is the commission signed by Abraham Lincoln that promoted Harrison to the rank of brigadier general during the Civil War.