President Eisenhower’s Birthday Party in Hershey

Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Program for President Eisenhower's 1953 birthday partyMost Americans preparing to vote in the 1952 presidential election were eager for the Korean War (1950-53) to end. As the campaign neared its conclusion, Republican Party candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) declared, “If elected, I shall go to Korea.” This pledge stirred hopes that he would find a way to end the fighting quickly. The nation elected the legendary World War II general and gave him a political mandate for change. Within the first year of Eisenhower’s presidency he succeeded. On July 27, 1953, the armistice ending the Korean War was signed.

Later that year on October 13, Eisenhower celebrated his 63rd birthday – his first as president – in Hershey, Dauphin County. Sponsored by the Republican Finance Committee of Pennsylvania, it was billed as being the biggest birthday party ever held.

The committee decided to hold the party in Hershey, because they wanted to invite as many guests as possible and knew that the Hershey Arena would hold about 6,000 people and Hershey Stadium, 20,000. The committee also borrowed the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Big Top, considered the largest portable roof in the world, in which to serve the birthday buffet.

The party started in Hershey Stadium where approximately 13,000 people filed into the stands and sang “Happy Birthday” to the president. Eisenhower and his wife Mamie sat at the south end of the stadium and dined on fried chicken while six Pennsylvania bands performed on the field. Eisenhower greeted the stadium crowd with a few words: “Good Evening, my friends – and thank you a lot for the cordiality of your welcome. And I must say to you, never in my life have I heard so many people sing ‘Happy Birthday.'”

Program for President Eisenhower's 1953 birthday party.The dinner under the Big Top cost $100 per plate and was opened for 6,000 diners. The main course of the meal was roast prime tenderloin with mushroom sauce. After dinner the guests moved to the Hershey Arena where they serenaded the president with his campaign song, “Where in the World (But in America).” Guests were served cake and treated further to a musical pageant, The Song of America. The musical traced the founding and development of the United States and included the 1,000-member All-Pennsylvania School Chorus.

Every person who attended the birthday party received a souvenir Eisenhower Birthday Plate produced by Castleton China Inc., located in New Castle, Lawrence County. The front of the plate featured Eisenhower’s facsimile signature and the Pennsylvania Dutch motif of twin doves, symbolizing peace and love. The plates proved to be such a success that a second limited edition was produced to sell to the general public for $10 each.

The Pennsylvania State Archives holds a copy of the program for Eisenhower’s 1953 birthday party and an original order form for additional souvenir plates (both MG-201, Gertrude Howard Nauman Papers), as well as a color motion picture film of the event itself (MG-254, Audio-Visual Collection).

 

Richard C. Saylor is an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives and author of the national award-winning book Soldiers to Governors: Pennsylvania’s Civil War Veterans Who Became State Leaders.