Fifteen sitting presidents have made a total of twenty-seven visits to South Dakota. Since South Dakota became a state in 1889, eight presidents failed to visit the state: Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Joe Biden (so far).
In 2019, @SoDakGovs posted a tweet string recounting the history of visits to South Dakota by sitting Presidents of the United States. The string relied primarily on two sources: Harold H. Schuler, “Patriotic Pageantry,” South Dakota History (Vol. 30 No. 4 Winter 2000) and an Argus Leader list from 2015. This is an updated version of an earlier post written last year.
On July 3, 2020, Donald Trump visited Mt. Rushmore to attend the Independence Day fireworks. Trump, who visited during the 2018 campaign to support Kristi Noem’s candidacy for governor, is the 16th sitting president to visit South Dakota, and his Mt. Rushmore visit will be the 27th by a sitting president to the state and at least the 6th public appearance at Mt. Rushmore.
- 1899: William McKinley was the first President to visit SD. His train tour of the west includes stops in South Dakota, including Aberdeen, Redfield, Sioux Falls and Yankton.
- 1903: Theodore Roosevelt spent a couple days in Sioux Falls, and then continued on a train tour to Yankton and Aberdeen.
- 1911: William Howard Taft visited several Black Hills cities by train, before crossing the state with stops in Pierre, Huron, Redfield and Aberdeen.
- 1919: Woodrow Wilson spoke at the Sioux Falls Coliseum during his train tour promoting the League of Nations. He suffered a debilitating stroke later on the tour and was an invalid for the remainder of his term.
- 1927: Calvin and Grace Coolidge famously spent their summer in Custer State Park at the State Game Lodge, as recently recounted by Seth Tupper.
- 1936: Franklin D. Roosevelt visited South Dakota on a train tour, with stops in Aberdeen, Redfield and Pierre, before visiting Mount Rushmore to dedicate Jefferson’s face.
- 1953: Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Rapid City to address the Young Republican National Federation, and spent two days in Custer State Park at the State Game Lodge; he also visited Mt. Rushmore.
- 1962: John F. Kennedy visited Pierre to dedicate the Oahe Dam.
- 1969: Richard Nixon visited Madison to dedicate the Karl E. Mundt Library at General Beadle State College (today Dakota State University). Nixon and Mundt were old friends from their time together in Congress.
- 1974: Gerald R. Ford made a campaign stop for GOP candidates in Sioux Falls.
- 1976: Ford visited Ellsworth AFB on his way back to DC from a vacation in Vail, Colorado.
- 1986: Ronald Reagan came to Sioux Falls to campaign for U.S. Senator Jim Abdnor, who ultimately lost reelection to Tom Daschle.
- 1986: Reagan made a second campaign stop for Abdnor, in Rapid City.
- 1989: George Bush visited Sioux Falls to join Gov. George S. Mickelson in a celebration of South Dakota’s state centennial.
- 1991: Bush visited Mt. Rushmore, to officially dedicate the monument on the 50th anniversary of its completion.
- 1992: Bush made a campaign stop in Montrose, as he campaigned for reelection.
- 1992: Bush returned, this time for a campaign stop in Sioux Falls at the fairgrounds. He ultimately carried South Dakota but lost the election to Bill Clinton.
- 1996: Bill Clinton made a reelection campaign stop in Brandon.
- 1996: Clinton made his final campaign stop of the 1996 campaign in Sioux Falls.
- 1999: Clinton visited the Pine Ridge Reservation, as part of a tour of the nation’s most poverty-stricken places. He stayed in Rapid City and also made unannounced, private visits to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments.
- 2001: George W. Bush held a rally at the SD Air National Guard hanger in Sioux Falls.
- 2002: Bush visited an ethanol plant in Wentworth and held a rally at the Sioux Falls Arena for John Thune’s 2002 campaign for U.S. Senate.
- 2002: Bush held a rally for John Thune’s U.S. Senate campaign at Mt. Rushmore.
- 2002: Bush returned for a rally for Thune in Aberdeen at the Barnett Center. Thune narrowly lost the 2002 election to incumbent Tim Johnson, but defeated U.S. Senator Tom Daschle two years later..
- 2015: Barack Obama made SD the 50th state he visited as president, when he delivered the commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute.
- 2018: Donald Trump visited Sioux Falls to headline a September fundraiser for Kristi Noem, SD’s congresswoman and the GOP nominee for governor.
- 2020: Trump visited Mt. Rushmore for Independence Day fireworks, which returned to the monument after a decade-long absence.
It’s worth noting that at least 11 of the 27 presidential visits, including Trump’s first, were for explicitly political purposes. Of course, every presidential trip is political to some degree. It is probably no coincidence that, since World War II, the only presidents not to visit South Dakota are Truman, Johnson, Carter, and Biden, all Democrats – although Johnson is the most recent Democrat to win South Dakota’s electoral votes, in 1964.