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front of the museum
Photo Credit: guyonthego

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

303 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Monday-Saturday 9:00am-5:00 pm & Sunday 12:00pm-5:00pm
616-254-0400 Half day
October 2016 All year
$0-9 Grand Rapids, Michigan
Website Educational History Museums
First review
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is the official museum about the life and administration of the 38th President of the United States, Gerald Ford. Unlike other presidential libraries and museums which are located together, the Ford museum is located in Grand Rapids and the Ford library is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The museum was built in 1982 and has two stories. In addition to the museum, there is a small gift shop and also the graves of both Ford and his wife. A building expansion and enhancement was completed in 1997.

Gerald Ford was the only US President and Vice President never to be elected to office. He was appointed vice president by Richard Nixon in 1973 when Spiro Agnew resigned and assumed the presidency a year later when Nixon resigned. Ford also did not serve in office very long since he lost in the following election to Jimmy Carter in 1976. Though his time in office was short, Ford’s administration had to deal with significant economic challenges such as unemployment and inflation, difficult relations with a Democratic congress, foreign issues with the Soviet Union, and also the fallout of pardoning Richard Nixon for the Watergate scandal which was very controversial at the time. After leaving office, Ford has generally been viewed more favorably then when he served. He developed a lasting friendship with Jimmy Carter, served on various boards, wrote his memoirs and participated in foundations. He died in 2006.

The visit here was free at the time due to an art show, but the museum was also crowded. Although this museum is small relative to some other presidential libraries like the Reagan and Nixon libraries, it’s wise to give yourself a half day so you can see the exhibits without any time pressure. Most people probably visit for a couple of hours though. Even though Ford did not serve in office very long, there were enough events, activities, and policies to provide for some interesting exhibits, such as the Watergate affair, relations with Congress, two assassination attempts, and a military engagement with Cambodia. The museum also does a solid job recapping Ford’s early years and documenting the path and values that enabled him to succeed later in life. Unlike with some other museums, there were no larger exhibits such as limousines or planes and few foreign gifts to appreciate. The replica Oval Office and a video at the end of the museum documenting Ford’s life and accomplishments are both worth a look.

It’s always interesting to see how presidential libraries and museums tend to reflect the character of the man. This is true of the Ford museum as well. It’s modest, informative, and traditional. Information is conveyed fairly and straightforwardly. One gets a better appreciation for Ford as a genuinely decent, competent and patriotic man who served to the best of his ability, neither extraordinary nor woeful. While not worth a special trip, if you are in or near Grand Rapids, this museum is a good choice for a few hours, especially if you are interested in government or politics.
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