Warren G. Harding may not be America’s most famous president but he was probably its most well-connected.He knew people from George Eastman, John Burroughs to Charles Lindbergh and Thomas Edison. With Edison, John Burroughs, naturalist Luther Burbank, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford, the president participated in a series of camping trips. In the above picture taken in 1921 were Ford, Edison, Harding, and businessman Harvey C. Firestone in Maryland.
After his first experience with the Nature Club, President Harding joined the group whenever he could. En route to a new campsite on a rainy day, the Lincoln touring car carrying Harding, Ford, Edison, Firestone and Burbank bogged down in deep mud on a back road in West Virginia. Ford’s chauffeur went for help and returned with a farmer driving an ancient Model T. After the Lincoln was yanked from the mire, Ford was the first to shake the farmer’s hand. “I guess you don’t know me but I’m Henry Ford. I made the car you’re driving.”
Before, during and after Harding ran for the presidency, the nation expectedly followed the news from those camping trips. The many Maryland newspapers included photographs showing the famous men participating in various outdoor activities with President Harding, from relaxing in canvas-backed wooden folding chairs to horseback riding. One photograph captured Edison napping comfortably on the bare ground. Soon after that photograph was taken, President Harding gently put a newspaper over Edison’s face and smiled at child looking on in the crowd and said, “we can’t let the gnats eat him up, now can we?”
A local music dealer from Hagerstown made arrangements for a player piano to be at the campsite.Despite the presence of the President, an informal atmosphere prevailed around the campfire. In 1998, a play “Camping with Henry and Tom,” was written by Mark St. Germain to honor these camping trips.