TIME White House

Here’s What Happened the First Time a U.S. President Went to Greece

Dwight Eisenhower King Paul Politics
Universal History Archive / Getty Images U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and King Paul of Greece Standing in Convertible Car, Athens, Greece, 1959.

The first visit to Greece by a sitting U.S. President took place in 1959 when Dwight D. Eisenhower made the journey to Athens

On Monday, President Obama travels to Greece at the start of a trip that will also bring him to Germany and Peru. The stop in Greece, per the White House, will be an opportunity for the U.S. “reaffirm our support for ongoing efforts to place the Greek economy on a path to sustainability and renewed prosperity.”

That goal, reassuring the world about the U.S. commitment to the Greek economy, is a departure from the Cold War concerns that dominated when a sitting U.S. president visited that nation for the first time, in December of 1959, when Dwight Eisenhower paid an official visit. (George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton would later do the same; President Obama is the fourth.)

The voyage was part of a trip that was, at the time, the longest foreign voyage ever made by a sitting president, as TIME reported: “he will travel for 19 days through 19,600 miles by plane, 270 by helicopter, 1,500 by ship, 1,000 by train and car.” The trip was an attempt to show, while visiting 11 nations, that he supported “the goals that free nations share.” More specifically, however, Eisenhower had some things to talk about with Greece’s leadership, as TIME explained:

Such Greek problems as Cyprus and the threat of Iron Curtain countries to the north got a thorough going-over during Ike’s talks with Premier Constantin Karamanlis. The Greeks, too, delicately hinted that the President should not put too much stock in Russian peace talk, reminded him that they had fought a bitter civil war to drive the Communists out of the country after World War II. Greece had staked out a priority interest in all Balkan affairs, and got from Ike his assurances that the U.S. and Greece would consult on such affairs.

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But, TIME noted, Eisenhower’s visit was not just about the Cold War: when he arrived in Athens, “cheering throngs” lined the streets as he passed in a Rolls-Royce with King Paul of Greece. “Ike could see the Parthenon glowing in light on the Acropolis, the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and a small obelisk monument to Americans who were killed in Greece’s 1821-29 war for independence from the Ottoman Empire,” the magazine continued, before he laid a wreath at that monument. As the crows cheered, he was seen to laugh in joy over the happy welcome he received.

“I think he’s absolutely getting to love this,” a staffer told TIME’s reporter. “He doesn’t say so, but he’d have to be superhuman not to feel this way.”

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Pages of History

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