Vintage photos show how presidential limousines have changed, from open convertibles to Biden's $1.5 million armored Cadillac known as 'The Beast'

  • US presidents used to ride in unarmored convertibles with open roofs.

  • After John F. Kennedy's assassination, presidential cars were customized with safety features.

  • Today's presidential limousine is a 20,000-pound, $1.5 million Cadillac known as "The Beast."

US presidents used to ride around in open convertibles. Today, President Joe Biden is driven in a 20,000-pound, $1.5 million armored Cadillac known as "The Beast."

Take a look at how presidential limousines have changed through the years.

Presidential cars replaced horses and carriages in the early 20th century.

President William McKinley rides in an automobile in 1896.
President William McKinley rides in an automobile in 1896.Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

President William McKinley, who served from 1897 to 1901, was the first US president to ride in a car, according to the National Archives.

The administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, who succeeded McKinley after his 1901 assassination, was the first to include a government-owned car.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to ride in an armored vehicle — a limousine that previously belonged to gangster Al Capone.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt rides in an armored car in 1942
President Franklin D. Roosevelt rides in a car with bulletproof glass in 1942.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Roosevelt previously drove around in a 1936 Packard Touring Limousine. Then, in 1941, he upgraded to an automobile with bulletproof glass that the Treasury Department had seized from Capone in 1932, according to the US Secret Service.

President Dwight Eisenhower's presidential limousine was a 1955 Chrysler Crown Imperial.

President Dwight Eisenhower waves from the presidential limousine
President Dwight Eisenhower waves to cheering crowds in 1955.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

The car featured a 250-horsepower V8 engine and a sunroof, according to the US Secret Service.

President John F. Kennedy's assassination in the back of a 1961 Lincoln Continental changed presidential cars forever.

John F. Kennedy rides in the presidential limousine in Dallas, Texas, in 1963
President John F. Kennedy, and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy ride through Dallas in 1963. Minutes later, Kennedy was assassinated as his car passed through Dealey Plaza.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Kennedy's limousine included a hydraulic seat that could be raised 10.5 inches for a better view of the president, but no protective features.

After Kennedy's assassination, presidential cars were customized to prioritize the safety of the commander-in-chief with thick layers of armor.

Subsequent presidents rode in a fleet of heavily fortified Lincoln Continental cars.

The 1969 presidential limousine
A 1969 Lincoln Continental presidential limousine.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

President Richard Nixon's 1967 Lincoln Continental was constructed with 4,000 pounds of armor, bulletproof glass, and a roof thicker than the cockpit of an F-16 fighter jet, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A 1969 model featured a bumper that could be converted into a platform for Secret Service agents.

In 1983, the Reagan administration switched from Lincoln cars to Cadillacs.

Reagan
President Ronald Reagan waves from the back of his limousine in 1984.Ronald Reagan Library/Getty Images

President Ronald Reagan began riding in a Cadillac Fleetwood limousine with raised seats and a raised roof so that crowds could see him better, but with security measures such as bulletproof glass.

The first fully custom-built presidential limousine was used by President George H.W. Bush in 1989.

The presidential motorcade in 1989
President George Bush rides in a new presidential limousine on Inauguration Day in 1989.JEROME DELAY/AFP via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Times reported that the 22-foot vehicle, a modified Lincoln Town Car, cost $600,000 and took three years to build.

At the 2005 inauguration, President George W. Bush rode in a 2006 Cadillac DeVille Touring Sedan, or DTS.

President George W. Bush's presidential limousine at the 2005 inauguration
The presidential limousine moves along Pennsylvania Avenue following the second-term inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2005.DOUG MILLS/AFP via Getty Images

The Cadillac DTS was a refurbished model from 2005, according to the US Secret Service.

In 2009, President Barack Obama began riding in a customized DTS Cadillac.

The 2009 presidential limousine
The 2009 DTS Cadillac that served as President Barack Obama's presidential limousine.US Secret Service/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The new model sported 19.5-inch tires and larger windows than previous presidential limousines.

The interior featured plush leather seats decorated with the presidential seal, a fold-out desk, and room for five passengers.

Barack and Michelle Obama ride in the presidential limousine in2013
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave to supporters as they ride in the inaugural parade in 2013.Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

When White House photographer Pete Souza asked Obama if he could ride along in the presidential limousine at the 2013 inauguration parade, he says Obama joked, "But Michelle and I were planning to make out."

The newest iteration of "The Beast," modeled after a Cadillac XT6, was completed for President Donald Trump in 2018 and is used by President Joe Biden.

The Beast presidential car in 2021
The US presidential state car, nicknamed "The Beast," at Windsor Castle in June 2021.Pool/Max Mumby/Getty Images

Despite the Cadillac exterior, the frame of the car is the same as the Chevrolet Kodiak truck produced by General Motors. The vehicle can seat up to seven people and cost around $1.5 million to build.

The US Secret Service has called The Beast "the most technologically advanced protection vehicle in the world."

The Beast presidential limo
Members of the Secret Service open the doors to the presidential limousine in February 2024.SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

The Beast includes a night-vision system, a secure communications system, tear-gas firing capabilities, door handles that can deliver electric shocks, and refrigerators with the president's blood type. With 3-inch thick windows and 8-inch thick armor, it's also bulletproof and sealed against biochemical attacks.

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