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Interactive Map Shows the History of Presidential Travel

President Trump’s first foreign trip follows a long line of international visits by heads of state

Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Tehran Conference. (Public Domain)
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President Trump recently concluded his first foreign tour, during which he traveled to five different countries, met with a bevy of international leaders, and had a meme-worthy encounter with a glowing orb. Counting Trump’s trip, U.S. presidents have made 921 visits to foreign locations since the early 20th century. A new interactive map explores the history of presidential jet-setting, tracking the many diplomatic excursions that have been made across the globe, as Greg Miller reports for National Geographic.

Titled “The Executive Abroad,” the map was created by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab. Using travel records from the Office of the Historian at the U.S. State Department, a group of students compiled data on trips made by U.S. presidents and their secretaries of state. When you toggle through officials’ names, dots pop up across the map, each signifying a foreign visit. The dots are color-coded based on geographic region, and clicking on them reveals the date and reason for the trip.

The chronology of the map beings in 1906 with Theodore Roosevelt, who became the first sitting American president to travel outside the country when he took a trip to view the construction of the Panama Canal. The graph-like outer ring of the map, which shows the frequency of international visits, indicates that foreign trips were rare occasions until after the Second World War. Robert Nelson, director of the Digital Scholarship Lab, tells Miller that the shift can be attributed to two factors: the rise of jet aircraft, which made traveling easier, and America’s growing soft power influence in the wake of WWII.

Rates of presidential travel really took off in the late 1950s, as indicated by peaks on the map’s outer ring. “[T]he map conveys how significantly travel by the executive branch has grown over the past eleven decades,” Nelson says in a press release. “In the first decade of the 20th century, presidents Roosevelt and Taft together made three trips to two places. A century later, George W. Bush and Barack Obama together made more than 300 trips all over the globe.”

The map reveals other trends. Presidents have taken more trips to Asia and Africa in recent years, for instance, while secretaries of state travel to the Middle East more frequently than presidents—possibly, Miller writes, “because presidential visits are more ceremonial, whereas secretaries of state are the ones dispatched to regions where there’s hard diplomatic work to be done.”

With its plethora of multi-colored dots, the map also highlights crucial moments in American political history: Woodrow Wilson’s trip to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, FDR’s 1943 meeting with Stalin and Churchill in Tehran, and other high-stakes visits undertaken by heads of state.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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