San Franciscans Give Their Heart to De Gaulle

French President Charles de Gaulle made his first State Visit as head of the Fifth Republic in April 1960. De Gaulle’s trip aimed to improve relations between the two countries after diverging policy objectives in the 1950s strained the relationship. Moreover, it was hoped that better acquainting U.S. policymakers with the French president could facilitate the bilateral relationship in the future. Lastly, the trip provided an opportunity for de Gaulle and President Dwight Eisenhower to prepare for the May 1960 joint summit meeting in Paris with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev.

De Gaulle at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

De Gaulle visits the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, National Archives and Records Administration

De Gaulle and his wife, Yvonne, arrived in Washington, D.C., on April 22 for four days of meetings, a speech in front of a joint session of Congress, and a state dinner. Eisenhower first met de Gaulle 18 years earlier during the Second World War and the two men forged a firm friendship over the years. Thus, a visit to Eisenhower’s farmhouse in Gettysburg, PA, was part of de Gaulle’s itinerary.

Eisenhower's Record of Schedule for April 24, 1960

Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library

The trip was also notable as the first time that a French head of state paid a formal visit to San Francisco and New Orleans. On April 26, the de Gaulles went to New York, then flew to San Francisco on April 27, where an estimated 250,000 San Franciscans lined the streets of de Gaulle’s motorcade route from the San Francisco International Airport to City Hall.1 The San Francisco police estimated the welcome to be “the biggest ever given here to the head of a foreign state.”2 Among his engagements that day, de Gaulle met with California Governor Edmund G. Brown and toured the bay before spending April 28-29 in New Orleans. The de Gaulles were accompanied around the United States by Department of State Under Secretary Douglas Dillon, who served as U.S. Ambassador to France from 1953 through 1957.

De Gaulle in San Francisco

De Gaulle in the San Francisco City Hall Rotunda, National Archives and Records Administration

View the video retrospective of French presidential visits to the United States via France’s Institut National Audovisuel (INA).

  1. Lawrence E. Daviess, “De Gaulle Hailed by San Francisco,” New York Times, April 28, 1960, 2. 

  2. Ibid. 

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