The George Bush Library College Station and Presidential Museum offers an insight to the life and office of a modern day President. Located one and a half hours west of Houston and based in the campus of Texas A+M University it makes for a modern day historical insight of a US President.
When I talk of the George Bush Presidential Library I should really be a little more precise. This is the George H Bush Library, that is Bush Snr, the first one or the one who wasn’t ridiculed quite so much, apart from that whole “read my lips” promise.
George Bush Library Hours
The George H W Bush library hours are:-
Mon-Sat 9:30am – 5pm
I visited on a Sunday and arrived a little after 12:30. I spent a full afternoon there and certainly got value for the $9 admission price. (Concessionary prices are available for military, senior citizens and students.)
On arrival I had to first go through a security screen; it was just like been in the airport again.
I was then greeted by a polite elderly gentleman by the name of Jac. He is one of numerous volunteers who help run the Presidential Library and Museum for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
Jac gave me a brief explanation about the museum, timing of a video greeting from the President plus other need to know information. It is worth noting that the archived papers are governed by legislation and are not generally available. They are however made on available on request to scholars.
The only thing I didn’t notice was the availability of a cafe or somewhere to get something to eat. There was a water fountain by the entrance so getting water was free and easy.
Why is the George H Bush Presidential Library in College Station?
George Bush Snr still resides in the Houston area so I was admittedly curious as to why the Library was based over 100 miles away. In the welcome video to the museum President Bush explains that he chose this location because of “the mood and spirit” of the place. Clearly he felt an affinity here.
The video relayed some key highlights in the President’s life, not just his time in office. The museum is a celebration and commemoration of his entire life.
The library was opened on 6th November 1997, less than 6 years after George Herbert Walker Bush left office as the 41st President of the United States.
The museum had lots of interesting displays, especially for those wanting to learn more on US politics.
The museum takes on a chronological staging so we begin with learning about Bush’s parents and his birth on 12th June 1924.
We then learn how whilst World War II was in play, George H Bush turned 18 and signed up to be a naval pilot, serving on the USS San Jacinto.
The type of plane he flew was a TBM Avenger (a restored version was on display in the museum).
During one of his missions he was shot down and he was the only survivor of 3 on the plane.
Also on his final flight he suffered a crash landing after being affected by a slipstream.
In light of his career as a naval pilot I found it quite interesting that post retirement he has taken part in a number of sky diving activities, notably at the age of 72 then on his 75th and 80th birthday.
At the age of 20 he married 19 years old Barbara Pierce. Some of Barbara’s history is on display too, including a replica of her wedding dress.
The former First Lady was also influential in the design of the Presidential Library. I found numerous wooden box stands with a soft toy dog on top throughout the museum.
After enquiring it was explained that this was Barbara Bush’s idea. Attached to each dog is a bone with some writing on which answers puzzles or quiz questions. The idea is that young children can be occupied with solving the puzzles whilst the adults look at all the serious stuff on display.
George H Bush’s wife Barbara also designed a rose garden in the beautiful surrounds.
The political life recorded at the George Bush Library College Station
Whilst George Bush Snr was academically skilled and went to Yale University, he was also then a co-founder of Zopata Petroleum Company. Zopata used cutting edge oil drilling techniques to prosper as a company. The museum had some displays on oil and gas due to the President’s connections with the industry.
Politics did however come calling and his political career really began in the 1960s.
He competed for Senate and Congressional office in the highly Democratic state. He performed better in elections than many expected although he didn’t always win a seat.
In 1968, whilst as a Congressman he voted in favour of the 1968 Civil Rights Bill which had very little support from the South. However a speech he gave on his return to the State seemed to appease a number of the protests.
President Richard Nixon saw the potential in George Bush and appointed him to various roles, including ambassador to the United Nations between 1971-1973.
The Presidential Office of George H W Bush
Bush entered the race in 1979 for the Republican Party nomination to run for the White House yet lost out to the ultimate winner, Ronald Reagan. Recognising his abilities Reagan invited George H Bush to be his Vice President running partner. Accepting the offer Bush was Vice President for both terms of the Reagan presidency.
It then seemed fitting that he then run in 1988 for the role of Head of State, for which he succeeded.
Failing to win re-election Bush only served one term as the 41st President of the United States.
For me the most memorable part of his Presidency was the first Gulf War. This event has a dedicated display which explains the history and build up as well as the turn of events. Emphasis is also placed on how cautious and difficult a decision it was to go to war. There is even a copy of a letter passed to Tariq Aziz (to pass onto Saddam Hussein) requesting to avoid conflict. The Iraqi Vice-President refused to pass the letter on.
The other most notable world event during his tenure was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Whilst I believe the ground work had been set by the Reagan-Gorbachov relationship, the Presidential Museum wanted to emphasis that George H Bush was also a player in this historical event.
Inside the museum is an actual piece of the Berlin Wall. One side (the west side) is full of graffiti, whilst the east side is plain. The Russians wouldn’t allow anyone to deface the wall.
Outside of the library is a monument of horses running through the wall. This was a commemoration for the event and the influence of Bush.
Reconstructing the places where decisions are made
Adding to the experience is the recreation of some significant locations from the Presidency.
There is a replica Oval Office where you can have your picture taken whilst sat at the desk. I thought this was a nice touch. A few years ago I visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia and you are not allowed to touch the replica Oval Office there.
The George H W Bush Library also has a replica of parts of Camp David plus the White House Situation Room from the basement of the West Wing. This is significant since both were key locations for decisions made over the Gulf War.
Other exhibits included the Presidential limo and his privately owned boat, Fidelity. George Bush is a keen fisherman and is known even now to fish in the pond behind the museum.
The museum then concludes with displays about George and Barbara’s work after time in the White House. They have been busy with various charitable and public service works. He is a keen supporter of the Points of Light Foundation and cancer research.
George and Barbara lost their 3 year old daughter (Robin) to leukaemia and then his father Prescott Bush to lung cancer.
Outside in the gardens of the Presidential Library and Museum is the burial ground where Robin has now been placed. This will also be the burial site for George and Barbara. (Not a nice thought to think of them dying but I suppose their funerals have already been planned.)
In fact, every US President since Hoover has chosen to be or is buried at their Presidential Library. There are 2 exceptions, that being JFK who is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. plus Lyndon Johnson (buried at his Texas ranch).
Other interesting facts I learnt on my visit
Naturally there was a lot to fit in to a few hours exploring the life of someone so important in modern day history, yet here are some things I learnt about the President.
- As he was growing up they called their son (George W Bush) as “Georgie”
- George H Bush was director of the CIA
- During the Presidency, the Secret Service code name for the President was “Timberwolf” whilst Barbara’s was “Tranquility”
- Their Presidential limo was known as “The Beast”
- His family come from 17th century immigrants who came from England
- Barbara has been known to refer to George as “Poppy”
- They changed the date for their wedding numerous times since George’s return date from military service kept changing
- George H Bush stands at 6’2” tall and is one of the tallest Presidents in history. Only Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon B Johnson and Thomas Jefferson were taller.
How many Presidential Libraries are there?
There are currently 13 official Presidential Libraries around the United States. These are maintained by the NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) for the benefit of the public.
At first the papers associated with a presidential office were deemed the private property of the President. They took the papers with them when they left office. However papers were then often lost, destroyed or chased by autograph hunters and historians.
Records have now been preserved for every President since the 31st President, Herbert Hoover (1929-1933).
In 1955 the Presidential Libraries Act formed a way to privately create libraries which would then be federally maintained.
The 1978 Presidential Records Act deemed that specific records and documents related to the carrying out of duties of a President were the property of the US Government.
There are 3 Presidential Libraries in the State of Texas. Aside from George Bush Snr, the others are:-
Lyndon B Johnson which is the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum at The University of Texas in Austin.
George W Bush at the George W Bush Presidential Center based in the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
For me, the George Bush Library College Station was a worthwhile afternoon out to understand more about a President I can relate to from my lifetime. You can find out more about the museums I’ve visited from here.