The Making of a President

August 28, 2008 - September 30, 2010
JFK seated under a Congressional campaign poster

The presidency is the most powerful office in the Free World. Through its leadership can come a more vital life for our people. In it are centered the hopes of the globe around us for freedom and a more secure life." --John F. Kennedy, January 1960

John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency on January 2, 1960. His decision to run was shaped in large part by a competitiveness instilled in JFK by his parents from a very young age and his view of politics as the best way to get things done.

The son and grandson of public servants, Jack Kennedy, along with his siblings, was raised by purposeful parents who believed their children should be aware of and engaged in current events and, because of their own good fortune, contribute something toward the betterment of others.

A sometimes disorganized and lackadaisical student, but always possessing a curious mind and a love of reading and history, JFK traveled extensively as a young man, taking advantage of his connections to see different parts of the world and meet people of influence. All the while expanding his world view.

Following heroic service in the Navy during WWII, JFK considered careers in academia and journalism. Increasingly believing in politics as the best way to make a difference, at age 29 Kennedy ultimately decided to run for public office when a congressional seat became available in his home state of Massachusetts. Three terms in the Congress were followed by two elections to the United States Senate. Nearly nominated as the vice presidential candidate by the Democratic party in 1956, JFK’s public profile became such that he began to travel across the country extensively to cultivate support and learn about the issues and concerns of the different regions of the country.

Eleven months after declaring his candidacy, John F. Kennedy became the youngest elected president in the history of the United States.

Exhibit Highlights

  • JFK's notes on government and the presidency, written as a student at Harvard University.
  • JFK's travel diaries written during visits to Europe and Asia in the 1930's and 1950's.
  • JFK's notes on the opening session of the United Nations organization in 1945. Young Kennedy covered the event as a journalist for the Hearst newspaper chain.
  • Draft pages and the typewriter used for his senior honors thesis turned book, Why England Slept.
  • Draft pages from his Pulitzer-prize winning book Profiles in Courage.
  • JFK's Navy dress uniform and medals of commendation including his purple heart.
  • Memorabilia from JFK's early political campaigns for House and Senate.