The Way Back: The Big Boom

The president of the United States once set off explosives on campus, using a remote control from the back of a passenger train. No really, he did. In 1936, while campaigning for a second term, Franklin Roosevelt embarked on a whistle-stop tour of Texas. Around 10:30 p.m. on June 11, his train lumbered through Austin, stopping at Fourth Street and East Avenue (now I-35). Though it was late, more than 20,000 came to see the president speak—and eventually break ground on the Texas Memorial Museum.

After finishing his speech, Roosevelt shook hands with Mayor Tom Miller and UT President Harry Benedict. He was handed a big red button connected to a cable, which led to an explosive charge on the east side of campus, where Texas Memorial Museum now sits. TNT ripped through a crop of limestone, the sound being picked up by a microphone and relayed back to the downtown crowd by loudspeaker. Roosevelt, who never left the train, then waved goodbye and travelled on to Dallas.

It was a novel way to break ground on the Memorial Museum, but Miller was not so pleased—he’d wanted Roosevelt to give a full speech at Camp Mabry. “It isn’t the best place that we could have picked to receive the president,” he lamented to The Daily Texan. The visit may have been brief, but it certainly packed a punch.

Photo courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History


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