On This Day December 15, 1959: The First U.S. President to Visit Greece Concludes Historic Trip

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It was December of 1959 and the United States was in the heat of the Cold War with Russia. As a result of Greece’s position— on the border with communist Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower made history as the first sitting American President to visit the Balkan nation.

It was the longest foreign journey of a U.S. President in history.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking to the Greek Parliament.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking to the Greek Parliament.

Eisenhower traveled for 19 days through 19,600 miles by plane, 270 by helicopter, 1,500 by ship, 1,000 by train and car.”

The trip was an attempt to show, while visiting 11 nations, that he supported “the goals that free nations share.” More specifically, however, Eisenhower had some things to talk about with Greece’s leadership, according to a Time Magazine interview from December 1959:

“Such Greek problems as Cyprus and the threat of Iron Curtain countries to the north got a thorough going-over during Ike’s talks with Premier Constantin Karamanlis. The Greeks, too, delicately hinted that the President should not put too much stock in Russian peace talk, reminded him that they had fought a bitter civil war to drive the Communists out of the country after World War II. Greece had staked out a priority interest in all Balkan affairs, and got from Ike his assurances that the U.S. and Greece would consult on such affairs.”

U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and King Paul of Greece Standing in Convertible Car, Athens, Greece, 1959

U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and King Paul of Greece Standing in Convertible Car, Athens, Greece, 1959

But, TIME noted, Eisenhower’s visit was not just about the Cold War.

When he arrived in Athens, “cheering throngs” lined the streets as he passed in a Rolls-Royce with King Paul of Greece. “Ike could see the Parthenon glowing in light on the Acropolis, the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and a small obelisk monument to Americans who were killed in Greece’s 1821-29 war for independence from the Ottoman Empire,” the magazine continued, before he laid a wreath at that monument.

Eisenhower was in Greece December 14-15, departing from Athens by boat for his next stop in Tunis, Tunisia.

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