Probably no other national figure has ever received the kind of welcome that greeted President William Howard Taft when he made a three-day stop in Utah 100 years ago this week.

"Utah welcomed President William H. Taft yesterday with a continuous ovation from the Colorado line to Salt Lake, and even the elements seemed to join in honoring the chief executive," gushed an unidentified reporter in the Sept. 25, 1909, edition of the now-defunct Salt Lake Herald Republican.

"Through the width of the state, school children and citizens lined the D. & R.G. tracks at every hamlet and station, and at nearly every place they heard a few words from the President, spoken with that intense personal feeling which has served to place William H. Taft in the place of a personal friend of every one who heard him speak."

Deseret News photographers and others captured the momentous event, and photo researcher Ron Fox has retrieved many of these images, which can be seen at www.deseretnews.com.

Taft, who was hand-picked by President Theodore Roosevelt to succeed him as the nation's 27th president, was in the first year of his administration and very popular when he arrived in Utah on a transcontinental rail trip.

According to news accounts, he arrived in Utah early in the morning resting up after a vigorous visit in Colorado. The train made its first official stop in Helper, where the president was awakened by the voices of Helper's schoolchildren.

The Herald Republican reports the event:

" 'I had intended to catch up and get some sleep ahead, or perhaps, I should say, to catch up some sleep, but when I heard the voices of these children singing 'America' I knew I had to come,' said the president as he bowed acknowledgement to the cheers." Taft was also welcomed in Helper by Gov. William Spry and Salt Lake Mayor J.S. Bransford. The party continued to Provo, where the president spent the rest of the day.

Taft spend his second day in Salt Lake City, where he was treated to a one-and-a-half hour outing to Saltair, a private organ recital at the LDS Tabernacle, a two-hour lunch at the Country Club and a public reception at Liberty Park, which was cut short by bad weather, before being hosted by the University Club and later the Alta Club.

When the personable president saw that the crowd of thousands at Liberty Park was being held back so the band could have a place up front, he had the band moved so people could gather closer and hear him.

The hefty president, who at 300-plus pounds was the heaviest commander-in-chief in U.S. history, took time to poke fun at his girth while commending the city's founding father's:

" 'The longer I grow — the older I grow — (Laughter). I am sorry to say I do not grow long. I grow the other way. (Laughter)… . The older I grow the more respect I have for those in the early day who looked forward to greater things and built with broad foundations and that is what you can say of those who founded Salt Lake City (Applause).' "

On Sunday, a band of 100 union musicians under the direction of professor Anton Pederson greeted the president with the strains of "Hail to the Chief" as he left the Knutsford Hotel, where he was staying, and escorted him to the Salt Lake Tabernacle. There, the Tabernacle Choir sang the Soldiers' chorus from "Faust." The president addressed the audience one more time. Later that day, he returned to his special rail car and continued his journey west, but not before leaving a good impression on the people of Utah.

Three years later, in fact, during a historic campaign in which Roosevelt created the Bull Moose Party to mount his own re-election campaign, Utah and Vermont would combine to give Taft the only eight electoral votes he won. He came in third behind Woodrow Wilson and Roosevelt — the worst defeat in American history for a president seeking re-election.

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com