William McKinley: Handshaking Technique

Odds & Ends
Like James Polk, and unlike Woodrow Wilson, McKinley paid great attention to his handshake. Boller notes 1a:
McKinley's handshake was famous. To save wear and tear on his right hand at receptions, the President developed what came to be called the "McKinley grip." In receiving lines, he would smile as a man came by, take his right hand and squeeze it warmly before his own hand got caught in a hard grip, hold the man's elbow with his left hand, and then swiftly pull him along and be ready to beam on the next guest. SEE BELOW
Pendel says 2a: "The President always took great delight in shaking hands with the people. He told one of the officials at the White House that he took more delight in shaking hands with the people than he did at one of the state dinners. It seemed to be a great gratification to him to meet the masses of the people."
From 3a:
President McKinley was an adept in the art of shaking hands. A man who stood and watched him for a while thus describes the manner in which the Chief Executive shook hands with people and pleased them greatly in consequence:
There is something grimly humorous in watching a man shake hands with a multitude at the rate of fifty a minute. Up and down the arm and hand go, like a pump handle or the rhythmic heat of a piston. I [start page 429] watched the President at Memorial Hall last Tuesday afternoon when he greeted five thousand citizens, and I confess I was amazed. My first feeling was one of amusement. To hear the President mumble constantly, "Glad to see you." "Pleased to see you," in the same monotone, to watch the shake, the mechanical motion of the arm, the sudden jerk with which he half pulled -- yanked it was, truly -- the person just greeted, and the astonished, semi-stupefied look on the shaked one's face -- all this and more was inimitably funny.

But soon the feeling of amusement gave way to one of wonder, and then of compassion that a Chief Executive should have to submit to such an ordeal, and finally to unbounded admiration and amazement at the extraordinary vitality shown by the President.

The McKinley grip deserves special description; it is unique in its line. It allures the caller, holds him an instant, and then quietly and deliberately 'shakes' him. Mr. McKinley is not a tall man by any means; indeed he is, if anything, considerably below what I should consider the medium height -- five feet ten. Consequently his 'shake' is considerably lower than a handshake you get from the average-sized man. The hand goes out straight for you, there is a good warm pressure of the palm, a quick drop, a jerk forward and the thing is over. There is something besides the extended outstretched palm to allure you, and that is Mr. McKinley's beaming countenance.

When greeting the public he never ceases to smile. It is not a forced smile; it invites you forward and compels your own smile in spite of yourself. It is so genuinely honest, too, that one can not but conclude that, onerous as these receptions must be to the President's physique, he nevertheless enjoys them thoroughly. Long before the reception was over the President showed unmistakable signs of fatigue; his jaw began to droop and blackish rings formed under his eyes, but the smile -- beaming, inviting -- remained, and it lasted as long as there was one citizen to greet.

Such occasions are the best in which to study the real traits of a man. If there is anything better qualified to produce irritability than a public reception with a lightning handshaking on the side, I do not think it has been discovered. I am frank to confess that Mr. McKinley showed traits during that ordeal that were both admirab]e and lovable. He was particularly kind to the veterans. His heart went with his hand to them. [start page 430] Several of them, dazed and bewildered, no doubt, would have passed him by unheeded in their excitement.

His arm halted them, his hand sought theirs, and he never failed to say 'comrade' to them. To the ladies he was gracious, especially so to the feeble, older ones, and to the tots, the toddlers and the growing young Americans he was like a father. I saw him detain a mother who was carrying a tiny mite on her arm. Mr. McKinley fussed with the muslins and the woolens of the mite until he found its chubby little hand, which he pressed tenderly. That mother did not say a word, but tears of joy glistened in her eyes as she passed beyond.

I'll venture that nobody went away from that reception feeling offended. McKinley's grip is a manly grip; it is a handshake given with genuine pleasure. It is the grip of a man of flesh and blood and of a sympathetic soul.

Cited Sources
  1. Boller, Paul F. Jr. Presidential Anecdotes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
    a  p.188
  2. Pendel, Thomas F. Thirty-Six Years in the White House. Washington: Neale Publishing Company, 1902.
    a  p.160

    Comment: Pendel was door-keeper at the White House from the time of Lincoln to the time of Theodore Roosevelt. Full text is available on-line at loc.gov. It is a rather dry book, and reads as if it were written by an old man. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?lhbcbbib:1:./temp/~~ammem_rEou::

  3. Halstead, Murat. The Illustrious Life of William McKinley, Our Martyred President. 1901.
    a  pp.428-430

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