Suggested Research Topics - Gerald R. Ford and the Political Reform Movement in Grand Rapids

During and after World War II, a political reform movement arose in Grand Rapids which eventually wrestled control of the Republican Party and municipal government from the political machine controlled by Republican National Committeeman Frank McKay and City Manager and Mayor George Welsh. The leadership of the movement came heavily from University of Michigan alumni and friends who were prominent in Grand Rapids business and civic endeavors. In 1948, as part of the reform effort, a former Michigan football star and returning war veteran, Gerald R. Ford, successfully challenged a long-time incumbent congressman in the Republican primary. This challenge launched Ford's career which eventually culminated in his rising to the presidency of the United States. Though later considered a party "loyalist" and a "conservative," Gerald Ford began his political career as a reform candidate against an entrenched party leadership.

What motivated the formation of the reform movement in Grand Rapids? What were its goals? Who were its leaders? What were its tactics? Who were its opponents, and how did they respond? Why did the reformers turn to Gerald Ford, a political novice, in their bid to unseat an incumbent congressman in the primary? What role did Grand Rapids native U.S. Senator Arthur Vandenberg, who was elected under the old regime, play in the campaign and in Gerald Ford's subsequent political career? Why did Vandenberg, a dark-horse candidate for the presidency in 1948, assume this role?

Examples of Primary Source Collections and Other Resources:

At the Bentley Library:

At the Gerald R. Ford Library:


In an effort to encourage creative thinking about possible research topics for students unfamiliar with archives and their inevitable complexities, archivists and student employees of the Bentley Historical Library have authored "suggested research topics ." The purpose of these is not to define a topic but rather to stimulate thinking about a topic where the holdings of the Bentley Library are particularly strong.