News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 10, 2013

Historical Treasure: Eastern Express and the presidential connection

Patrick Newsham
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — This week’s Historical Treasure highlights both an artifact and a larger exhibit currently on display at the Vigo County Historical Museum. The exhibit features Eastern Express Inc., a business founded in 1946 by Wilson M. House, and headquartered here in Terre Haute. From the humble beginnings of a $50,000 investment, the business quickly grew to become a nationally recognized multi-million dollar company with an extensive transport network stretching from the Eastern Seaboard to the Midwest.

Welby M. Frantz, who was hired as executive vice president under Wilson House at the company’s founding, was instrumental in Eastern Express’ success. Franz served as the executive vice president until 1962, when he was elected president of the company. In 1970, he became vice chairman of the board.

The historical artifact of focus for this article is a telegram dated Aug. 10, 1964, inviting Frantz to have lunch at the White House at 1 p.m. with President Lyndon B. Johnson. Frantz and approximately 150 other guests attended the lunch and shook President Johnson’s hand.

This was not the first time that Frantz had met a president. Frantz went to the White House in 1961 and met President John F. Kennedy. At that time Frantz was serving as chairman of the board for the American Trucking Association. Newspaper clippings with photos and details of these presidential meetings are in the museum’s archives.

The final presidential connection is a letter from Ronald Reagan, while he was the governor of California, welcoming members of the National Defense Transportation Association, of which Frantz was a member, to their Annual Transportation and Logistics Forum.

All of these interesting connections between a Terre Haute businessman and presidents of the United States are taken from primary and secondary documents stored in the archives of the Vigo County Historical Museum. Come see the exhibit and explore the archives. You never know what interesting things you will find.