The 2020 Republican National Convention has become a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, just as the Democratic Convention had the week before. Here LIFE dips into its archives for a colorful look at what the GOP event was like when people could safely convene.
LIFE’s first major coverage of a Republican National Convention was in its issue of June 24, 1940. At that gathering in Philadelphia, the Republicans nominated Wendell Willkie for the tough and ultimately futile task of challenging the popular Franklin D. Roosevelt in the general election.
The Philadelphia Convention Hall teemed during the 1940 Republican National Convention.
The 1956 Republican National Convention, which took place at the Cow Palace just outside San Francisco, re-nominated incumbent President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon. It was the first RNC to take place after that year’s Democratic National Convention, rather than before. After 1956, it became an informal tradition that the party holding the White House held their convention second.
Vice President Richard Nixon with his wife, Pat Nixon, at the 1956 Republican National Convention.
Many of the color photographs taken during the 1956 RNC were shot by LIFE staff photographer Leonard McCombe. His beautiful frames imparted elegance to the sometimes-gimmicky qualities of a party convention.
LIFE photographer Leonard McCombe looked for captivating images at the 1956 Republican Convention in San Francisco.
Eisenhower and Nixon went on to win the 1956 election, easily defeating Adlai Stevenson. Four years later Vice President Nixon stepped up to lead the Republican ticket, and he had no opponents for the 1960 nomination.
The LIFE cover from August 8, 1960, featured Richard and Pat Nixon at the Republican National Convention in Chicago.
The 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago nominated Richard Nixon for president and former Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts for vice president. It was the 14th time Chicago hosted the RNC, more times than any other city.
Presidential nominee Richard Nixon greeted a supporter at the 1960 Republican National Convention.
The 1960 presidential election was closely contested, and Nixon lost to the Democratic nominee, Senator John F. Kennedy. Some believed that Nixon’s convention promise of visiting every state—while Kennedy focussed on popular swing states—was one of the reasons that Nixon lost.
The July 24, 1964 cover of LIFE featuring Barry Goldwater with his wife Peggy at the 1964 Republican National Convention.
The 1964 Republican National Convention was held in the same location as the 1956 RNC, the Cow Palace Arena outside San Francisco. The Republican primaries pitted liberal Nelson Rockefeller of New York against Conservative Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Goldwater secured the nomination for president, and New York representative William Miller received the nomination for vice president.
Goldwater’s winning of the nomination meant a change for the party, as described by LIFE in its July 24th, 1964 issue, with Goldwater on the cover:
In a crescendo that thrust Barry Goldwater into control, the Republican changed both its course and its nature. In flashes of anger and pathos, of bitterness and exultation – captured on these pages by the color cameras of LIFE photographers – the G.O.P. was seized by its unyielding right wing.
Gold coins rained down on delegates after Goldwater won the presidential nomination at the 1964 Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
The 1964 gathering was the first in which a woman was entered for nomination at a major party convention. Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a moderate Republican, placed fifth in the initial balloting.
Delegates at the 1964 Republican National Convention held signs supporting the candidacy of Senator Margaret Chase Smith for president; she placed fifth on the first ballot.
The 1968 Republican National Convention took place in the Miami Beach convention center in Florida. As they had eight years before, Republicans nominated former Vice President Richard Nixon for president, and Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew was chosen for vice president.
An enthusiastic crowd greeted Richard Nixon standing at the 1968 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.
Though Nixon was the frontrunner during the convention, California Governor Ronald Reagan and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller also received several hundred votes. LIFE’s coverage of the Miami Beach RNC was the most colorful yet. An article written by Paul O’Neil in the August 16, 1968 issue of LIFE details go-go music, ‘gaudy’ headgear, costumes, and even a Rockefeller showboat that moved up and down a river by the convention’s hotels.
A Rockefeller supporter on a showboat waved to a Nixon boat during the 1968 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.
The 1972 Republican National Convention was supposed to take place in San Diego, but because of labor costs and scandals, the GOP changed course three months beforehand and decided to return to Miami Beach to re-nominate Richard Nixon for president.
The 1972 RNC set a new standard for party conventions, as it was a scripted media event with a schedule of speeches, setting the stage for the modern party convention.
First Lady Patricia Nixon spoke at the 1972 Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida.