calvin coolidge gerardo machado
Gerardo Machado, Cuba's president from 1925 - 33 (left) and, (right), Calvin Coolidge who in 1928 became the only serving US president to visit Cuba

Barack Obama is expected to make an historical visit to Cuba next month, making him the first serving US president to visit the country in over 80 years. The thawing of relations between Obama and the Castro government represents a major shift in foreign policy since the Cuban revolution.

It was back in 1928 when Calvin Coolidge became the first and only sitting US President to set foot on Cuban soil. He boarded the battleship USS Texas, en route to Havana, in mid-January that year on a mission to extend an olive branch to Latin America, which had grown frustrated over US policies and interventions.

Coolidge's biographer Amity Shlaes described his arrival in the Cuban capital, writing that "thousands climbed onto the Morro Castle and the roof-tops of buildings, craning their necks to get a glimpse of the battleship USS Texas as it moved into the harbour".

Whether Obama will arrive to similar scenes of excitement as he touches down aboard Air Force One remains to be seen. His speech is likely to differ significantly from that which President Coolidge gave when addressing the Pan American Conference in Havana during his visit.

"No citizen of any of the Americas could come to the Queen of the islands of the West Indies without experiencing an emotion of gratitude and reverence," Coolidge began. "These are the outposts of the new civilization of the western hemisphere."

He continued: "Thirty years ago Cuba ranked as a foreign possession, torn by revolution and devastated by hostile forces. Such government as existed rested on military force.

We must lay our voyage of exploration toward complete understanding and friendship. Having taken that course, we must not be turned aside by the fears of the timid, the counsels of the ignorant, or the designs of the malevolent.
- US President Calvin Coolidge's speech during visit to Cuba in 1928

"Today Cuba is her own sovereign. Her people are independent, free, prosperous, peaceful, and enjoying the advantages of self-government."

In reality, US intervention in Cuba's affairs since its independence from Spain in 1898 was commonplace and even permitted in its constitution. Coolidge's speech went on regardless to champion the spread of "democracy and freedom" throughout the world.

He spoke of his "determination to adjust differences among ourselves, not by resorting to force, but through the application of the principles of justice and equity". He also championed a vision of the future that meant "the sovereignty of small nations is respected", adding: "The smallest and the weakest speak here with the same authority as the largest and the most powerful. You are continuing to strike a new note in international gatherings by maintaining a forum in which not the selfish interests of a few but the general welfare of all will be considered."

Barack Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro
President Raul Castro of Cuba and US President Barack Obama shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the United Nations Headquarters on September 29, 2015 Anthony Behar-Pool/Getty Images

His visit saw him later shake hands with Cuban President Gerardo Machado, who was forced into exile five years later after a bloodless coup engineered in part by US officials. With alcohol prohibition still in place inside the US, a witness report from journalist Beverly Smith shows the lengths Coolidge was forced to go whilst with Machado to avoid being seen near a tray of booze.

"Cal himself, of course, was the cynosure of the drama," Smith wrote. "As the tray approached from his left, he wheeled artfully to the right, seeming to admire a portrait on the wall. The tray came closer.

"Mr. Coolidge wheeled right another 90 degrees, pointing out to Machado the beauties of the tropical verdure. By the time he completed his 360-degree turn, the incriminating tray had passed safely beyond him. Apparently he had never seen it. His manoeuvre was a masterpiece of evasive action."

Obama will unlikely be forced to repeat the same manoeuvres should he be offered a Cuban cigar, however. While for decades it had been illegal for US citizens to import tobacco from the island, the Obama administration began to relax the trade embargo in 2014.

But what Obama can perhaps take away from Coolidge's visit is the sentiment on which he ended his speech in Havana, something which was to appear impossible from the two countries in later years.

"We must lay our voyage of exploration toward complete understanding and friendship," Coolidge said. "Having taken that course, we must not be turned aside by the fears of the timid, the counsels of the ignorant, or the designs of the malevolent."