This public square is named for William McKinley (1843-1901), the twenty-fifth President of the United States. McKinley was born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio and attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and he rose from private to brevet major. After the war McKinley attended law school in Albany, New York and practiced law in Ohio. He married Ida Stanton in 1871.
In 1876 McKinley was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served until 1891. As a Republican Congressman, he supported silver currency and was largely responsible for the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, which raised or added duties to many imported goods and agricultural products. With the support of Cleveland businessman and political boss Marcus Hanna, he was elected governor of Ohio in 1891 and 1893. Hanna also supported McKinley's bids for the presidency. After McKinley lost the Republican nomination to incumbent President Benjamin Harrison in 1892, he came back to defeat Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan in 1896 and was inaugurated on March 4, 1897. During President McKinley's tenure, the U.S. adopted the highest tariff rate in its history and restored the gold standard. His administration was responsible for the Open-Door Policy, which promoted equal commercial and industrial rights for all foreign nations conducting business in China.
On April 25, 1898 the President declared war against Spain to protect American interests in Cuba. With the conclusion of the war in December, the United States emerged as a world power, having annexed Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, American Samoa, and the Philippines. Re-elected in 1900, President McKinley was shot by an anarchist in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901. He died on September 14, and vice-president Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency. On April 4, 1902 the Board of Aldermen named a small park in the Morrisania neighborhood of The Bronx in President McKinley's memory.
Acquired for park purposes by condemnation in 1882, McKinley Park was dedicated in memory of three martyred presidents, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, and William McKinley. In 1914 veterans of the Spanish-American War dedicated a memorial tablet to the U.S.S. Maine which was destroyed in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. The tablet (now missing) was cast from metal recovered from the U.S.S. Maine. According to the annual report of the Department of Parks for 1921, new benches and sidewalks were installed in McKinley Square, creating an "isle of safety" in the center of the busy hub of traffic and commerce. By 1933 the center lawn was punctuated by three trees, the memorial tablet, a flagpole, and two pyramidal piles of cannonballs. Benches are placed outside the perimeter fence. McKinley Park remains an "isle of safety" and a small green oasis in Morrisania.