Prior to George H. W. Bush in 1988, the previous Vice President of the United States to be elected to the Presidency while serving as the Vice President was Martin Van Buren in 1836. Before that, Thomas Jefferson was elected in 1800 and John Adams in 1796.
Five other Vice Presidents have been elected President, but four of them (Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman and Johnson) succeeded to the Presidency first, and Richard Nixon was not elected until eight years after serving as Vice President.
It does beg the question of why the parties continue to nominate the Vice President. In the past fifty years, Bush is the only one to have won: Nixon lost in 1960, Humphrey lost in 1968, Mondale lost in 1980 and Gore lost in 2000. The Vice President plays a much larger role in politics than he used to, but the story is quite different prior to World War II.
The fate of the Vice Presidents of earlier Presidents who retired at the end of their last term (as opposed to dying, or losing re-nomination or re-election):
- Truman (1952): Alben Barkley lost the nomination to Adlai Stevenson.
- Coolidge (1928): Charles Dawes did not seek the Presidency.
- Wilson (1920): Thomas Marshall (who looks an awful lot like William H. Macy in this picture) did not seek the Presidency.
- Roosevelt (1908): Charles Fairbanks unsuccessfully sought the nomination in 1916, but not in 1908.
- Cleveland (1896): Adlai Stevenson (no, not that one, his grandfather) did not seek the Presidency, but did run for Vice President again in 1900.
- Hayes (1880): William Wheeler retired along with Hayes in 1881.
- Grant (1876): Henry Wilson died in 1875; there was no Vice President when Grant’s second term ended in 1877.
- Buchanan (1856): Aha! John Breckinridge ran for President, but lost to Abraham Lincoln.
- Polk (1848): George Dallas did not seek the Presidency.
- Johnson (1836): Martin Van Buren was nominated and won. Last time until 1988.
- Monroe (1824): Daniel Tompkins did not seek the Presidency.
- Madison (1816): Elbridge Gerry died in 1814; there was no Vice President at the end of Madison’s term.
- Jefferson (1808): George Clinton did not run for President in 1808, although he did serve as Vice President again in 1809 under James Madison, until his death in 1812.
Prior to that, we have Adams and Jefferson, who did run and win. However, between the 12th Amendment (1804) and the 22nd (1951), only two of the eleven eligible (not counting the two deceased) Vice Presidents were nominated; only one won. Since then, every single incumbent Vice President has been nominated, but only one has won.