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America's Presidents Are as Fascinating as Its People
The title of President of the United States of America is now loaded with a history spanning back more than two centuries. In that time, 45 men have risen to accept that title and all of its duties and responsibilities, each of them guiding the nation in their own unique way through our country's historical events.
From the inception of the United States as one nation to the Civil War that nearly divided us in two, through world wars and social change, our presidents have led us, for better or for worse.
Now that President-elect Biden is soon to join the ranks, let us look back on the men who made America what it is today, and who they were as people. Here are 45 fascinating facts about U.S. presidents.
1. George Washington Was Addicted to Ice Cream
Back in revolutionary times, ice cream was a very expensive treat to make: you would need to have a cow produce fresh milk and not have to sell it for money, and be able to afford imported salt and sugar, and keep ice (cut from a river) cool in an ice house.
It is thought that Washington‘s love of ice cream began with a dinner with Virginia’s colonial governor sometime before the war. Our first president brought ice cream with him on entry to the White House, serving it at dinner parties and government functions. George Washington loved ice cream so much, he once spent $200 dollars in one summer on ice cream. That would be $3806.89 today!
2. John Adams' Last Words Were Factually Wrong
John Adams, our 2nd president, lived to the ripe old age of 90. Adams and Thomas Jefferson had a complicated relationship, with Jefferson serving as his vice president despite the fact that they were in different political parties. Their relationship was so contentious at one point that Adams skipped Jefferson's presidential inauguration. Yet, in the end, both men shared a mutual respect for each other.
On his deathbed, on July 4th, 1826, John Adams's last words were "Thomas Jefferson survives". But Jefferson had died a couple of hours earlier at his estate, Monticello. Both men shared a July 4th death date on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. James Monroe would follow them in death exactly 5 years later.
3. Thomas Jefferson's Hobbies Were Fossil Collecting and Archaeology
Thomas Jefferson was a very intelligent man, and one of his hobbies was exploring the natural environment of his new country and learning about the people and animals that used to live there.
Jefferson was known in his lifetime for compiling his Notes on the State of Virginia, in which he describes in great detail his excavation of an Indian burial mound sometime around 1780-1784. Researchers are still studying this burial mound today, and Jefferson has been called the father of American archaeology.
Jefferson was also fascinated by animal fossils and had the bones of a mastodon sent to the Presidential House in Washington DC. These bones are now on display with the rest of his fossil collection in Monticello, his estate.
4. James Madison Once Lost an Election Because He Didn't Give the Voters Alcohol
Even at a young age, James Madison was devoted to politics and government. When he was 26, he ran for a position in Virginia's House of Delegates in 1777, but lost the election because he refused to "swill the planters with bumbo", or provide the voters free liquor at the polls.
Madison believed that bribing the voters in any way was against republican principles, but his opponent in the race, a tavern keeper, did not have those scruples. Luckily for Madison, he was chosen to fill an open seat on Virginia's Council of State, and by the time he was 29 he was the youngest delegate at the Continental Congress.
5. James Monroe Is the Only Person to Hold Two Cabinet Positions at Once
James Monroe was known as a quiet, thoughtful, and hardworking man. He held many positions throughout his political career, serving in the Virginia assembly, serving as a delegate to the Virginia Convention, and taking positions as Minister to France and Great Britain and governor of Virginia.
President James Madison was a good friend of Monroe's, and was a huge proponent of his abilities, appointing Monroe as both Secretary of State (1811-1817) and Secretary of War (1814–1815) simultaneously. No other politicians in the history of the US have held more than one cabinet position at once.
6. John Quincy Adams Argued a Case Before the Supreme Court In Favor of a Group of Illegally Abducted Slaves
Like his father before him, John Quincy Adams was an excellent defense lawyer, advocating for the underdog and persuading juries to treat his clients fairly. One of his most famous cases, U. S. v. The Amistad, made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
On July 1, 1839, illegally abducted slaves aboard a ship called The Amistad seized control, killing the captain and cook, and commanding the rest of the crew to bring them back to Africa. Instead, the crew sailed north, and US officials captured the ship. The slaves asserted that they had a right to be freed, and fought for their property rights in court. This case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, where John Quincy Adams argued on behalf of the slaves. His argument reads:
"The Africans were in possession, and had the presumptive right of ownership; they were in peace with the United States: ... they were not pirates; they were on a voyage to their native homes ... the ship was theirs, and being in immediate communication with the shore, was in the territory of the State of New York; or, if not, at least half the number were actually on the soil of New York, and entitled to all the provisions of the law of nations, and the protection and comfort which the laws of that State secure to every human being within its limits."
Adams was so persuasive that the Court ruled in favor of the slaves, with a 7-1 majority.
7. Andrew Jackson Walked Around With a Bullet in His Chest for Several Years That Eventually Killed Him
Andrew Jackson, the president on the 20 dollar bill, had a flaw that proved to be fatal: his temper. Jackson was notorious for taking part in duels, and his reason was to protect his wife's honor. His wife, Rachel, was in an unhappy marriage with another man when they met, and the divorce was not legally finalized when she married Andrew Jackson, so the press branded her a bigamist and adulterer.
President Jackson was also a plantation owner and had a fondness for gambling over horse races. In 1805, Jackson's horse was scheduled to race against the horse of a man named Joseph Erwin, but Erwin's horse was unable to race as planned. The two men disagreed on how the $800 forfeit fee was to be paid, and Erwin's son-in-law, Charles Dickinson, began publicly slandering Jackson's wife in an attempt to defend his father-in-law.
The insults and drama went back and forth until May 23, 1806, when Dickinson published a statement criticizing Jackson in a Nashville newspaper; Jackson responded to this with a challenge to duel, even though Dickinson was considered one of the best marksmen in the state.
The duel took place in Kentucky since dueling was outlawed in Tennessee. They met in a clearing, and stood 20 feet apart. Dickinson hit Jackson in the chest but missed his heart. Jackson was saved by wearing a coat that was too big for him, deflecting the angle of the bullets. Then, through terrible agony, Jackson fired at Dickinson.
Dickinson was hit in the stomach, which caused him to die of blood loss. Jackson’s wound took months to get better and never completely healed. His doctors were afraid to try to remove the bullet because the operation could kill him.
The bullet remained in Andrew Jackson's body for the rest of his life, and eventually gave him a fatal case of lead poisoning in 1845. Jackson was highly criticized for dueling and for killing Dickinson, but he never apologized for it.
8. Martin Van Buren Tried to Block Texas From Becoming a State
In the 1830s when Martin Van Buren became president of the United States, tensions were running high over the issue of slavery. Texas became independent from Mexico in 1836, and requested to join the United States as a slave state. Van Buren, a northerner from New York, took a negative stance on the abolition of slavery, but did not want to upset the balance of power between the north and south. He moved into action, gathering supporters among the northern state Congressmen, and got a majority to block Texas from becoming a state. Texas would not join the United States until 1845.
9. William Henry Harrison Spent Only One Month in Office Before Dying
William Henry Harrison was a decorated army officer, leading the charge at the Battle of Tippecanoe and participating in the War of 1812 as a Major General. His political opponents cast him as an ignorant backwoods redneck who would rather "sit in his log cabin drinking hard cider".
Determined to disprove this reputation and get the country to view him as a war hero, on his cold and rainy inauguration day he chose not to wear an overcoat or a hat, rode on horseback to the ceremony instead of riding in a carriage, and gave a 8,445-word inaugural address. Despite having the shortest presidency, he gave the longest speech, speaking for over 2 hours.
Unfortunately, his habit of staying out in the rain led to his death. On March 26, 1841, Harrison came down with a cold after being caught in a torrential downpour and having nowhere to hide. People thought that his illness had been caused by the bad weather at his inauguration three weeks earlier, but his symptoms started after the 26th.
Doctors were called in and they diagnosed him with pneumonia, treating him with outlandish concoctions such as a boiled mixture of crude petroleum and Virginia snakeroot, and placing heated suction cups and leeches on his torso. Naturally, these treatments didn't help, and on April 4, 1841, nine days after becoming ill, he died. A succession crisis ensued until the Vice President, John Tyler, claimed the presidency and set a precedence for the presidential line of succession.
10. Most of John Tyler's Cabinet Resigned,2 and the Whig Party Kicked Him Out
John Tyler was given the nickname “His Accidency” upon ascending to the presidency, and things only got worse from there. The new President Tyler inherited his cabinet from President Harrison, minus a Vice President, since there was no precedent for him to be appointed one.
Immediately, Tyler butted heads with his cabinet because they wanted him to be a figurehead carrying out the previous president‘s plans while he wanted to implement his own policies. When it came time to authorize a bill for a new national bank, he vetoed the bill twice even though the Whig party supported it. The whole cabinet except for Daniel Webster, the Secretary of State, quit that day. The Whig party also became disgusted with his obstinence and expelled him from the party.
Later on, Congress tried to impeach John Tyler when he vetoed a bill that would increase tariffs on imported foreign goods past the current 20 percent limit. A depression was currently happening, and Tyler did not want to change the limit on tariffs because he was afraid that a decline in international trade would escalate the country's economic instability.
Before John Tyler, presidents did not use the power of vetoing bills often, and Whigs in Congress accused him of undermining them and trying to shift the balance between the branches of government. Luckily for Tyler, the Whigs lost control of the House in the elections of 1842, and his impeachment never went anywhere.
11. James K. Polk Established White House Office Hours but Came to Regret It
President Polk was a serious, humorless workaholic, working 12 hour days and only taking 27 days off his entire term. During those long days in his office, he established office hours on two days per week where any American could stop by and voice their concerns or simply stop by to chat.
The grim, antisocial President quickly found these visits more annoying than his Whig opponents in Congress, especially visits from job seeker begging him for work, and scrapped the idea. However, some of his other ideas, like the Smithsonian Institute, the US Naval Academy, and the US Treasury, still exist today.
12. Zachary Taylor Opposed His Daughter's Marriage to the Future Confederate President
Zachary Taylor had 6 children and was particularly fond of his second oldest daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, who he called Knoxie. When she was 17, Knoxie met Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, who served with her father in the Black Hawk War, and fell in love. Taylor was against their courtship because he didn’t want his daughter to experience the difficult life of being a military wife that her mother had had, but the young couple was determined to be together.
Davis and Knoxie married, but sadly the marriage didn’t last long. She died of malaria three months after her wedding at the age of 21. Jefferson Davis went on to become the first and only President of the Confederate States of America, remarrying to Varina Howell. President Taylor never saw his son-in-law betray his country; he died of a digestive ailment after eating raw cherries and iced milk at an 1850 event celebrating the construction of the Washington Monument.
13. Millard Fillmore Married His Teacher
Millard Fillmore met his wife Abigail at a private all-grades academy in New Hope, New York; he was her oldest student at 19 and she was his teacher, although she was only two years older than him.
The couple bonded over their love of learning, and although her family did not approve of him at first, they began a lengthy courtship that survived his graduation and his time in law school. They finally married seven years after they met, and she continued teaching after marriage which was rare at the time.
Abigail was a great influence on Millard’s career, advising him on political matters, befriending foreign officials, and creating her own improvements to the White House like the White House library. The couple had two children together, and were very happily married.
14. Franklin Pierce's 11-Year-Old Son Was Killed in a Train Accident Right Before His Inauguration
Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States, was no stranger to tragedy. Two of his sons had died in childhood, Franklin Jr. dying at 3 days old and Frank Robert dying from typhus at age 4. But it was the death of his 3rd son, Benny, that was the most painful.
On January 6, 1853, Pierce, his wife Jane, and 11-year-old Benny were coming home to New Hampshire from a funeral in Massachusetts. Minutes after they boarded the train to leave, one of the train's axles broke, and their car derailed and tumbled down a 20-foot embankment. The car broke apart into several pieces, and Benny was killed instantly, partially decapitated by pieces of the train that fell on him.
His parents suffered minor physical damage, but the emotional toll was much greater. At his inauguration, Pierce refused to swear on the Bible because he believed that God was punishing him for his arrogance by killing his son. His wife could not even bear to come to the inauguration, and wrote a lengthy letter of apology to Benny for her failings as a mother. Jane would not make her public debut as First Lady for two years because of her grief.
15. Rumors That James Buchanan Was Gay Spread Around The Capital
James Buchanan was our only president to have been a lifelong bachelor, and his close relationship with Alabama senator William Rufus King incited many rumors over the pair's sexuality. They lived together in a boarding house in Washington DC for more than 10 years, even though both men were independently wealthy and could afford to live in their own homes. Andrew Jackson referred to them as "Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy", and other politicians referred to King as Buchanan's "better half", and called them "the Siamese twins".
King was present at many functions with Buchanan until 1844 when he became America's ambassador to France and moved to Paris. In a letter to a friend, Buchanan wrote:
“I am now ‘solitary and alone,’ having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.”
After Buchanan won the 1856 presidential election, his niece and King's niece destroyed many letters of their correspondence. Historians may never know whether their relationship was a romantic one or a deep friendship.
16. The Brother of Lincoln's Assassin Saved the Life of Lincoln's Oldest Son
Around the beginning of 1865, a Lincoln and a Booth had a life-changing encounter. However, this is not the Lincoln and the Booth you may be thinking of.
Robert Todd Lincoln, the president's oldest son, was standing on a crowded train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey. He became stuck between the platform and the train car, and when the train began to move he slipped into the gap and dangled helplessly.
Edwin Booth, the older brother of the infamous John Wilkes Booth and a famous actor in his own right, saw Lincoln fall and pulled him out of the gap by his coat collar. Lincoln recognized his rescuer and thanked the actor profusely.
This encounter gave Booth some peace after his brother murdered President Lincoln. Robert Todd Lincoln spread the story during his time in the army to make sure that Edwin Booth was not shunned for John Wilkes Booth's crimes.
17. Andrew Johnson Took Care of a Family of Mice in His White House Bedroom
After his failed impeachment, Andrew Johnson couldn't really do much to affect public policy. So what did he do for his last year of presidency? He took care of a family of mice that lived in his bedroom. His "little fellows" had a constant supply of food and water, since the president put fresh water next to the fireplace for them and kept a basket of flour for them on the floor. Johnson probably felt really alone and shunned by Congress, so it was good that he had some company.
18. Ulysses S. Grant's Real Name Is Hiram Ulysses Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was actually born as Hiram Ulysses Grant. When he applied to West Point at the age of 16, the congressman who wrote his letter of recommendation, Ohio Congressman Thomas Hamer, got his name wrong.
Grant kept trying to set the record straight, but the name stuck, and he ended up deciding to keep his name as Ulysses S. Grant because he didn't particularly like having his initials spell "hug". He also liked the fact that U. S. could stand for the United States or Uncle Sam.
He wrote in a letter to his future wife Julia, “Find some name beginning with “S” for me. You know I have an “S” in my name and don’t know what it stands for.”
19. Rutherford B. Hayes Started the Tradition of the White House Easter Egg Roll
The White House Easter Egg Roll is a popular annual event, but before 1878, egg rolling was not allowed on Capitol grounds because Congress was worried about it affecting the landscaping.
Rutherford B. Hayes decided in 1878 that the South Lawn, previously reserved for the First Family's private Easter activities, should be opened to the public and hosted an event where children could come and roll eggs there. Ever since, it has been a popular tradition that has allowed the president to connect with citizens in an enjoyable setting.
20. James A. Garfield Was Fluent in Greek, Latin, and German
The highly intelligent James A. Garfield taught Greek and Latin in Hiram, Ohio, where he had previously attended school at the Eclectic Institute, now Hiram College. Garfield was ambidextrous; his favorite party trick was to have people ask him questions, and he would write the answer with one hand in Latin while simultaneously writing with the other hand in Greek.
He was also fluent in German, which he used on the campaign trail to speak to German-American immigrants; this combined with his stellar oratory skills may have helped to secure the dark horse candidate's bid for the presidency.
21. Chester A. Arthur Held the First White House Yard Sale to Fund Its Redecoration
Chester A. Arthur brought back the old-fashioned tradition of entertaining in the White House that had not happened much since before the start of the Civil War. The elegant president had a sense of style that was quite different from the stoic, practical presidents before him, and he decided that the White House needed a new look.
President Arthur hired Louis Comfort Tiffany to help him redesign the White House's interior, and sold 24 wagons full of historical items on the White House lawn to anyone who would buy them. Some may have thought these items were priceless pieces of history, but to President Arthur, they were ugly and they had to go. One of the items sold was a pair of Abraham Lincoln's pants that were left in an unused closet.
Because of the renovations, Arthur did not move into the White House for three months after he became president.
22. Grover Cleveland Was the First President to Mary in the White House
Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. See number 24 on this list for details.
23. The Oldest Surviving Recording of a Presidential Speech Is From Benjamin Harrison
It may seem weird now that we're in the age of presidential tweets and Zoom conferences, but there was a time when hearing from the president was very rare. In 1889, Benjamin Harrison had a speech about the first Pan-American Congress recorded by an Edison phonograph wax cylinder, and he became the first president to have his voice recorded and archived. It is the oldest surviving recording of a U.S. President’s voice. Rutherford B. Hayes is said to have recorded a speech once, but the recording was never found.
24. Grover Cleveland Was the First President to Marry in the White House
Grover Cleveland is most famous for serving two non-consecutive terms, something that is unique to him, but he is also the only president to enter the White House single and get married while he was president.
Cleveland knew Frances Folsom from the time she was born (he was 27, and a family friend). When she was fully grown and in college, his feelings for her changed, and they married in 1886 during his first term as president. Their daughter Esther was the first child born at the White House.
25. William McKinley's Pet Parrot Was His Official White House Greeter
William McKinley had a yellow-headed Mexican parrot named Washington Post that was so smart that he appointed him to the position of White House Greeter. Washington Post (possibly named after the newspaper which had recently started at the time) could whistle Yankee Doodle Dandy and would exclaim "Look at all the pretty girls!" whenever women walked by his cage.
26. The Teddy Bear Is Named After Theodore Roosevelt
In 1902, Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino invited President Roosevelt on a bear hunting trip. After three days of hunting, they had yet to see a bear, so their guides found a black bear and tied it to a tree for the president to come and shoot.
When Roosevelt saw the defenseless bear, he thought it would be unfair to shoot it, so they let it go. Political cartoonist Clifford Berryman heard about what happened and drew a cartoon for the Washington Post showing how Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear. The bear was used in political cartoons throughout Roosevelt's presidency.
With the president's permission, Morris Mictom, a Russian immigrant and Brooklyn candy shop owner, put two stuffed bears in his shop window that his wife had sewn and called them "Teddy's bear". The toys quickly sold out, and Mictom got a license to mass-produce them across the country, founding the Ideal Toy Company.
27. William Taft Would Fall Asleep During Meetings and Conversations with Guests
William Taft may be the president most famous for getting stuck in the White House bathtub, but his enormous girth also caused another problem: sleep apnea. Taft would fall asleep anywhere, from presidential briefings to the dinner table, from playing cards with friends to starring in a parade. Taft's tendency to snooze randomly bothered his wife more than it bothered him:
"The President had a strange habit of falling asleep when the First Lady was not there to keep after him. ... He fell asleep at the most peculiar times, even once at a funeral. Guests would be embarrassed when he would fall asleep in the middle of their stories, and poor Mrs. Taft would have to cover for him. Sometimes, when they were alone, she would scold him for this bad habit. ... "Now, Nellie, you know it is just my way," he would reply," according to My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House by Lillian Rogers Parks.
28. Woodrow Wilson Kept a Flock of Sheep on the White House Lawn
Like Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson kept some unusual animals at the White House: a flock of sheep. Unlike President Johnson, his reason was more practical. World War I took place during Wilson’s presidency, and he wanted to support the troops in every way possible.
The wool sheared from the sheep was auctioned off periodically, earning $52,823 for the Red Cross over their stay at the White House. They also kept the grass trimmed, cutting down on lawn maintenance costs.
29. Warren Harding Cheated on His First Lady and Fathered a Child out of Wedlock
Warren Harding, our 29th president, had a 4-year term plagued with many scandals. One of the biggest scandals in his term involved a woman named Nan Britton, who claimed that the president fathered her daughter Elizabeth while he was in the Senate, a year before he ascended to the presidency.
Nan had been obsessed with Harding, a friend of her father, as a teenager, and they began an affair after she graduated from high school and moved to New York City to become a secretary. In 1927, she released a book called The President's Daughter exposing her affair, which lasted from 1914 to Harding's death in 1923.
For almost 90 years, historians and defenders of President Harding questioned her claims, but Britton's grandson, James Blaesing, connected with Peter Harding, Warren Harding's grandnephew, on Ancestry.com and they decided to do a DNA test. The test results came back with a 99.9% certainty that they were related, proving that Elizabeth was indeed Warren Harding's daughter.
30. Calvin Coolidge Was Sworn in After Midnight Under the Light of a Kerosene Lamp
When Warren Harding died in office in 1923, his Vice President Calvin Coolidge was visiting his parents at their homestead in Vermont, which did not have electricity or a telephone. Coolidge only found out that he was the new president when a messenger, followed by a throng of reporters, arrived on his parents' doorstep after midnight and told him the news. Coolidge had answered the door in his pajamas and had to run back upstairs to dress and say a prayer before coming downstairs to take his oath of office.
Calvin's father John was a notary public and justice of the peace, so he administered the oath of office at 2:47 AM to the new president in the parlor, by the light of a kerosene lamp. Coolidge later had to swear a second oath of office upon returning to Washington because the Supreme Court was unsure if the first oath was valid, being administered by a state official instead of a federal one.
31. Herbert Hoover Was a Member of Stanford University's Inaugural Class
Leland Stanford established Stanford University on March 9, 1885, with his wife Jane as a memorial for their deceased son, Leland Jr., who died of typhoid fever as a teenager.
The university opened for students in 1891, and the very first student to be admitted was Herbert Hoover. Hoover failed the entrance exam, but the professor giving the exam noticed his "remarkable keenness" and had him admitted on the condition that he improved.
Hoover originally wanted to be an engineer but ended up majoring in geology, where he met his wife, Lou. Hoover was poor as a student, living for a time in the construction workers' barracks as the school continued to be built, but he stuck it out and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1895.
32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Was an Avid Stamp Collector
FDR became a lifelong stamp collecting enthusiast when his mother introduced him to the hobby at the age of 8. He loved stamps for the history behind them and not their monetary value. When he was bedridden and recovering from polio he had his stamps brought to him to look at. Even as president he would spend time every day organizing his stamp collection and annotating where each one came from.
When Roosevelt died, he had over 1,200,000 stamps in his personal collection, 80% of which was of little value to anyone other than himself. The collection was sold in a public auction for $228,000.00. Stamps that were given to him officially by foreign governments were not sold and remain in the archives of the Roosevelt Library.
33. Before He Was President, Harry S. Truman Was a Haberdasher
Before he was president, Harry S. Truman worked many different jobs, including farming, working as a bank clerk, and eventually joining the military during World War I. Perhaps one of the most interesting was his haberdashery business that he started with a military friend named Eddie Jacobson after the war. The two had had tons of fun operating their regiment's canteen and decided that they worked well together, so they opened their store in Kansas City, selling men's accessories and suits.
At first, the store was very successful and became a meeting place for men around town. Lawyers would even bring their law books to the store to study after work. Truman filed for incorporation of Truman and Jacobson in 1921, but soon afterwards a recession started, and 19 months later the two friends had to close their store. Both men were financially wiped out. Jacobson declared bankruptcy, but Truman refused to; it took him 15 years to pay back the creditors.
At a loss for what to do next, Truman decided to ask around for local jobs that may hire him. A friend's uncle suggested he run for an administrative judge position in Jackson County, Missouri, and so Harry Truman's political career began, advancing next to U.S. senator, and finally president. Jacobson decided to give menswear another try, becoming a traveling salesman. As a Jewish man, he helped to persuade Truman to grant diplomatic recognition to the new state of Israel on May 14, 1948.
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower Once Banished Squirrels From the White House Grounds
President Eisenhower was a huge fan of golf, so he was ecstatic when the American Public Golf Association installed an outdoor putting green right outside the Oval Office in the spring of 1954. However, Eisenhower's joy was dampened when squirrels infested the putting green and tore it up to bury acorns and walnuts. Eisenhower told his valet, Seargent John Moaney, to shoot any squirrels he saw on the putting green. Instead of shooting the squirrels, the Secret Service avoided guns and had groundskeepers create a catch-and-release program.
35. John F. Kennedy's PT Boat Was Sunk During World War II
John F. Kennedy falsified his physical results to get into the navy (he had lower back issues) by having a family doctor lie on his certificate of good health, but he ended up becoming a war hero. JFK's PT boat was sunk near the Solomon Islands by Japanese sailors, and he heroically rescued his crew. They swam 3 and a half miles to a nearby island; the crew was stranded for a week until two boats passed the island and rescued them.
36. Lyndon B. Johnson's Wife and Two Daughters Shared His Initials
From 1963 to 1969, Lyndon Baines Johnson was not the only LBJ in the White House. Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson received her nickname as a child from her nursemaid, who said she was "purty as a ladybird". The nickname replaced her first name for her whole life; her family called her Lady and her husband knew her as Bird. She even used the name on her marriage license.
Their daughters were named Lynda Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson. Lynda Bird was their first surviving child after three miscarriages, so she was named after both of her parents. Luci's name was originally spelled Lucy, but she changed it in her teen years to rebel against her parents.
37. Richard Nixon Could Play Five Musical Instruments
Nixon was raised around music as a Quaker, using music in worship and having fun with his family. In the seventh grade, Nixon was sent 200 miles away from home to study piano under his musician aunt. He learned over the years to play the piano, saxophone, accordion, clarinet, and the violin.
After losing to JFK in the 1960 election, he appeared on Tonight With Jack Paar in 1963 performing his own piano composition.
38. Gerald Ford Once Got Locked Out of the White House at Three AM
The Ford family didn't have a dog upon moving to the White House, but David Kennerly, the White House photographer, helped them find a dog breeder in Minneapolis. When asked about the potential owners, he answered that he was helping a "middle-aged couple that lived in a big white house with a big yard". After some back-and-forth, an agreement was reached, and the golden retriever puppy, Liberty, was flown to Washington. Liberty quickly became a much-loved national figure, with children writing letters to her and receiving "paw-tographs" back.
One night, around 3 AM, nature called for Liberty. Normally, her trainer would take her out, but he was out of town, so she woke up the president. Ford took her out onto the South Lawn in his robe and slippers. After she was done, they went to the elevator to get back upstairs, but it did not operate at night. When they tried the stairs, President Ford realized that the door was a one-way door for security purposes: you can go out, but nobody else can get in. The president and his dog ended up sitting in the stairwell for a while until Secret Service realized what had happened and started up the elevator.
39. Jimmy Carter Once Reported a UFO Sighting to the Federal Government
In October 1969, Jimmy Carter claimed to have seen something extraordinary. He was waiting outside for a Lion's Club meeting with about 10–12 other members in Leary, Georgia at about 7:30 PM when they all saw a UFO. The "darndest thing he'd ever seen" was about the size of the moon and very bright with changing colors; it "hovered about 30 degrees above the horizon and moved in toward the earth and away before disappearing into the distance". Four years later in 1973, Carter filed a report on the UFO with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP).
Carter vowed to a reporter that he would never make fun of anyone who claimed to have seen a UFO ever again. He also promised in his presidential campaign in 1976 that he would make the government release all of their information on UFOs to the public, but backed off after winning, realizing that the release of that information may pose a threat to national security.
40. Ronald Reagan Tuned Out His Wife During Dinner by Switching Off His Hearing Aids
Before he was a president, Ronald Reagan was an actor. Reagan's Hollywood career was not without hazards; in 1951 his chimpanzee costar nearly strangled him with his own tie, and back in the 1930s a gun being fired next to his ear during filming gave him permanent hearing loss. Reagan was the first president to wear hearing aids while in office, destigmatizing them for the public.
President Reagan grew to enjoy a quiet environment while eating, and would secretly shut off his hearing aids during dinner with his wife Nancy. His aide, Dennis LeBlanc, was in on it. Reagan would nudge LeBlanc with his foot once the hearing aids were off, and if Nancy asked her husband a question, LeBlanc would nudge Reagan to turn them back on. Reagan would then say "Darn it, Nancy, what did you say? These hearing aids aren't working right."
41. George H. W. Bush Set Fashion Trends With His Colorful Sock Collection
George H. W. Bush took on many titles during his long life: naval aviator, US ambassador to the United Nations, Director of Central Intelligence, and President of the United States of America. However, Bush described himself as "a self-proclaimed sock man".
Bush wore many patterned socks to public events and became something of a style icon among sock fans. Socks with his own face on them adorned his feet at an NFL game, and western cactus-themed socks were worn to lunch with Bill Clinton. He put on Superman socks for his 89th birthday party, and honored his late wife's campaign for literacy with book-themed socks at her funeral.
His brightly colored socks were always visible due to the fact that he was in a wheelchair because of a form of Parkinson's disease. He considered them a way to make the best of his situation and find the joy in life.
42. Bill Clinton Was the First President to Win a Grammy
Our 42nd president, Bill Clinton, was the first president to win a Grammy. Clinton won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in 2004, for his narration on Wolf Tracks, an album which retold the story of Peter and the Wolf over an orchestral soundtrack. Proceeds from his narration were donated to the International AIDS Trust.
Clinton also won the Best Spoken Word Album award the following year, for the audiobook of his autobiography, My Life. Bill Clinton actually wanted to become a professional saxophonist back in high school, so who knows whether he might have won in another category if he went down that path?
43. After Leaving the White House, George W. Bush Became a Painter
Many presidents often take up new hobbies after they leave the White House. George W. Bush's new hobby is painting. Bush was inspired by Winston Churchill, who also painted extensively after the end of his run as Prime Minister, and hired an art teacher to help him discover his "inner Rembrandt". The former president's new hobby helps him relax and keeps him active; he hoped that it would inspire others to try new things.
Bush intended to keep his hobby a secret, but a Romanian hacker named Marcel Lazar had other plans. He hacked the email account of Dorothy Bush Koch, Bush's sister, in 2013 and posted some of Bush's paintings online. At first, Bush was uncomfortable with having his work in the public eye, but he slowly became more comfortable, painting world leaders he had met as president and honoring military vets by painting their portraits. His brother, Jeb Bush, commented to the press that his brother's painting hobby was "really weird" but "He's gotten pretty good at it". The picture displayed here is Bush's self-portrait.
44. Barack Obama Carries Around Lucky Charms That Remind Him of People He's Met
Whenever Barack Obama felt tired or discouraged during his presidency, he was able to pull out trinkets that reminded him of people he'd met, to remember that those people had given him the privilege to work on issues that could affect them.
Among his collection are interesting souvenirs such as a tiny Buddha statue given to him by a monk, a silver poker chip that used to belong to a mustached biker from Iowa, an Ethiopian Coptic cross, and a figurine of Hanuman, a Hindu monkey god. As a reminder of his father, who died in a car crash when he was 20, he kept a wooden hand holding an egg on his desk, a Kenyan symbol that reminds people of the fragility of life.
45. Donald Trump Tweeted Over 17,000 Times During the First 2.5 Years of His Presidency
Donald Trump is a huge fan of Twitter, often tweeting several times a day on topics such as important upcoming elections, natural disasters and national tragedies, and occasionally the latest happenings in reality television. The opinionated president tweeted over 17,000 times during the first 2.5 years of his presidency!
Some have criticized the president's tweets; misspellings like "hamberders" and "covfefe" have made their way onto Urban Dictionary, and in a January 2019 poll by UMass Lowell, 68% of respondents aged 18–37 said Trump tweets too much. However, Trump has 87 million followers on Twitter tuning in to read his latest tweets as of September 2020, and his tweets are considered official statements from the president. This makes him the president with the most official communications on record.
Note: as of January 8, 2021, Donald Trump has been banned from Twitter as a consequence of his "violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy" over the January 6th invasion of the Capitol Building.
46. Joe Biden Had a Stutter as a Child
Joe Biden, our new president-elect, struggled with stuttering as a child. He received mean nicknames such as "Joe Impedimenta" in Latin class and "Bye-bye" because he stuttered his last name. To overcome this, he would recite poetry in front of a mirror.
To the Stuttering Foundation of America in 2015, he wrote: “If I could share one piece of advice with all of those struggling with a stutter, it would be this: When you commit yourself to a goal and when you persevere in the face of struggle, you will discover new strengths and skills to help you overcome not only this challenge, but future life challenges as well. I promise you – you have nothing to be ashamed of, and you have every reason to be proud.”
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Melissa Clason
Liz Westwood from UK on November 18, 2020:
You have put together a fascinating list of presidential facts in this interesting article.