The Amazing Life of Theodore Roosevelt

Today I Found Out has teamed up with Jeremiah Warren to show his awesome “trivia” related videos here, along with Bonus Facts included after the video by me. I hope you enjoy his videos as much as I have.

“Of all the public men that I have known, on both sides of the Atlantic (and there are few that I have not known in the past thirty years), he [Theodore Roosevelt] stands out the greatest, and as the most potent influence for good upon the life of his generation.” -Viscount Lee of Fareham

Bonus Facts:

  • In addition to the numerous incredible accomplishments mentioned in the above video, Roosevelt also helped found the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), the Boone and Crocket Club, and the Long Island Bird Club; was one of the first fifteen people elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters; was President of the American Historical Association and a noted historian himself; read thousands of books; wrote thousands of letters to go along with his books and thousands of magazine articles;  established 150 National Forests, 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 5 National Parks, 18 National Monuments, 4 National Game Preserves; successfully negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese War (winning him a Novel Peace Prize for this); reduced the National debt by about $90 million ($2.2 billion today or about 5% of the total national debt at the time); and oversaw the creation of the Panama Canal, among many other notable accomplishments.
  • As mentioned in the video, Roosevelt was shot by saloon keeper John Schrank on October 14, 1912.  His life was saved thanks to a steel eyeglass case and his 50 page speech he was carrying in his jacket, both of which the bullet had to pass through.  His decision to go ahead with his speech, rather than seek medical aid immediately, was from concluding that because he was not coughing up blood, the bullet must not have penetrated that deeply into his chest.  His opening line for the speech was, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”  X-rays later showed that the bullet had lodged 3 inches into his chest and was embedded in his ample chest muscle.
  • In a display of classic gentlemanly honorable behavior rarely demonstrated by politicians today, during the week Roosevelt spent in the hospital after being shot, the other two Presidential candidates stopped their campaigns until Roosevelt was released from the hospital and would be capable of campaigning himself.  This was even more significant as there were just two weeks left until the election.
  • Theodore Roosevelt’s famous slogan “Speak softly and carry a big stick” was not his own invention, but rather a West African proverb that he particularly liked.  The full proverb is: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”
  • After graduating college, Roosevelt saw a doctor about his frequent heart problems.  The doctor recommended that Roosevelt seek a career behind a desk and avoid any strenuous activities in his life.  Roosevelt obviously did not heed this recommendation, regularly boxing, playing tennis, hiking, rowing, playing polo, horseback riding, and practicing judo (earning third degree brown belt), among other regular exercises.  This actually probably helped extend his life, rather than shorten it, though he did eventually die of heart failure.  He also went blind in one eye thanks to boxing several times a week and in one instance having his retina detach after a punch to the eye.  After that happened, he decided to stop boxing and took up judo.
  • Roosevelt also frequently liked to skinny dip in the winter time in the Potomac River.
  • When Roosevelt’s wife Alice died of undiagnosed kidney failure shortly after giving birth to their daughter Alice, and on the same day and in the same house as his mother died of typhoid fever 11 hours earlier, he simply put a giant X in his journal and wrote one sentence under it: “The light has gone out of my life.”
  • From that day forward, Roosevelt almost never spoke of Alice or mentioned her name.  He also didn’t like people mentioning her in his presence.  On top of that, he rarely called his daughter by that name, giving her the nickname “Baby Lee”.
  • Roosevelt’s daughter Alice was known for her quick wit, constant rule breaking, and “unladylike” habits of smoking, gambling, promiscuity, late night parties, and keeping a pet snake.  Roosevelt once commented on his daughter’s frequent practice of interrupting state meetings to speak with him, saying “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”
  • When the Roosevelt’s moved out of the White House, Alice Roosevelt buried a voodoo doll of the new President’s wife, Nellie Taft, in the front yard.  Alice’s lone child, Paulina Longworth, was actually not from her husband, Nick Longworth, but the daughter of Senator William Borah who she had a long lasting affair with.  Nick Longworth himself may have had children by women not Alice, as he was known to have had numerous affairs throughout their marriage, which had become an unhappy one after Alice had campaigned against him.
  • As alluded to in the video, Roosevelt’s decision to get back into politics full time after living as a rancher may have never happened had it not been for the severe winter of 1886-1887 where he lost nearly all of his cattle, as did most of the other ranchers in the region.  This was a total loss of about $80,000 in investments (about $2 million today) for Roosevelt.
  • Roosevelt’s last name was commonly mispronounced even in his own day. He was even once publicly criticized for “mispronouncing” his own last name by Mr. Richard E. Mayne who was the chairman of the Department of Reading and Speech Culture for the New York State Teachers Association.  Mayne felt Roosevelt was “perpetuating a practice against which are set the principles of usage…” by pronouncing his name Rose-uh-velt rather than using common English pronunciation to pronounce it as it’s spelled.  As a response to Mr. Mayne, Roosevelt explained that his name is from his Dutch ancestry and so is pronounced as the Dutch would have.  Specifically, in Dutch the double “o” makes a long “o” sound, thus should be pronounced “Rose” rather than “Roos”.  And, indeed “roos” in Dutch means “rose”.
  • Theodore Roosevelt was the fifth cousin of future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  He was also the uncle of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was Teddy’s brother Elliott’s daughter.
  • While Theodore Roosevelt’s father was a big supporter of Abraham Lincoln and the Union during the Civil War, his mother was on the other side of the fence.  She was from the South and from a slave owning family.  Her brother, James Dunwoody Bulloch, was a Confederate Navy commander.  Another brother was also a member of the Confederacy, serving as a midshipman on the CSS Alabama.  After the war, those two moved to England.
  • How the Teddy Bear got its name was thanks to a specific hunting trip in Mississippi that Theodore Roosevelt took.  During the trip, Roosevelt and a group of hunters were hunting bear with little luck. After 3 days, their dogs found and old bear that they chased until exhaustion, then attacked.  The guides clubbed the bear, then tied it up and called for Roosevelt to come shoot the old and severely injured animal.  Roosevelt refused, claiming that it would not be sportsmanlike to shoot an animal this way and in this condition.  However, because the bear was grievously injured, he did eventually have one of the guides kill it to put it out of its misery.  The story likely would have ended here, except for Clifford Berryman, who was a political cartoonist.  Berryman made a cartoon depicting Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot the bear.  Morris Michtom, a shopkeeper, saw this cartoon and wrote to Roosevelt asking him permission to call toy stuffed bears his wife had made for selling in his shop “Teddy Bears”.  Roosevelt agreed to let him do this.  This name later saw a surge in popularity after a different company, Steiff, produced stuffed bears that were used as wedding decorations at Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter’s wedding.  These were called by those that covered the wedding and those at it “Teddy Bears”.
  • Roosevelt was the first President to invite a black man to have dinner at the White House, Booker T. Washington.  This was after a meeting with Washington had run late, at which point Roosevelt invited Washington over for dinner.  About African Americans, Roosevelt had this to say, “…the only wise and honorable and Christian thing to do is to treat each black man and each white man strictly on his merits as a man, giving him no more and no less than he shows himself worthy to have.”
  • While he was progressive when it came to black people and women’s rights, Roosevelt did not hold criminals, the sick or crippled, and others in such high favor, being in favor of eugenics (ironical considering his own long history of medical ailments).  At the time, eugenicists in the U.S. (and elsewhere in the world) were performing forced sterilization of the poor, sick, criminals, prostitutes, as well as forced abortions of pregnant women of ill repute or seen as inferior based on certain traits.  Roosevelt said of this, “I wish very much that the wrong people could be prevented entirely from breeding; and when the evil nature of these people is sufficiently flagrant, this should be done. Criminals should be sterilized and feeble-minded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them.”
  • This stance on eugenics was widely popular in the early 20th century, supported by such famed individuals as Winston Churchill, Margaret Sanger, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, John Harvey Kellogg, and, of course, Adolf Hitler, among many others.  This movement was spurred on and given its name by Sir Francis Galton in 1883, inspired by Galton’s half-cousin Charles Darwin’s work.  The eugenics movement started to lose its steam thanks to its association with the Nazi party.  After WWII, public support for eugenics all but disappeared thanks to its association with Nazi Germany.  That being said, numerous countries still performed forcible sterilization, including the United States with the last forcible sterilization occurring in 1981. Sweden was another example of a country that kept the eugenics torch burning until 1975, forcibly sterilizing some 21,000 people and coercing another 6,000 into “voluntarily” being sterilized.  Sweden still controversially requires sterilization before sex change operations are allowed.  There are a surprisingly large list of countries that kept such programs going around this long or longer, more here
  • The word “eugenics” comes from the Greek “eu” meaning “good/well” and “-genēs” meaning “born”.
  • The pilot who flew Roosevelt around on October 11, 1910, Arch Hoxsey, died just a few months later after crashing his plane on December 31, 1910.
  • Many think of Roosevelt as having been quite tall, but he was actually slightly short, particularly for a President.  He stood at just 5 feet 8 inches tall.  However, for much of his adult life, he was incredibly strong thanks to a regular regiment of heavy exercise.  Towards the end of his life, he did for a time become obese after being shot in the chest.  The aforementioned bullet was in too deep to get out safely, so was left in, causing him considerable pain for the rest of his life and stopping him from being able to do many of his normal exercises.
  • He did lose a good amount of this fat while on his famous “River of Doubt” expedition where he lost 55 pounds after becoming severely ill with infection and “tropical fever”.
  • Roosevelt injured his leg on the River of Doubt expedition after jumping from his own boat and attempting to stop with his own strength two of his crewman’s boats from crashing into the rocks.  This leg injury became infected and he soon also contracted “tropical fever”.  He attempted to get the rest of his expedition to leave him to die on several occasion, but they refused, despite his illness drastically slowing their progress; he needed constant medical attention was often delirious.  He never fully recovered from this, with the last decade of his life having frequent flare-ups of leg inflammation and various sicknesses as a result, as well as dealing with the pains from the bullet lodged in his chest.
  • Roosevelt’s first known paper on zoology was written when he was just nine years old.  After spending considerable time researching and collecting insects, he wrote a paper called “The Natural History of Insects”.

Roosevelt produced a treasure trove of great quotes in his lifetime.  Here are a few of my favorite Theodore Roosevelt quotes:

  • “Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.”
  • “It is true of the Nation, as of the individual, that the greatest doer must also be a great dreamer.”
  • “A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”
  • “Much can be done by law towards putting women on a footing of complete and entire equal rights with man – including the right to vote, the right to hold and use property, and the right to enter any profession she desires on the same terms as the man… Women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man it should be paid as highly.”
  • “There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid, I gradually ceased to be afraid.”
  • “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
  • “It is no use to preach to [children] if you do not act decently yourself.”
  • “Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so.”
  • “We demand that big business give the people a square deal; in return we must insist that when anyone engaged in big business honestly endeavors to do right he shall himself be given a square deal.”
  • “There are good men and bad men of all nationalities, creeds and colors; and if this world of ours is ever to become what we hope some day it may become, it must be by the general recognition that the man’s heart and soul, the man’s worth and actions, determine his standing.”
  • “I have a perfect horror of words that are not backed up by deeds.”
  • “Success – the real success – does not depend upon the position you hold, but upon how you carry yourself in that position.”
  • “There is not a man of us who does not at times need a helping hand to be stretched out to him, and then shame upon him who will not stretch out the helping hand to his brother.”
  • “I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life; I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
  • “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”
  • “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
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