15 Interesting President Facts
1) Heaviest President in U.S. History: The the 27th President of the United States, President William Howard Taft (serving from 1909 to 1913) was the heaviest President in U.S. history. He was 5’11″ tall and weighed 290 pounds. Not only was he the heaviest, he was also the last President to regularly sport facial hair. In 1921, Taft became the Chief Justice of the United States. He is the only person to have ever served in both offices.
2) The Secret Service: Abraham Lincoln established the Secret Service on the day he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. Unfortunately, even had the organization been instituted earlier, it wouldn’t have helped. The Secret Service in the beginning had no part in protecting the President, but rather were tasked with cutting down on the amazing amount of counterfeit money circulated in the United States at the time (hence why until March of 2003 they were a branch of the U.S. Department of the Treasury). It is estimated that about 1/3 of the U.S. currency in circulation was counterfeit when Lincoln signed the piece of legislature that would establish the Secret Service.
3) Presidential Pajamas: President Thomas Jefferson was never a fan of formal affairs, and was often reported to have worn his pajamas while meeting with Foreign dignitaries. On one such occasion, when meeting with British Minister to the U.S., Andrew Merry, he wore his PJ’s. Merry was not amused and he was later quoted as saying, “I, in my official costume, found myself at the hour of reception he had himself appointed, introduced to a man as President of the United States, not merely in an undress, but actually standing in slippers down to the heels, and both pantaloons, coat and under-clothes indicative of utter slovenliness and indifference to appearances, and in a state of negligence actually studied.”
4) Cousins: John C. Calhourn was the only Vice President to serve under two presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He also married his first cousin Floride Bonneau Calhoun. Together they had 10 children over 18 years, though three of their children died in infancy.
President Theodore Roosevelt was the fifth cousin of 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.
5) The President’s Car: Franklin Roosevelt was the first President to have an armored car. In 1941, the Secret Service found themselves in a bit of a jam. The Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt needed a ride to address both houses of congress. Normally, they would’ve just driven him in his 1939, V12 Convertible. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor had the Secret Service nervous that an attack may be made on the President. They had roughly 24 hours to come up with an armored vehicle to transport the President and thanks to congress, they had a spending limitation of only $750 (which amounts to roughly $10,500 in today’s terms). Thankfully, a secret service agent named Mike Reilly remembered seeing an armored 1928, 341A Cadillac Town Sedan at the Treasury Department’s impound lot. It was none other than Al Capone’s Cadillac that had been seized when he was arrested for tax evasion.
6) Lee and Lincoln: General Robert E. Lee was offered the position of the head of the Union army by Abraham Lincoln, but decided to lead the Confederate army instead as he couldn’t bring himself to lead troops against his native Virginia. Despite the Confederates being vastly outnumbered and not as well equipped as the North, Lee and his right hand man, Stonewall Jackson, managed to post victory after victory against the North, primarily due to Lee’s brilliance, Jackson’s audacity, and the North’s moronic Generals.
7) The Bull Moose: Teddy 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. Despite being shot in the chest, he decided to go ahead with his speech, rather than seek medical aid immediately, after 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.
8) The Taphephobic: The first President of the United States, George Washington, upon his death bed told his attendants “I am just going. Have me decently buried and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead. Do you understand?” He was terrified of accidentally being buried while he was still alive. Among other famous taphephobics was Frederic Chopin, who upon his death bed said “The earth is suffocating… swear to make them cut me open, so that I won’t be buried alive.” Yet another taphephobe was Hans Christian Anderson who would always lay a card on his dresser before he went to sleep, even while traveling, that said “I am not really dead.” He also requested that his arteries be slashed before burial. If you are a taphephobe, but don’t want to be cremated, simply tell your loved ones to make sure to have your body embalmed. If you aren’t dead before the embalming, you will be after.
9) The First Assassination Attempt: In 1835, Richard Lawrence became the first known person to attempt to assassinate a U.S. President, Andrew Jackson. Lawrence was a painter who, at the time of the assassination attempt believed himself to be King Richard III of England (in fact, Richard III, the last King of the House of York, died some 350 years before at the Battle of Bosworth Field, which is regarded by many historians as marking the end of the Middle Ages; this battle also is considered by many to have brought to a close the Wars of the Roses).
The assassination attempt took place after a funeral that Jackson attended, that of Warren R. Davis. When Jackson was leaving the funeral, Lawrence stepped out from behind a pillar he was hiding behind, pointed his Derringer gun at Jackson from around 13 feet away and pulled the trigger. Reports state the fire arm went off, but the bullet did not leave the chamber. He then quickly discarded the first Derringer and drew out his second and pulled the trigger, this time with Jackson just a few feet away. This second shot reportedly went off like the first, with a loud bang, but with no bullet exiting the chamber.Jackson didn’t take kindly to this assassination attempt and subsequently attacked Lawrence with a cane. Others around Jackson helped subdue Lawrence, including Congressman Davey Crocket, who incidentally was a staunch political enemy of Jackson, but nevertheless saw fit to help him take down Lawrence. Some reports even state that Jackson had to ultimately be pulled away from Lawrence as he continued to beat him even when Lawrence was down and completely subdued. Lawrence was subsequently tried, though not convicted, by virtue of his insanity.
10) Pronunciation: Teddy 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”.
11) The Teddy Bear: 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”.
12) The Murderer: Andrew Jackson killed many men in his lifetime and not just on the battlefield. One of the most notorious instances of this was in a duel which many after the fact equated to murder because Jackson had been able to take his time aiming and firing at his opponent. In 1806, Andrew Jackson dueled with famed marksman Charles Dickinson, killing him, after Dickinson insulted Jackson in a variety of ways including calling Jackson’s wife of bigamist. This latter point was a sore spot for Jackson as his wife really had married him while she was still married to her former husband. After a series of publicly exchanged insults via letters and the newspaper, the two agreed to duel, despite it being illegal in Tennessee at the time.
To get around the problem, they traveled to Logan, Kentucky (where dueling was legal), and dueled on the shores of the Red River. Jackson conceded the first shot to Dickinson, choosing not to fire when he turned, even though Dickinson was considered an exceptional marksmen. Jackson and his second thought there was a chance Dickinson might miss, having to turn and shoot and trying to do so as quickly as possible before Jackson could get off a shot. So if he did miss or otherwise dealt a non-fatal blow, Jackson could then take his time and aim and kill him with the one shot he was allowed, as Dickinson would be required to stand still and give Jackson his chance. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly as hoped, as the shot fired by Dickinson hit Jackson in the chest just a few inches from his heart, breaking two ribs in the process.
Not to be dissuaded, Jackson stayed on his feet and carefully aimed at Dickinson and pulled the trigger… only nothing happened as the hammer had stopped half-cocked. So he re-cocked it and pulled the trigger again, this time hitting Dickinson in the chest. A few hours later Dickinson died as Jackson’s shot had damaged an artery. This duel didn’t endear people to Jackson as many thought it was dishonorable for him to aim to kill after Dickinson had already taken his shot, thinking Jackson should have instead simply aimed to hurt Dickinson instead or even that he should have fired in the air to spare his life, thus ending the duel. There was also some controversy over whether he’d broken the rules by re-cocking his gun and attempting to fire a second time, after the first pull of the trigger failed.
Jackson lived on and eventually became President, although because of the bullet’s proximity to his heart, it could not be removed and remained in his chest for the remaining 39 years of his life, reportedly causing him quite a bit of pain. Asked after the fact how he kept his feet after a near deadly hit to the chest, Jackson replied, “I should have hit him if he had shot me through the brain.”
13) The Animal Lover: In February of 1863, the White House stable caught fire. President Abraham Lincoln tried to run into the burning building himself, but was stopped by men on the scene. When he learned that six horses had burned to death in the fire, Lincoln reportedly openly wept. In another instance, Lincoln was making a trip with several companions. According to one of his companions, they came upon a small bird that had been blown out of its nest by a recent wind storm. His companions laughed at him and chided him for delaying them as Lincoln searched the area for the young bird’s home. Upon locating it, Lincoln carefully placed the fledgling bird back in its nest. “I could not have slept tonight”, he told them, “if I had left that helpless little creature to perish on the ground.” (note: handling baby birds does not cause the parent birds to reject them) In a similar instance, Lincoln reportedly trekked back half a mile to rescue a pig he’d seen caught in a mire. “Not because he loved the pig”, recalled a friend, but “just to take a pain out of his own mind.”
14) Wooden Teeth: Contrary to popular belief, George Washington never had wooden teeth. Washington lost most of his teeth at a relatively young age and opted for dentures made by Dr. John Greenwood. They were carved from ivory and also contained quite a bit of gold and some lead. Human and animal (horse and donkey) teeth were then riveted to the gold and ivory and the whole thing was set in place by a spring mechanism. This spring mechanism actually made it so Washington had to constantly hold his mouth shut with his jaw muscles, which is why he probably always looked so stern in portraits. In early models of his dentures, the false teeth would be hooked to his remaining real teeth with metal wires. By his inauguration in 1789, he had only one natural tooth remaining, which I like to imagine he called “old chomper”. Eventually, he lost the last tooth and the dentures relied completely on the spring mechanism to stay in place.
15) The Gambler: Known for a bit of a gambling problem, Warren G. Harding once lost a full set of White House China in a bet. He also had affairs with at least 4 women, including one who claimed her daughter was also Harding’s daughter and that she had sex with him in a White House closet. His presidency was noted for its numerous scandals and corruption of his cabinet. Besides the scandals, he is credited with coining the king of all political rhetoric terms, “Founding Fathers”, in 1916.
If you liked these President Facts, here are a collection of the most Interesting President Facts we’ve found on each U.S. President:
- Interesting President Facts Part 1 (1st-12th President)
- Interesting President Facts Part 2 (13th-24th President)
- Interesting President Facts Part 3 (25th-32nd President)
- Interesting President Facts Part 4 (33rd-44th President)
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