Fun Presidential Facts
Taking a Look at What Made Some Presidents So Unique
February 16, 2015 by Mark Dye
Being president of the United States is one of the rarest jobs in the world. After all, only 43 people can claim to have officially held the office. But there have still been a number of colorful characters among that small number, and almost every president had something unique or quirky about him. We take a look at a few of the more notable odd facts about those who have held the highest office in the land. (And just ask yourself how many of these stories from yesterday would be huge scandals today!)
Only one president was never married: James Buchanan, who remained a bachelor his entire life. Millard Fillmore got married later in life—to his school teacher (who, it should be noted, was 21 when they met; he was 19). John Tyler, on the other hand, was married and had 15 children, more than any other president.
What’s in a name?
Harry S Truman doesn't actually have a middle name, and the “S” shouldn’t have a period after it, per Truman himself. The "S" was given after his parents couldn’t decide on a name and chose instead to honor both of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.
It is reported that President James Buchanan regularly bought slaves in Washington, D.C., only to quietly free them in Pennsylvania. James Monroe went one step further and supported the effort to create a nation in Africa for freed slaves. The nation that was formed, Liberia, named their capitol city Monrovia in his honor.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams might have been political rivals, but managed to remain friendly. In fact, they both paid a visit to William Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1786, and chipped off a piece from Shakespeare's chair as a souvenir.
Princeton’s first graduate student was James Madison, who managed to get his bachelor’s degree in just two years. President Woodrow Wilson was—and still is—the only President to have a Ph.D. (in Political Science and History from Johns Hopkins University).
No teetotalers here
Alcohol and presidents have a long history. George Washington made his own rye whiskey, apple brandy and peach brandy, and Abe Lincoln was the only US president who was also a licensed bartender. The most notable, however, was Zachary Taylor, who reportedly downed a fair amount of whiskey during his inauguration and was clearly intoxicated while giving his speech. Rutherford B. Hayes, on the other hand, wasn't so enamored with alcohol, banning it from the White House all together.
Ain't technology grand?
The first president to have electricity in the White House was Benjamin Harrison. The only issue? He refused to touch the switches for fear of being electrocuted. William McKinley was a bit more open to technology, becoming the first president to campaign via telephone. And while Bill Clinton was president during the Internet boom, he reportedly only sent two emails during his eight years in office: one was just a test message, and the other was to John Glenn aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Marching to their own drummer
A number of presidents have had what some might consider "odd" ways of doing things. Those with odd early morning rituals included John Quincy Adams, who was a fan of early morning skinny dips in the Potomac River, and Calvin Coolidge, who would have someone rub petroleum jelly on his head while he ate breakfast in bed. While Andrew Jackson wasn’t much on swimming and lived in the days before Vaseline, he did have a parrot he taught to curse (so much so that the bird had to be removed from Jackson’s funeral due to the incessant squawking of profanities).
In the days before cars, presidents tended to travel on their own horses. This got at least two presidents into a bit of trouble. One was Ulysses S. Grant, who was given a $20 speeding ticket for riding his horse too fast down a Washington street. The other was Franklin Pierce—he was arrested (while in office!) for running over a woman with his horse. The charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence.
It's in the cards
Some of our presidents have had a fondness for cards, the most notable being Warren Harding. He was so fond of gambling that he’d have games in the White House. Sadly, he wasn’t very good at it and once gambled away a set of White House china during a poker game. Richard Nixon, on the other hand, didn’t become a fan of cards until he was in the Navy and saw that he could make money at it. He had a friend teach him how to play and then proceeded to win $6,000 over the course of a few months. He used that money to fund his first run for Congress.
Fathers of invention
One of the most common sayings today is said to have originated and become popularized with Martin Van Buren. He was from Kinderhook, N.Y., which was called “Old Kinderhook,” and the groups that supported him were known as “O.K. Clubs.” Over time, the term “OK” came to mean “all right.” And those who spend their days in an office can give a bit of thanks Thomas Jefferson, who invented the swivel chair.
ONe last odd Presidential Fact
It turns out that, since 1900, nobody shorter than 5 feet, 9 inches has won a presidential election.