We know them as our commanders-in-chief, leaders who hold executive power, and men who always look academic, dignified and perfectly presidential in the paintings and photographs that document their lives. But there are some interesting tidbits about these men you probably didn’t hear in history class. To help celebrate President’s Day, here is a list of 25 intriguing facts about our presidents.
1. George Washington, the first president, had teeth that were made, not from wood, but from bone, hippopotamus ivory and human teeth.
2. Thomas Jefferson, the third president, designed his own original tombstone. While the epitaph includes that Jefferson was “The author of the American Declaration of Independence,” it makes no mention of his presidency.
3. John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, frequently skinny-dipped in the Potomac River in the early morning hours. Also, his is the oldest existing photograph* of a president. Thankfully, he was fully clothed for that.
4. Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, once killed a man in a duel over an argument that started when the man insulted Jackson’s wife, Rachel.
5. Martin Van Buren, the eighth president, was the first to be born a US citizen. The presidents before him were considered British subjects.
6. William Henry Harrison, the ninth president, died only a month after taking office. In rainy weather, he gave the lengthiest inaugural speech in history, caught pneumonia and died. His was the shortest presidency in history.
7. The tenth president, John Tyler, was born in 1790 when George Washington was still alive. Unbelievably, two of Tyler’s grandsons are still alive today.
8. Have you ever had a crush on a teacher? You’re not alone. Millard Fillmore, the 13th president, married his teacher, Abigail Powers.
9. James Buchanan, the 15th president, bought slaves in Washington D.C. and set them free in Pennsylvania.
10. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln grew a beard when an 11-year-old girl, Grace Bedell, wrote to him and told him he would stand a better chance of being elected president if he grew “whiskers.” He followed Bedell’s advice and soon after became the 16th president.
11. Andrew Johnson, the 17th president, was the first president to be impeached and then acquitted. It would be another 130 years before another president, William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton would be impeached. He was also acquitted.
12. Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president, was first to install a phone at the White House. Who was the first person he called? The man who invented the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell.
13. Multilingual and ambidextrous, James Garfield, the 20th president, could write Latin with one hand while writing in Greek with the other.
14. Chester Arthur, the 21st president, was a clothes horse. He reportedly owned 80 pairs of pants.
15. Teddy Bears are named for Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, because he once refused to shoot a bear his hunting companions tied to a tree.
16. Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president, loved golf so much that he painted his golf balls black so he could play in the snow.
17. Visitors to the White House had to be careful during Herbert Hoover’s administration. The 31st president was known to let his son Allan’s two pet alligators roam around the grounds.
18. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president, was related to 11 other presidents by either blood or marriage.
19. John F. Kennedy, the 35th president, donated his presidential salary to charity.
20. Gerald Ford, the 38th president, worked as a model while he was a college student at Yale, posing for Look Magazine and the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1942. He was also the only president never to have been elected to the office of president or vice president.
21. James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, the 39th president, was the first president to be born in a hospital.
22. Ronald Reagan, the 40th president, is credited with saving 77 lives during the seven summers he worked as a lifeguard.
23. George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president, learned the hard way not to attend an event when he had the flu. Despite his doctor’s orders, he went to an important dinner with the Japanese Prime Minister and proceeded to vomit and pass out at the dining table.
24. George W. Bush, the 43rd president, acted as head cheerleader for the football team when he was in high school.
25. Barack Obama, the 44th and current president, won Grammys in 2005 and 2007 in the Spoken Word Album category for his books, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.
*It was William Henry Harrison, who had his photograph taken shortly after his fateful inaugural speech in 1841, who was the first president to be photographed. However, that photograph has been lost to history. So next in line would be John Quincy Adams, whose photograph was taken in 1843. That is the earliest photograph of a president that is in existence today. Some sources give Adams credit as being the first one to be photographed, but that may be because the photograph of Harrison was lost.
Janeen Lewis is a freelance writer and presidential history buff. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom’s Survival Guide and GreenPrints: The Weeder’s Digest.
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