Today is Presidents Day. I considered ignoring the ‘holiday’ because we currently have no president worth honouring, but then I realized that the holiday is to celebrate all our past presidents. While I could bore you with the history of the day, you can go to History.com for a comprehensive history, so I decided to regale you with some presidential trivia instead.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to name a woman to his cabinet: Roosevelt appointed Frances Perkins as his secretary of labor in 1933. She was previously a social worker who worked in settlement houses in Chicago and Philadelphia. During her tenure at the department, she established the Labor Standards Bureau and was a principal architect of the Social Security Act.
Warren Harding had the largest shoe size: Size 14. His slippers and golf shoes are still on display at the Smithsonian.
Theodore Roosevelt wore a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair during his inauguration: The lock of hair was contained in a ring that was gifted to Roosevelt by John Hay, who worked for Lincoln during his presidency. Roosevelt wore the ring at his second inauguration in 1905. A great admirer of his predecessor, Roosevelt had watched Lincoln’s funeral procession pass by his house in New York.
Gerald Ford was a fashion model in his youth (even appearing on the cover of Cosmopolitan): He was talked into the job by Phyllis Brown, a woman Smithsonian.com describes as his “first love.” They appeared together in a ski resort spread of Look magazine in 1940, as well as on the Cosmopolitan cover in 1942. Ultimately, however, she wanted to pursue modeling while he wanted to begin his career as a lawyer, which ended their relationship.
Four presidents have received the Nobel Peace Prize: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama. Roosevelt was honored for his work on international peace, including on efforts to broker a peace treaty between Russia and Japan in 1905. Wilson was given the prize in 1919 for his work toward founding the League of Nations after World War I. Carter had already retired from the presidency but won the Nobel prize in 2002 because of his efforts on human rights resolving international conflicts. Mr. Obama was nominated for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said at the time.
George Washington owned a profitable whiskey distillery. Whiskey was one of Washington’s most important business ventures at Mount Vernon. At peak production in 1799, the distillery used five stills and a boiler and produced eleven thousand gallons of whiskey. With sales of $7,500 that year, it was perhaps the country’s largest distillery.
William Howard Taft became a Supreme Court Justice after his retirement. A graduate of Yale and Cincinnati Law School, Taft loved law but was unsure about politics. At the urging of his wife, Nellie, and mentor, Theodore Roosevelt, he reluctantly accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency, calling the presidential campaign “one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life.” After losing the 1912 election to Woodrow Wilson, Taft served as a professor of law at Yale and was later appointed by Warren Harding as chief justice of the United States, a pose he considered his greatest honor.
John Tyler had 15 children. Tyler was married twice. He had eight children with his first wife, Letitia. After she died, the 54-year-old president married the 24-year-old Julia Gardiner, with whom he had seven more children. Tyler wins the prize for being the most prolific of all American presidents.
Abraham Lincoln attended séances at the White House. Lincoln’s wife, Mary Lincoln, became interested in séances after their young son Willie died in 1862. At the White House, she engaged mediums, who conducted “spirit circles” or ceremonies during which those who attended could communicate with their loved ones who had crossed over into the next world. Mary was eager to believe in these mediums as it made her loss somewhat bearable, and she encouraged the president to attend a few séances, which he did. It is not clear if Lincoln participated to appease his wife or out of real interest and belief.
And a few really short tidbits …
George Washington’s false teeth were made from elephant and walrus tusks, gold, and ivory not wood.
John Adams was the first to live in the White House.
Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia.
James Madison was the shortest president at 5-foot-4 inches.
James Monroe was the last founding father to serve as president.
John Quincy Adams skinny dipped in the Potomac every morning.
Andrew Jackson had a pet parrot he taught to curse.
Martin Van Buren coined the word “OK.”
William Henry Harrison had a pet goat.
Franklin Pierce was arrested during his presidency for running over a woman with his horse.
James Buchanan was a bachelor and never married.
Abraham Lincoln is honored in the wrestling hall of fame.
Ulysses S. Grant was given a ticket for riding his horse too fast.
Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to use a telephone and his number was 1.
James A. Garfield could write with both hands at the same time in different languages. (Pretty impressive when you consider that today’s prez cannot write in a single language with any hand!)
Chester A. Arthur owned 80 pairs of pants.
Grover Cleveland was the first and only to be married in the White House.
Benjamin Harrison never touched light switches because he was afraid he would be electrocuted.
Grover Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. Making him the 22nd and 24th president.
William McKinley was the first president to have mass produced campaign buttons.
Theodore Roosevelt was shot while giving a speech and finished his speech with the bullet in his chest.
William H. Taft was the only former president to serve as chief justice on the Supreme Court and swore in presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
Woodrow Wilson is the only president to have a PhD.
Warren G. Harding gambled away a set of White House china.
Herbert Hoover spoke Chinese to his wife to keep their conversations private.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, were fifth cousins once removed.
Harry S. Truman does not have a middle name. His parents gave him the middle initial “S” as a tribute to his relatives whose names started with the letter S.
Dwight D. Eisenhower installed a putting green in the White House and played over 800 games of golf while in office.
John F. Kennedy was awarded a Purple Heart, which he received for his service in WWII.
Lyndon B. Johnson was a teacher before becoming president.
Richard Nixon partly funded his first political campaign with money he won playing poker while in the Navy.
Jimmy Carter filed a UFO sighting in 1973.
Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans and placed a standing order of 720 bags per month to be delivered to the White House and various federal buildings.
George H. W. Bush loves wearing colorful, patterned socks.
Bill Clinton is a two-time Grammy winner.
George W. Bush was the head cheerleader at his high school.
Barack Obama collects comic books.
And now you know enough about Presidents Day! Oh … and don’t bother to check your mail today, for there is no mail delivery.