As of writing, there have been 45 (although officially a recognised 46) people to hold down the presidential office and be the United States president. From 1789 to the present day, the truths about these presidents never ceases to amaze – no matter the era they ruled in. So, across this vast history, we document some of the most bizarre, strange, unbelievable facts about the USA’s head honchos.
The first president was said to have Herculean strength. This includes tales of him throwing a rock over a bridge 200 feet high and across the Potomac River as well as the ability to crack a walnut backhanded between his thumb and forefinger.
The first president to live in the White House, Adams earned the not-so-endearing nickname “His Rotundity”. This was as he had put the idea forward of bombastic nicknames such as “His High Mightiness” and “His Majesty The President”.
This American founding father was so fond of ice cream, he had various apparatus imported from France to use at parties. The Founding Father may also have the first recorded ice cream recipe in US history, listing: 6 egg yolks, a ½ pound of sugar, 2 bottles of cream, and a vanilla bean.
At 5’4 and about 100lbs, Madison is not only the shortest but lightest president ever. He would also propose that the USA should ensure it was protected against piracy with the Congressman arguing for the nation to hire the Portuguese navy rather than create their own. This did not come into effect however as America would form their own navy, which is now one of the biggest and most powerful in the world.
A particularly tense fight between Monroe and William H. Crawford got heated when Monroe tried to attack the Secretary of the Treasury. Apparently, Crawford tried to attack with his cane yelling “You damned infernal old scoundrel!“. The 67-year-old president then threatened his rival with a pair of hot-dog tongs from the fireplace, chasing him out of the White House whilst brandishing the weapon.
John Quincy Adams
The first son of a former president, Quincy Adams took the presidency in 1825. By the 1840s, photography had been developed – in large due to contributions from the French and Germans. In March 1843, JQA was the first president to ever have their picture taken. 75-years-old at the time, this was a historic first (the image is provided above).
A man most acclaimed for his actions prior to taking presidential office, Jackson won the 1815 Battle Of New Orleans and is cited as a good United States president in spite of his attitude to slavery and native Americans. Anyhow, Jackson taught his pet parrot to swear – in fact, his African Grey called Poll would be removed from Jackson’s funeral in 1845 for squawking out too many profanities and disturbing proceedings.
Martin Van Buren
Martin was the first president born an American and would only serve a term in office. During his bid for re-election, he leaned on the usage of his nickname “Old Kinderhook”, based on his birthplace in New York. At this time, the word OK existed standing for “Oll Korrect” as a way for superiors who were in the know to talk in coded speech. OK clubs were set up in support of Van Buren as well as the slogan: “Old Kinderhook” is Oll Korrect. This would popularise the initials OK in the USA, publicising the phrase and lifting it to becoming one of the most known and accepted phrases in the world which it is today.
William Henry Harrison
WHH is considered to be one of the first politicians to use campaign slogans and advertising. For his bid for the presidency, Harrison used a massive ball covered in slogans in 1840 that gave rise to the phrase “keep the ball rolling”. This proved effective as he would trample his opposition, garnering 80% of the vote. His reign was short, the shortest ever, lasting only 30 days after not wearing insulating clothing at his inauguration and getting pneumonia.
John Tyler was in his time one of the most hated figures. He was dubbed “His Accidency” and kicked out of the Whig Party and that is nothing compared to his funeral. In this, he was announced as “the most unpopular public man that had ever held any office in the United States”. Furthermore, it was stated Taylor was “going down to death amid the ruins of his native State. He himself was one of the architects of its ruin, and beneath that melancholy wreck his name will be buried”.
James K. Polk
Polk’s time in office was only a single-term but the change in the USA in this time was drastic with more landmass that put in place future states to be annexed. His wife Sarah Childress Polk encouraged the use of the song Hail To The Chief to be played so that the president’s entry would always be noted. Due to his short height, he could be missed but this would mean his arrival would always be noted. The piece, composed in 1812, is now synonymous with the POTUS.
One of the most obscure presidents of all time has to be Zachary Taylor, who lasted 16 months in such role before his death in 1850. An interesting note is that Taylor took tremendous pride in his accuracy at spitting chewing tobacco. He is said to have been so talented at this that he never missed the spittoon.
A bibliophile, Fillmore is said to have always carried a dictionary with him in order to learn new words. This would lead to Millard and wife Abigail setting up the first library in the White House. Fillmore would rush in on Christmas Eve 1851 to aim to save as many works as possible from the library (named after Thomas Jefferson). 35,000 books were burned but the fire-fighting president would not give up, pushing for funds of renovation.
Franklin Pierce is one of the most forgotten about United States president and a catastrophic moment was likely the reason for this. After winning office, he would become the only leader to “affirm” rather than “swear” on the Bible whilst taking the oath of office. His reason for a drinking habit and depression is witnessing the alleged decapitation (or almost decapitation) of his 11-year-old son after a severe incident involving a train.
The dough-faced president is the only one to remain a lifelong bachelor – never marrying. His relationship with fellow congressman Willaim Rufus King brought into question Buchanan’s sexuality, with the two living together and Andrew Jackson describing King and Buchanan respectively as “Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy”. This ambiguence is the source of debate amongst historians.
“Honest Abe” may have been a president of peace and known best as the abolisher of slavery but he was actually inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. At 21 in Illinois, he was a regional champion, with the 6’4 future politician reportedly losing once in 300 matches. The catch-as-catch-can star and first bearded president is also credited with inventing the Chokeslam – a wrestling move where a wrestler hoists his opponent up by their throat and proceeds to slam them down onto their back. This manouvre has been adopted by various wrestlers over the years.
The first president to be impeached, Johnson took over after Lincoln’s assassination and would be the first president to be a member of the Senate. A tailor by trade, Johnson would go to the effort of producing his own suits rather than perhaps getting some of the best needle-workers in the country. His own creation of his clothing has helped him to earn the unofficial title of the best dressed president.
Ulysses S. Grant
Grant was another heroic figure of the battle field, having led the Union to a victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War. There are many facts to document about Grant, including his name being created by accident as Hiram Ulysses Grant’s name was mislabeled as Ulysses Simpson – however we’ll instead go with the publisher of his memoirs. His life story was published in 1885 by a very popular writer of the time: Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain.
Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford Brichard Hayes (and yes, that is actually his middle name) was proud first owner of a Siamese cat in the USA. Sent to Hayes and wife Lucy by an American consult in Bangkok, the cat was shipped to Hong Kong, then to San Francisco and taken to the White House in Washington D.C. in 1879 via train. The cat would be named Siam.
James A. Garfield
The 2nd assassinated president (after which Alexander Graham Bell tried to aid him with use of an early met detector to seek out the bullet) had a supremely impressive skill for writing. Being ambidextrous, he would write in Greek in one hand and Latin in the other at the same time. His wonder was clearly enough for the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. to display his spine for many years after his death.
Chester A. Arthur
Chester A. Arthur wanted a renovation of the White House during his reign. To pay for this, he held a yard sale, featuring various presidential items. With 24-wagons worth of content, it included hats from John Adams and pants (trousers) from Abraham Lincoln. Outside of the yard sale, Arthur himself is said to have owned around 80 sets of legwear. His grandson too had a pretty revolutionary life.
The only president with 2 non-consecutive terms (making him the 22nd and 24th president), the hefty Cleveland personally executed 2 men. Before his presidency, when serving as Sherrif of Erie County, he found 2 murderers and himself hung them. Rather than pay $10 (~$210 in 2021) for a deputy to do the deed, he himself personally oversaw the hanging of Patrick Morrissey in 1872 and John Gaffney in 1873.
The leader between the Cleveland terms, Harrison would often dress up as Santa as a way to surprise his grandchildren. Furthermore, he put up the first Christmas tree in the White House in 1889 – yet don’t go imagining this was a bright and glamourous as the trees of today. In actuality, Harrison was scared of electricity – refusing to ever touch anything electric, even sleeping with the lights on.
Earlier, we mentioned that advances in technology had allowed the first photograph of a president but by the late 19th century, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone had become usable to the stage where McKinley’s cabinet was the first to use it as a campaigning tool. A statue of McKinley holding a telephone stands in City Rapid, South Dakota. He was also assassinated, giving away his permanent lucky charm – a red carnation – moments before being killed.
Young “Teddy”, a nicknamed he hated by the way, was the youngest-ever elected president and is certainly one of the most prolific and historical presidents of all time – being the first to fly as well as leave office as president, commonly wrestling opponents (even blinding himself in an eye) and delivering a speech after being shot. In 1918, ex-president Roosevelt was gifting medals to boy scout members but was only gifting 9 instead of 10. Ted would ask “What’s this boy doing here?” embarrassingly before the young kid was taken off stage. The child from then on would have a lifelong fear of public appearances – that kid? Ted Giesel, better known today as Dr Seuss.
William Howard Taft
At well-over 300lbs, Taft is easily the heaviest United States president of all time. Taft was the first president to own a car, actually replacing the stable of the White House with a garage for his vehicle. Although considering how he needed a bathtub that weighed a literal ton, I would imagine his exploits in a car would have been rather comical.
Claims his weight got him stuck in a bath though are fabricated.
Helping the USA to charge head-first to victory in the first World War was Woodrow Wilson. Despite having multiple health scares during president – in which time his wife (a descendant of Pocahontas) had to rule – Wilson is still acclaimed enough to be the face on US print. His face is on the $100,000 US bill, a currency likely only seen by select bank workers, yet wire transfers still makes this redundant.
Warren G. Harding
Whilst the Teapot Dome Scandal ruined his reputation for the good, Harding was still known to act with disregard during presidency. Once gambling away all the China of the White House, the first president on radio was also known for titling his penis “Jerry”. Anyhow, Harding had size 19 feet, the largest any president has ever had.
“Silent Cal” may have had a heart of stone but he was not completely humourless. He would sometimes press all the buttons on the presidential desk. He would hide behind the door as various aids rushed in to save him. Coolidge would then explain he was just checking if everything was working.
Whilst serving as United States Secretary of Commerce in early 1927 under Calvin Coolidge, Hoover was in the first public demonstration of television. Seen and heard in New York, Hoover delivered it from the laboratory of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company based in Washington all the way to New York. The future president would proclaim: “Today we have, in a sense, the transmission of sight for the first time in the world’s history”.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The longest-serving president, winning 3 elections, Roosevelt will likely go down as one of the greatest presidents of all time despite being wheel-chair bound. We’ve spoken before about his snubbing of Jesse Owens ruining his life but FDR clearly had a vast amount of love – for his dog Fala. So popular was the animal that US soldiers in World War 2 would ask a stranger the name of the president’s dog in order to obtain whether or not they were a spy. FDR was in office for 12 years which is fitting as Roosevelt was a triskaidekaphobe – being deathly scared of the number 13.
Harry S Truman
The Cold War-era president and dropper of atomic bombs officially opened the White House bowling alley in 1947. Added in the West Wing for Truman’s 63rd birthday, it was built ahead of schedule. Despite not having played in many decades, his first strike would knock down 7 of the allotted 10 pins (of which 1 of the pins now has found a permanent residence in the Smithsonian Institute). Used by many tight with the president, it was moved to the Old Executive Office Building in 1955.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Like many of his contemporaries, Eisenhower was a keen golfer in his spare time. Dwight was so angered by squirrels ruining his golf courses – by digging up the grass to store food – that he ordered the killing of all squirrels, telling his valet: “The next time you see one of those squirrels go near my putting green, take a gun and shoot it!”. This would stir up some controversy as the Secret Service had to step in to ban the use of any guns in the White House. Instead, trapped squirrels were released into other wildlife parks and reserves.
John F. Kennedy
In 1958, John F. Kennedy got into a car accident with Larry King. The future show-host would drive into JFK in Palm Beach, to which Kennedy got extremely heated. Kennedy yelled at King: “Early Sunday morning, no traffic, not a cloud in the sky, I’m parked—how could you run into me?”. The former WW2 soldier then said he would forget the whole thing if Larry voted for him, which he did. For an insight, Kennedy would have been in his late-40s and King in his mid-20s at the time of the event.
Lyndon B. Johnson
B. Johnson has to be one of the most wacky presidents of all time. Urinating outside, regularly taking phone calls on the toilet and pretending to crash his car to freak out – it all seems more prankster than president. Further evidence of his wild mind includes proposing to wife Lady Bird with a ring from Sears. This cost him $2.50.
A meeting between Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley took place in 1970. Considering how within a decade the legacy of both men would drastically be altered, through Watergate and death by drugs respectively, it has become one of the most iconic images of two historical figures in their fields. The image of both men shaking hands is the most requested photograph in the entire United States National Archives.
This one is quite an oft-cited fact but it is very interesting in terms of US history. You may think the luckiest United States president of all time is businessman-turned-politician Trump, former shoe-shiner Johnson or ex-actor Reagan but in actuality – it is Gerald Ford. The president is the only ever entirely unelected leader. Due to well-placed resignations, he took over vice-presidency from Spiros Agnew and took the presidential office from Nixon whose hand was force in resign by the backlash of Watergate (Nixon is still the only USA president to ever resign). He would also not be re-elected into office after his first term.
The oldest-aged president (still alive at 97 as of writing), Jimmy Carter likely did not think he would have 40+ years of retirement when leaving office in 1981 or ever think he would have a 75-year marriage. Despite being one of the less noteworthy presidents of the modern era, he accidentally left the nuclear codes in the pocket of a jacket he had sent to the dry cleaners. In a time of warfare paranoia, this could have been much more catastrophic than it turned out to be.
Reagan was a big name in Hollywood before ever elected to office. Despite marrying fellow movie star Nancy Davis in 1952, they would only appear together in a single film: Hellcats Of The Navy – a film Reagan would express his discontent with in his autobiography. Also of note is that the only film where Reagan played a villain, The Killers, would be his last.
George H.W. Bush
The man who once considered making Clint Eastwood his Vice-President (having seen previously an acclaimed actor adding glitz to office), George Bush’s actions in 1992 created a new Japanese slang term. Bush puked all over the Japanese Prime Minister’s (Kiichi Miyazawa’s) lap during a state dinner, he created the term “Bushusuru” in Japanese culture, meaning to throw up in public.
Grammy Award winner and impeached president Clinton was certainly one of the stranger United States president – which is saying something. Other than tales of eating whole apples (seeds, core and all) and only sending 2 emails during presidency, he is an avid My Little Pony fan. NPR host Peter Sagal quizzed Clinton on the franchise, with Clinton successfully winning a prize for listener Dave Parks of Chico, California after answering all 3 questions correctly. Before the questions, Clinton remarked “This is the part where you make me look like a fool, right?”.
George W. Bush
Despite having multiple blunders during his tenure, Bush Jr. would never throw up over a major leader, fairing a little better than his father. However, Bush would have connections to a major pop culture figure as the 43rd (technically 42nd) president shared the same set of great-grandparents with Playboy founder and all-round baller Hugh Hefner. This makes them 9th cousins twice removed. They also share a relative in John Kerry, the Democrat who ran against Bush in the 2004 election.
The first African-American United States president was the first to take the bold move of using social media. This included the usage of developing internet sites such as YouTube and FaceBook page. However, where he is most prolific is Twitter. On the social networking service, Obama has the most followers of any person with 130 million followers. He is one of only 4 in the 100 million club, alongside Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Rihanna.
President Trump’s turn from largely creditable businessman to president has to be one of the most significant moments of the 20th century. His lifestyle too was attention for public press with his butler noting his lack of sleep of 6 hours maximum (often much less). The New York Times claims he drank 12 cans of Diet Coke per day and could watch about 8 hours of television daily. His drinking of coke is as he, like many more recent leaders, is teetotal. (The lazy fact is that he’s a WWE Hall of Famer)
Now officially the oldest-ever elected president at 78, Joe Biden is a huge addict for ice cream. He clearly lives his life by 2016 comments “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. But I eat a lot of ice cream” – with $10,000 of his 2020 campaign for presidency being spent on his favourite food (although they were gifts to donors). This is in contrast to former president over Biden, Obama whose work in Baskin-Robbins made him grow to dislike the stuff. Nonetheless, I doubt his favourite (chocolate chip) uses the recipe created by Thomas Jefferson.