Myth Trivia: A most interesting list of U.S. presidential firsts

On this day, 140 years ago, President Rutherford B. Hayes installed the first telephone in the White House.

President Rutherford B. Hayes and his cabinet, 1877. (Image via U.S. Library of Congress, public domain)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 10, 2017 – Barack Obama made history as America’s first black American president. Hillary Clinton would have also made history as the first female president but fell just short of the mark. On the other hand, there have been a number of other lesser known presidential firsts which we honor in today’s edition of Myth Trivia.

Just for fun, we will list each president’s name so you can have a few seconds to see if you can guess what his “first” accomplishment was.

1. Theodore Roosevelt: Actually, Teddy Roosevelt was a Renaissance man in many ways. Supremely intelligent, he spoke several languages and was well known as a “Jack of all Trades.”

Perhaps his most important “first” achievement was becoming the only president ever to win the highest honor in the country, the prestigious Medal of Honor.

As Lt. Col. Teddy Roosevelt, serving in the U.S. Army in the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment during the Spanish-American War, he led his famous charge up San Juan Hill with no more than five other soldiers beside him. As the first man to reach the trenches, Roosevelt shot one of the enemy, inspiring his fellow soldiers to advance. The tide of battle turned, and later the future president was awarded the medal for bravery and devotion to duty.

Lesser “first” accomplishments by Roosevelt include being the first president to ride in a submarine, the first president to fly in an airplane and, shamelessly, the first president (and perhaps only one) to skinny-dip in the Potomac River.


2. John F. Kennedy: Not only was John F. Kennedy the first president to have been a member of the Boy Scouts of America. He was also the first person to become president who was born in the 20th century.

But the big deal is that JFK was awarded a Purple Heart in 1944 as well as the Navy and Marine Corps Medal stemming from his command of PT-109 in the Solomon Islands.

When a Japanese destroyer rammed Kennedy’s boat, the future president took a vote of the survivors in the water as to whether to surrender or keeping fighting.

“Keep fighting” was the response so the men swam toward an island while Kennedy held the strap of one seriously injured man’s life jacket in his teeth and made it to shore. Kennedy suffered from a bad back and was re-injured in the collision. But continued onward and ultimately became the first president ever to have been awarded a Purple Heart.

When asked what he thought about being a war hero, Kennedy glibly replied “It was involuntary, they sank my boat.”

3. Abraham Lincoln: U.S. Patent Number 6469 was awarded to Abraham Lincoln’s invention that would lift stranded boats off sandbars and other obstructions in the water. This particular item is on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

Lincoln received his patent for the device on May 22, 1849, but it has yet ever to be used.

4. Andrew Jackson: Since dueling is no longer considered a gentleman’s way of settling an argument in the United States, Jackson’s record in this area may be similar to one of baseball’s unbreakable achievements, like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

Both Charles Dickinson and Andrew Jackson were plantation owners and horse breeders. Whatever the reason, they hated each other, so when Dickinson claimed that his enemy, Old Hickory, had reneged on bet over a horse and later accused Jackson’s wife of being a bigamist and an adulteress, it was more than the hot-tempered Jackson could tolerate.

Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel and was hit very close to his heart on the first shot. Using his free hand to slow the flow of blood, Jackson then shot at Dickinson.

Reports say that Jackson’s weapon misfired on his first shot, but he shot again and killed Dickinson. In the end, Andrew Jackson is, and remains, the first and only president to kill someone in a duel.

5. Rutherford B. Hayes: Not only is this arguably the most interesting bit of trivia today, it actually happened on May 10, 1877. On this day, 140 years ago, President Hayes installed the first telephone in the White House. Of course, since the contraption was still new, there was barely anyone who could call him or anyone he could call for that matter. But the president was fascinated with the technology.

Naturally the White House number was “1” and, at the time, the Treasury Department was the only other direct line to the White House.

Even so, it would still be 50 years before Herbert Hoover had the first phone line installed in the Oval Office. Over the past 14 decades, President Hayes’ idea has proved to be as much of a negative as a positive for many presidents. Just ask Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

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