CHARLOTTE, NC. President’s Day has come and gone. But presidential trivia continues to accumulate. So here’s our latest Myth Trivia look at some interesting but lesser known POTUS facts and factoids concerning past occupants of the White House.
America’s POTUS lineage starts with George Washington
We begin at America’s presidential beginning with George Washington. Our very first POTUS never actually lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s because the White House, the US President’s official home, did not exist until 1800 when the building was completed. Thus, Washington’s successor, John Adams, became the first occupant of the White House. Washington did, however, select the site where the White House stands today.
One popular myth about Washington, who possessed only one remaining original tooth at his inauguration, is that he used dentures made of wood. Not true. But he did employ dental substitutes consisting of human teeth, animal teeth, ivory and even lead. Clearly, American dentistry has come a long way since those early days of our republic.
As might be expected, Washington was the only president who did not represent a political party. He didn’t really trust them. Perhaps we should revisit that idea today.
About those cabinet turnovers…
Given the political climate in Washington today, the fact that Franklin Pierce remains the only president who never experienced turnovers in his original cabinet seems downright amazing.
Despite his reputation as a dedicated consumer of adult beverages, President Pierce also gave his 3,319 word inaugural address from memory without using notes. To keep Washington, D.C.’s spirits merry in December, Pierce also became the first president to put up a Christmas tree in the White House.
More POTUS facts and factoids
But we’re just getting started with today’s listing of POTUS facts and factoids. Speaking of other presidential firsts, many of them seem quite logical, considering the time in presidential history when they occurred. Let’s take a look.
Thomas Jefferson was the first president to shake hands with his guests. Before that, people bowed to the President.
Andrew Jackson became the first president to ride a railroad train.
John Tyler became the first vice president to become President, which happened upon the death of another president, William Henry Harrison. Poor President Harrison, who, at the time and long thereafter was the oldest man elected POTUS at the age of 67. (More recently, both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump topped that record.) Tyler never made an inaugural address and never ran for president as his unexpected, nearly full term came to an end.
William Henry Harrison, needless to say, had the shortest presidency in American history: Just 32 days.
Zachary Taylor was the second president to die in office. He fell ill due to the heat at a ceremony at the Washington Monument and died five days later. There was some speculation that he had been poisoned, but the body was exhumed and the rumor was proved false. He may have succumbed to typhus.
Millard Fillmore proved to be a fan of the latest technological developments, after succeeding the unfortunate President Taylor. Fillmore became the first president to install a bathtub and kitchen stove in the White House. Fillmore’s wife, Abigail, created the first library there.
Post-Civil War POTUS trivia
Ulysses S. Grant established Yellowstone as the first national park in the country in 1872. A little-known fact: He was also the first president to run against a female candidate, the colorful Virginia Woodhull, who was the nominee of the Equal Rights Party in 1872. Two decades earlier, he was the first person to become president to see the Pacific Ocean.
William McKinley, like Millard Fillmore, pushed the technological envelope of that time, becoming the first president to actually campaign by telephone. One added note: Grover Cleveland, who earlier had also proved adept at using Alexander Graham Bell’s invention, personally answered his White House telephone.
Theodore Roosevelt made history, among other ways, as the first president to call the Washington, D.C. residence residence of the POTUS the “White House.” Until then Americans identified it as the Executive Mansion or the President’s House.
William H. Taft. Our heaviest president became the first president to own a car and the last president to keep a cow at the White House. Defeated after only one term, he later became the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Roaring ’20s and beyond
Warren G. Harding. In another technical milestone, Harding was the first POTUS to speak to his constituents over a newfangled invention called the radio. That said, he didn’t make it through his first and only term, resulting in the elevation of…
Calvin Coolidge, Harding’s Vice-president, who succeeded President Harding after his sudden death. The taciturn “Silent Cal” became the first president to light a national Christmas tree on the White House lawn in 1923.
Herbert Hoover firmly established the Star Spangled Banner as America’s national anthem. The remainder of his presidency was somewhat less successful.
John F. Kennedy. Hard to believe, but JJK was the first POTUS to hold a televised press conference.
Lyndon B. Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy after his 1963 assassination, was first president to name an African-American to his cabinet. He is also the only president to take the oath from a female official, Judge Sarah T. Hughes. He did this on board the Presidential plane just prior to its takeoff from Dallas, carrying the new president, Kennedy’s widow, Jaqueline, and the body of the former president back to Washington for JFK’s State Funeral.
Jimmy Carter. In another surprisingly late technical and medical breakthrough, the former Georgia governor became the first president to actually have been born in a hospital.
Of clothing and books
Chester A. Arthur was known as “Elegant Arthur” thanks his fussy taste in clothing and fashion.
Gerald Ford. Speaking of clothing, this “accidental POTUS” — who succeeded Richard Nixon after he resigned the presidency — was a fashion model in the 1940s for Cosmopolitan and Look magazines.
Thomas Jefferson had a library of 6,000 books which was purchased for almost $24,000. The collection formed the basis of the Library of Congress.
Did Polk make America Great? (Hint: He made America bigger.)
During his administration, James K. Polk acquired California from Mexico, settled the Oregon dispute, lowered tariffs, established a sub-treasury and, after one term, retired from office. In so doing, he fulfilled every campaign promise he made, a remarkable achievement for any politician.
Famous relatives, plus a few fun factoids
Recently deceased POTUS George H.W. Bush was distantly related to Presidents Franklin Pierce, Theodore Roosevelt, Gerald Ford and Abraham Lincoln. Also included in that family tree were Benedict Arnold, Marilyn Monroe and Winston Churchill.
Andrew Johnson is buried beneath a willow tree he planted with his head resting on a copy of the Constitution.
Theodore Roosevelt lost the sight in one eye while boxing in the White House.
Barack Obama is a collector of Spiderman and Conan the Barbarian comic books.
POTUS height and weight issues
At just 5 feet 4 inches, James Madison was the shortest president in history. He was also the lightest, weighing in at about 100 pounds.
It would take over three Madisons to make one William H. Taft who crushed the scales at 332 pounds. Taft was so heavy that the first time he used his White House bathtub, he got stuck.
The final wrap
Wrapping up with a couple of quotes and the best trivia item of the day;
George W, Bush commented once that “Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas we call walking.”
Abraham Lincoln gets top honors for this gem: “If I were two faced–would I be wearing this one?”
And finally, Martin Van Buren. This POTUS can probably claim credit for creating one of the most universal expressions in the world. That’s the one American English expression that everybody on the planet knows: “OK.” Born in Kinderhook, N.Y., Van Buren became known as “Old Kinderhook” when he went into politics. Soon, people were using the term O.K. to refer to Van Buren. From that, the word “okay” (OK, or O.K) began its evolution into today’s almost universally adopted verbal acknowledgment signal.
There’s never a dull moment at the White House, you see. But that’s just “A.O.K.” with us.
— Headline image: An “OK” gubernatorial portrait of Martin Van Buren by Daniel Huntington in The Civil War.
(Via Wikipedia entry on Martin Van Buren, public domain image.)
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world.
Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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