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Presidents’ Day

February 21, 2011

Today is Presidents’ Day in the United States. I spent much of my day working on the next virtual presentation about the U.S., which I hope to finish later this week – the topic is (here’s a shock) United States Presidents.

The presentation will be long. With 44 Presidents serving 53 terms over the past 235 years, there is a lot of ground to cover, and I am devoting a “page” to each President. Because whether it is a well-known President such as Abraham Lincoln or a barely-known president such as William Henry Harrison, each was elected to lead our country, no matter how long he served, and there is something interesting about each of them.

While working on it I realized just how little I knew about our Presidents before now. The last time I had an American History class was in 10th grade in high school, and honestly, I just remember having to memorize a lot of names and dates, but did not really take into account any of the contexts or complexities. Maybe I was not able to at that time. Maybe because since then I have had much more education and life experience, I find our history, though it may be short relative to other countries, more interesting.

So in honor of Presidents Day, I am sharing some of the factoids I learned about the Presidents:

  • George Washington was the only American president to be unanimously elected.
  • Washington never lived in the White House. The nation’s capital was, at that time, located in Philadelphia.
  • John Adams was the first president to reside in the White House, moving in November 1800 while the paint was still wet.
  • Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1826.
  • Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C.
  • Jefferson was the country’s first-known speleologist.
  • James Madison’s contributions towards the development of the Constitution earned him the title “Father of the Constitution.”
  • Madison was the shortest and lightest president at 5 feet, 4 inches and about 100 pounds.
  • John Quincy Adams was the son of a former president and the first President to be photographed.
  • Andrew Jackson was the first president to ride in a train.
  • Jackson was also the first American president to experience and survive an assassination attempt.
  • The term “O.K.” is credited to Martin Van Buren who was raised in Kinderhook, New York. After he went into politics, Van Buren became known as “Old Kinderhook.” Soon people were using the term O.K. referring to Van Buren and the word “okay” was derived.
  • Van Buren was the first U.S. president born in the United States. The presidents preceding Van Buren were born in colonies that later became states. Van Buren was the first to be born after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
  • William Harrison had the shortest term as President. He served 1 month (31 days). He was the first president to die in office.
  • Three men served as President in 1841. Van Buren completed his term. Harrison served one month and his Vice President, John Tyler became President. This only happened during one other year.
  • James Polk fulfilled all his campaign promises. During his administration Polk acquired California from Mexico, settled the Oregon dispute, lowered tariffs, established a sub-treasury, and retired from office after one term.
  • Zachary Taylor never lived in one place long enough to register to vote. He voted for the first time when he was 62 years old. Taylor had never voted in a Presidential Election until he voted for himself in 1848.
  • Millard Fillmore and his cabinet helped fight the Library Congress fire of 1851.
  • Franklin Pierce was the first president to have a Christmas tree in the White House.
  • James Buchanan was the only president that never married.
  • Abraham Lincoln was the first president to wear a beard and the tallest president at 6’ 4″.
  • Lincoln was the first president to die by assassination.
  • Andrew Johnson had no formal education. His wife taught him reading, writing and math.
  • Ulysses S. Grant established Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park on March 1, 1872.
  • Rutherford B. Hayes had the first telephone installed in the White House.
  • James Garfield was the only man in U.S. history who was a congressman, senator-elect, and a president-elect at the same time.
  • Chester A. Arthur never ran for President. Chester Arthur took office after the assassination of James Garfield.
  • Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty on October 28, 1886.
  • Cleveland was the only president to be elected two nonconsecutive terms.
  • Cleveland was one of three Presidents to get married while they were President. He is the only President whose wedding ceremony was held in the White House.
  • Benjamin Harrison was the only grandson of a President (William Henry Harrison) to be elected President.
  • Harrison was the first president to use electricity in the White House. After he got an electrical shock, his family often refused to touch the light switches and sometimes would go to bed with the lights on.
  • William McKinley was the third president that was assassinated.
  • McKinley was the first president to ride in an automobile and the first president to campaign by telephone.
  • Theodore Roosevelt was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He was awarded the prize in 1906 for his role as peacemaker in the Russo-Japanese War.
  • Roosevelt and John Quincy Adams were the only two presidents who didn’t lay their hand on the Bible to take the oath of office.
  • Roosevelt tried to have “In God We Trust” removed from coins. He thought it sacrilegious and unconstitutional.
  • William H. Taft  is the only president to also serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1921-1930).
  • Taft was the first of two presidents to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. John F. Kennedy is the other.
  • Woodrow Wilson was the only president buried in Washington, D.C. Wilson is interred at the Washington National Cathedral.
  • Wilson was the first President to cross the Atlantic Ocean while he was in office.
  • William Harding had the largest feet of any president. He wore size 14 shoes.
  • When Harding died in 1923, there was no autopsy. Insiders came to believe that he had been poisoned by his wife to save him from the disgrace of his scandal-ridden administration.
  • Calvin Coolidge’s was the first inaugural ceremony to be broadcast. His 41 minute speech was broadcast by twenty-five radio stations and heard by over 22 million people.
  • Coolidge was the last Ex-President to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Herbert Hoover was a Quaker.
  • Hoover was one of two Presidents who did not accept a salary for being President. He donated his salary to charity.
  • Charles Curtis, Hoover’s vice president, was the only nonwhite person to be elected vice president of the U.S. He was a Kaw Indian.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only American president to be elected four times and the first American president to be inaugurated in January (1937).
  • Genealogists have determined that FDR was related to: George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft.
  • Harry Truman was the first President to have his inauguration televised. He was the first President to give a speech on television.
  • Dwight Eisenhower was the only president to serve in both World War I & World War II.
  • Eisenhower was the only president who was a licensed pilot, and he initiated the use of Air Force One.
  • John F. Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic president and the first president born in the 20th century.
  • President Kennedy started the Peace Corps.
  • Lyndon Johnson was the first American president to name an African American to his cabinet.
  • Johnson was the first President sworn in by a woman. He was sworn in by Federal District Judge Sarah Hughes. Also, he was the first President to be sworn in on an airplane.
  • Richard Nixon is the only U.S. president to resign.
  • Gerald Ford once worked as a fashion model. Ford was a model for Cosmopolitan and Look magazines in the 1940’s.
  • Gerald Ford became vice president and president without being elected to either office. He was the Speaker of the House and replace Vice President Agnew when he resigned and then replace Richard Nixon when he resigned.
  • Jimmy Carter was the first president born in a hospital.
  • Carter was a speed reader, having been recorded reading 2,000 words per minute.
  • At age 69, Ronald Reagan became the oldest person ever elected U.S. president.
  • President Reagan was the first President to appoint a female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor.
  • George H.W. Bush was the first vice president elected president since Martin Van Buren and also the first vice president to lose re-election since Van Buren.
  • Bush is distantly related to Presidents Pierce, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Ford, and Winston Churchill.
  • Bill Clinton was the first president to be a Rhodes Scholar.
  • Clinton is the only president whose wife has also run for president.
  • George W. Bush is the first president to have run a marathon.
  • George W. Bush won without a majority vote. Al Gore won the popular vote. The electoral college vote was thrown into doubt by peculiarities in Florida’s election, and the election was decided by the Supreme Court.
  • Barack Obama won a Grammy award in 2006 for Best Spoken Word Recording for the audio version of his memoir, Dreams from My Father.
  • Obama is the sixth post-war president to be left-handed.
One Comment leave one →
  1. February 21, 2011 7:51 pm

    The Barbara Bush (Pierce) is a direct descendant of President Pierce (14th President of the US). President Franklin Pierce is a descendant of Thomas Percy (who tried to blow up the English Parliament – thus the name change from Percy to Pierce) and King James I. Franklin Pierce lost favor over wanting to keep slavery alive and was replaced by James Buchanan, who is a descendant of James I. Ah, the things they don’t teach us in history class:

    http://www.proliberty.com/observer/20070405.htm

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