We all know the tired old legends and facts - George Washington 'fessed up to chopping down a cherry tree; Abraham Lincoln lived in a log cabin; JFK had an affair with Marilyn Monroe; Bill Clinton had some laundering issues with a Gap dress. But there's more than meets the eye with the Presidents - here are a few lesser-known facts about each of them. And in case you're wondering about the weird math, Grover Cleveland was President for non-consecutive terms (the only President to ever do so, actually), so he technically counts as Presidents #22 and #24.
1. George Washington indulged in luxuries such as leopard-skin blankets for all of his horses.
2. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day - July 4, 1826, which just so happened to be the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
3. Thomas Jefferson attributed his long life (he lived to the age of 83, which was pretty long in the tooth for the early 1800s) to his daily habit of cold foot baths.
4. James Madison is the shortest president to date, standing just 5’4”. His stature didn’t go unnoticed - John Quincy Adams’ wife once described him as “a very small man in his person with a very large head.”
5. James Monroe once chased William H. Crawford, his secretary of the treasury, out of the White House with a pair of red hot tongs from the fireplace. Crawford gave Monroe a list of people he wanted considered for “political patronage,” and when Monroe informed Crawford that his list was not needed or wanted, Crawford called the President “a damned infernal scoundrel.” When he brandished his cane at Monroe, Monroe went for the tongs.
6. John Quincy Adams didn’t have such a great relationship with his three sons. When one of them failed to make the top 10 in his class at Harvard, JQA wrote to him and said that he felt “Nothing but shame and sorrow in your presence.” That was his namesake, John, who later became an alcoholic, as did brother George. George later committed suicide.
7. Andrew Jackson was nearly assassinated. A man named Richard Lawrence decided that Jackson was the only thing keeping him from inheriting the British throne and tried to shoot him as Jackson was leaving the Capitol. The gun misfired. Lawrence came prepared with a backup gun, drew it, and fired again. It also misfired. Legend has it that about this time, Jackson started beating his would-be killer with his cane. Davy Crockett was one of the men who helped disarm Lawrence.
8. Martin Van Buren didn't relish his days in the White House, to be sure. He once said, "As for the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it." It didn't stop him for running for a second term (he didn't achieve it).
9. William Henry Harrison. His death is the reason we have firm plans in place for the presidential succession. Harrison served just 31 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes of his presidency; he died of pneumonia and septicemia and was the first American President to die in office. At the time, no one was sure if the Vice President should become President or would merely be Acting President. It was decided that since Harrison’s VP John Tyler took the Oath of Office, he would retain the title for the duration of Harrison’s original term.
10. John Tyler married a girl 30 years his junior (Julia, pictured) and began courting her just three months after his wife’s death. His youngest daughter - the fifteenth Tyler child - was born when Tyler was 70.
11. James K. Polk never vacationed, kept long hours and was always all business. He accomplished much during his presidency, including a victory in the Mexican-American War, founding an independent treasury, opened the Naval Academy, issued the first postage stamps, opened the Smithsonian Museum and oversaw the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument, and expanded the United States further west. He also died just three months after leaving office - most historians agree that he basically worked himself to death.
12. Zachary Taylor was a big fan of chewing tobacco and had no problems with spitting his chaw juice out on the White House carpet if a suitable urn wasn’t available.
13. Millard Fillmore met Queen Victoria in 1855. She promptly declared that Fillmore was the handsomest man she had ever laid eyes upon. He was also the last member of the Whig Party to be President.
14. Franklin Pierce was a rather tragic figure. His first two sons died in childhood - one at birth and one at the age of four. Young deaths were not uncommon at the time, but it caused his wife to become a bit overprotective of their third and last son, Bennie. Two months before Pierce took office, he and his family were traveling in a train that derailed and then slid down an embankment. The only fatality? Eleven-year-old Bennie.
15. James Buchanan is the only president who never married. He was engaged once, but it ended pretty badly - her parents convinced her that Buchanan wasn’t good enough for her, so she broke it off. She then took ill and died soon after. Buchanan wrote a letter to her father and asked to be allowed to follow after her coffin at the funeral; her father had it returned to sender.
16. Abraham Lincoln was notoriously messy. Legend has it that his office was a terrible mess and that he kept an envelope in his desk that said, “When you can’t find it anywhere else, look into this.”
17. Andrew Johnson was a tailor and absolutely loved his job. In fact, when he was governor of Tennessee, he took time out of his busy schedule to custom make a suit for a local blacksmith.
18. Ulysses S. Grant’s grandson, Ulysses S. Grant III, graduated sixth in his class at West Point Academy in 1903. The best student that year? Douglas MacArthur.
19. Rutherford B. Hayes didn’t actually win the presidential election - he lost to Samuel Tilden by about 250,000 votes. But the vote tallying was a mess and a bunch of the electoral votes were in dispute, so the Electoral Commission was quickly formed to determine the outcome. They obviously found in favor of Hayes, leaving Tilden supporters to dub Rutherford “Rutherfraud,” “His Fraudulency” and “His Accidency.”
20. James A. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881, but he didn’t die until September 19. Most historians agree that the doctors who poked and prodded and used rather strange and unsanitary measures to try to “save” him are probably the ones that actually killed him.
21. Chester A. Arthur was a clotheshorse and was the first president to hire someone to attend to his wardrobe. He reportedly had more than 80 pairs of pants.
22. Grover Cleveland had a secret operation to remove a tumor in his mouth while he was president. He boarded a yacht headed upstate as if it were a fun diversion, but while he was tucked away from the public eye, doctors removed the tumor from his upper palette. No one knew about the incident until 24 years later, when one of the doctors who performed the surgery finally spilled the beans. You can now visit the tumor at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, which has an exhibit dedicated to the event.
23. Benjamin Harrison was the last president to wear a beard. 24. William McKinley’s wife had epileptic seizures on a fairly regular basis. He responded to them by arranging his handkerchief over her head - the darkness seemed to help - and carrying on as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening.
25. Theodore Roosevelt was a big fan of food. He drank about a gallon of coffee a day and would sometimes eat a dozen hard-boiled eggs for breakfast.
26. William Howard Taft is the only man, thus far, to have been the leader of both the Executive and Judicial branches of government. He became Chief Justice eight years after his term as President ended and considered this the highlight of his career - “I do not remember that I was ever President,” he once said.
27. Woodrow Wilson was one of the few Presidents to endure dating while acting as Commander in Chief. His first wife died of Bright’s Disease in 1914, and by 1915 he was dating his would-be second wife, Edith Boling Galt. As you might expect, the media followed them around mercilessly and reported on their dates. The Washington Post once typoed that President Wilson “spent most of his time entering Ms. Galt.” Whoops. Since they meant to write “entertaining,” that entire newspaper was recalled. Wilson also signed off some of his letters to Galt as "Tiger."
28. Warren G. Harding loved gambling and once lost an entire box of White House china in a game.
29. Calvin Coolidge’s son is probably the only fatality to occur at the White House because of the White House. He was playing a game of tennis with his older brother and developed a blister on his big toe. The blister became infected and Cal Jr. died of blood poisoning within days.
30. Herbert Hoover wrote a book called Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. An excerpt: “Association with the placid ripples of the waves and the quiet chortle of the streams is soothing to our ‘het-up’ anxieties.”
31. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was driven around in a hand-me-down Cadillac that previously belonged to Al Capone. After Pearl Harbor, the Secret Service decided that the limo FDR was tooling around in wasn’t safe enough. Capone’s car was outfitted with a ton of armor since he was so commonly targeted, so it was deemed safe enough for Roosevelt.
32. Harry S Truman. The “S” in Harry S Truman doesn’t stand for anything. His parents argued over whether it should stand for “Shippe” or “Solomon,” his paternal and maternal grandparents respectively, and so it was just left as “S.”
33. Dwight D. Eisenhower desperately wanted to play professional baseball. Later in life, he said that “"not making the baseball team at West Point was one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest."
34. John F. Kennedy’s 1935 yearbook named him “Most likely to become President.”
35. Lyndon B. Johnson. For two hours and eight minutes after JFK’s assassination, we had no President. LBJ was sworn in on Air Force One in Dallas at Love Field Airport; he is the only President to be sworn in on Texas soil. He was also the first President to be sworn in by a woman.
36. Richard Nixon always wore a coat and tie - even when he was at home by himself, according to one biography.
37. Gerald Ford is the only President who also had a modeling career. He was in Look magazine in 1939 and was on the cover of Cosmopolitan in 1942. He’s also the only President to ever tackle a future Heisman winner - when he played football for the University of Michigan Wolverines, he tackled University of Chicago running back Jay Berwanger, who won the first-ever Heisman Trophy the following year.
38. Jimmy Carter is the only President to file an official report to detail a UFO sighting. He claimed he and several members of his Lion’s Club saw a UFO hovering about 900 yards away from them in Georgia in 1969.
39. Ronald Reagan was a notorious doodler and wasn’t immune to entertaining himself during “boring” meetings by doing such. Those are his scribbles to the left.
40. George H.W. Bush was awarded an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993. He’s just the third President to receive the honor - the other two were Eisenhower and Reagan.
41. Bill Clinton. There’s a statue of Clinton playing golf in Ballybunion, Ireland.
42. George W. Bush is the only U.S. President to have an MBA.
43. Barack Obama’s brother-in-law is the head men’s basketball coach at Oregon State University.