Presidents Day resulted from an agglomeration of George Washington’s (Feb. 22) and Abraham Lincoln’s (Feb. 12) birthdays. Now, it’s really a day to celebrate everyone who has held the office.
Herewith, a collection of facts about each of the 45 American presidents, gleaned from the White House website, the Miller Center at the University of Virginia and presidential libraries. These facts have as little as possible to do with politics or policy, and as much as possible to do with the unique and the unusual.
And if that’s not enough, each president has received his own nickname inspired by those facts. George “The Flamethrower” Washington? James “Who, Me?” Garfield? Read on and learn.
Fredericksburg in 1862.
George “The Flamethrower” Washington (1789—1797)
OK, so he never actually threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. But his stepgrandson, George Washington Parke Custis, said the president threw a piece of slate across the Rappahannock River, in Fredericksburg. This is an 1862 picture of Fredericksburg taken from across the river. Pretty impressive.
Custis also said George Washington threw a rock up to the top of the Natural Bridge, in Rockbridge County, Virginia.
Circa 1796: John Adams (1735 — 1826), the second President of the United States of America (elected 1796).
(Getty Images/Hulton Archive)
John “The Comeback Kid” Adams (1797—1801)
Adams worked as a lawyer in Boston starting in 1758. He had only one client in his first year, and didn’t win a case for nearly three.
He was Washington’s vice president, a job he called “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” He also once wrote that among the clergy, one would find the “pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces,” which is neither here nor there but is way too funny not to throw in.
American statesman Thomas Jefferson (1743 — 1826), the third President of the United States of America. Jefferson was also responsible for the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Original Artwork: Engraving after painting by Rembrandt Peale.
(Getty Images/Hulton Archive)
Thomas “Pen Pal” Jefferson (1801—1809)
“From sun-rise to one or two o’clock,” Jefferson once said, “I am drudging at the writing table.” He wrote almost 20,000 letters in his lifetime, and received 1,267 just in the year 1820.
U.S. President James Madison (1751 — 1836), circa 1790.
(Getty Images/Hulton Archive)
James “Stretch” Madison (1809—1817)
Just kidding — Madison was 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed 100 pounds. Washington Irving once described him as “but a withered little apple-John.” They knew how to insult people back then.
Portrait of fifth United States President James Monroe. (1817-1825)
(Getty Images/National Archives)
James “Landslide” Monroe (1817—1825)
His presidency came during what was called the “Era of Good Feelings.” He had to have been happy about it: In 1816, he won 16 of 19 states and 183 out of 217 Electoral College votes. In 1820, he won all 24 states (yup, the U.S. gained five states in four years), and only one electoral vote was cast against him. How many electoral votes he got is complicated; there were disputes over how many votes some states got. But because it was a blowout, they evidently never really bothered to resolve them.
This undated file image shows a portrait painted by artist John Singleton Copley of John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States from 1825 to 1829. Historians noticed Adams’ short diary entries are similar to modern day Twitter updates. So starting Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009, the Massachusetts Historical Society began posting Twitter updates from his diary entries 200 years ago.
John Quincy “The Most Interesting Man in the White House” Adams (1825—1829)
Where to begin? The easy part is to say he was the son of the second president, John Adams. But everyone knows that.
He was also the second president to fail to win a second term in office — the first was his father. He probably didn’t have much of a shot at getting reelected, given the fact that in the election of 1824, he managed to get to the White House despite winning neither the popular vote nor the first ballot of the Electoral College. (Some serious horse-trading went on after that first vote, which left a lot of people upset.)
He was also known for skinny-dipping in the Potomac as president, part of his regular fitness routine. (The story of a reporter sitting on Adams’ clothes until he consented to an interview is unconfirmed, but awesome.) He also kept an alligator as a pet in a bathroom in the East Room, and would direct visitors there without telling them about it, just to scare them.
He was the U.S. representative to the U.K., Russia, Prussia and the Netherlands, and served in the Senate before becoming president and in the House afterward (yes, AFTER serving as president).
He also kept a daily diary from age 12 until he died at 80.
President Andrew Jackson, the seventh president on the U.S. is shown in an undated portrait.
Andrew “The Equalizer” Jackson (1829—1837)
Don’t get Andrew Jackson angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
First off, in 1806 he killed Charles Dickinson in a duel over — well, it was a combination of things, including an insult to Jackson’s wife and a horse race. Jackson was coldblooded about it too: Dickinson fired first and hit Jackson in the chest; the rules said he then had to stand still while Jackson took his shot. “I should have hit him if he had shot me through the brain,” Jackson later said.
Jackson could’ve fired into the air; he could’ve given it up when his pistol misfired. But no: He stood there and killed his opponent. Dickinson’s bullet was too close to Jackson’s heart to operate, so it stayed in his chest the rest of his life.
So Jackson didn’t take slights easily. When he lost the election of 1824 in a skullduggerous manner, he was determined to beat Adams in 1828, and he did. In his first speech to Congress, he called for the elimination of the Electoral College.
In 1832, he found out that the Senate had rejected the nomination of Martin Van Buren, his mentee, to the post of minister to England. His excellent reaction? “By the Eternal! I’ll smash them!” And he basically did: Van Buren became vice president instead, then succeeded Jackson when his second term ran out.
Some people never learn.
On this date in 1862, Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, and the first to have been born a U.S. citizen, died at age 79 in Kinderhook, New York, the town where he was born in 1782.
Martin “The American Guy” Van Buren, also known as Martin “Double A” Van Buren (1837—1841)
Van Buren was the first president not to be born a British subject. He was born in Kinderhook, New York, in 1782. And being that he was of Dutch ancestry, his first name was originally spelled Maarten. In fact, English was his second language.
His wife died well before he became president, and he never remarried. His daughter-in-law did the traditional first lady duties.
William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773 — April 4, 1841) was the ninth president of the United States (1841), an American military officer and politician, and the first president to die in office. Illustration was published in 1882.
William Henry “The Mouth” Harrison (1841—1841)
While the aim here is to find unusual things about the presidents, Harrison, who died after a month in office, didn’t have a chance to make much of a mark. Sworn in March 4, 1841, he died April 4, 1841.
You could say he packed a lot of superlatives into a short time: His was the shortest presidency, but he gave the longest inaugural address; at more than 8,400 words, it clocked in at more than two hours. (You can read it on The American Presidency Project site, though I’ll bet you several drinks you won’t bother to finish.) At the time, he was also the oldest president — 68 when he was sworn in — and held on to that title until Ronald Reagan in 1981.
By the way, as I’ve pointed out before, the common story is that Harrison was killed by a case of pneumonia that he caught from giving that marathon inaugural address in the cold and rain without a hat, but a pair of University of Maryland researchers who went through the diary of his personal physician think it was a case of enteric fever. The next two presidents had gastroenteric problems too, leading them to believe it was a matter of “the unsanitary conditions” in D.C. in the 19th century.
John Tyler, seen in this painting was the 10th President of the United States from April 6, 1841 — April 3, 1845.
John “And Tyler Too” Tyler (1841—1845)
Tyler was the second half of the campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” referring to Harrison’s nickname, which he got back when massive slaughters of Native Americans were considered justification for cutesy nicknames. Their entwined names became part of the campaign song for their 1840 run against Martin Van Buren:
Pretty solid 19th-century burn.
Anyway, Tyler’s presidency is known for two things: First, it showed that the whole President-Vice President thing wasn’t as clear as you might think. The Constitution at the time said “the Powers and Duties” of the presidency would go to the vice president if the president died, resigned or was removed; it didn’t say he actually became president. And this was the case “until … a President shall be elected.” Did that mean a special election, or waiting until the next regularly scheduled one?
Tyler took over, and no one stopped him. After that, the “Tyler Precedent” held in future cases, but it wasn’t until the ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967 that it was official. He was the first president to see one of his vetoes overridden. He didn’t run for reelection in 1844.
James Knox Polk, 11th President of the United States, who served from 1845 to 1849.
(Getty Images/National Archives)
James K. “The Great Retirer” Polk (1845—1849)
Polk promised he would only serve one term, and that’s what he did. He also had the shortest post-presidency, dying June 15, 1849, just three months after he left office.
Policy-wise, he’s best known for adding a million square miles to the U.S., but historians say his greatest mistake was failing to realize that scarfing up all that land without resolving the question of whether slavery would be allowed on it would raise the stakes and hasten the Civil War.
An undated portrait-daguerreotype of Zachary Taylor, the 12th president of the United States (1849-1850). Taylor died in office July 9, 1850.
Zachary “Well, You Tried” Taylor (1849—1850)
For one thing, he was another short-lived president, dying July 9, 1850, after a little more than a year in office. He had only been sick five days, falling ill after July 4 celebrations, and drinking ice water and “large quantities of cherries and other fruits.” The two Maryland researchers from the Harrison study said that he, too, probably had enteric fever.
He wanted to settle the slavery question once and for all, and that’s exactly what he didn’t do. He was a hands-off president who thought Congress should handle most matters — exactly the wrong guy for the office when Congress is so divided, the Miller Center said.
Millard Fillmore of the Whig party, 13th U.S. president, 1850-53.
We talk about Lincoln’s humble beginnings, but Millard Fillmore grew up in a log cabin and attended very little school. He worked hard at what little education he could get, though: He impressed his teacher enough that she eventually married him. (Because of his late start, she was only two years older, and they were engaged for seven years.) He read enough that he taught himself the law, and eventually passed the bar.
His presidency was dominated by the struggle over slavery, and no one was happy with the compromises he and the rest of the government were developing. He couldn’t even get his party’s nomination when he tried to run for reelection in 1852.
The Fillmore presidency was a low point for the White House as a physical place. Historian Michael Holt writes: Sanitation in the District was sorely lacking, and inside the mansion “there were annoyed accounts of springs in battered furniture stabbing guests who tried to sit down in the White House. Not surprisingly, the Fillmores treasured escaping to the countryside, and they retreated there as often as possible.”
A portrait-daguerreotype of Franklin Pierce, circa 1846-1848, as a volunteer in the Mexican War. Pierce was elected 14th president of the United States (1853-1857).
Franklin “Sorry, Nothing Funny About This One” Pierce (1853—1857)
President Pierce and his wife, Jane Pierce, lost three children before he got to the White House. The oldest one made it to 11 years old before he died in a train crash that his parents witnessed, a couple months before Pierce started his term.
Jane Pierce already didn’t want him to be president; she fainted when she heard he had won the Democratic nomination and she hadn’t even moved to Washington when he was a senator. And the death of their last child sealed the deal: She lived in the White House, but barely threw or went to any functions. Franklin Pierce also wasn’t renominated by his own party.
Sorry. No jokes this time.
James “The Bachelor” Buchanan (1857—1861)
That’s the thing most people know about James Buchanan — he was the only bachelor president. (His niece, Harriet Lane, fulfilled the first lady’s social duties, and reportedly did a bang-up job.)
The question had been raised since even before he took office: Was he gay? The short answer is it’s hard to tell. He lived with William Rufus King, Pierce’s vice president, and wrote him some letters that by our standards would indicate as much. Others point out that Buchanan was engaged to a woman at one point, was seen dallying with a few others, and that relations between men looked very different to modern eyes.
Historian James Loewen has argued that Buchanan’s sexuality wasn’t even a secret, progressing from there to claim that people were more accepting in the 19th century than later, which upsets the conventional wisdom that said liberalization of social attitudes has been a one-way street in America.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in rebel states should be free as of Jan. 1, 1863.
Abraham “The Joker” Lincoln (1861—1865)
It’s hard to find anything new and fun about Lincoln: He presided over the Civil War, and he was assassinated. Not only that, but he seemed to suffer from depression, and he and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, also had three children who died (and a fourth who lived into adulthood).
But he did manage to tell a joke once in a while. Once accused of being two-faced, he replied, “If I had another face, do you think I would be wearing this one?” He also once felt so beset by favor-seekers that when he later caught a contagious disease, he said “Well, I’ve got something now that I can give to everybody.”
He also once told the story of a woman who piped up in church to say that, contrary to the preacher’s oration, there did exist a perfect woman — her husband’s first wife. He spoke once of a man who was so short that when he walked through the snow the seat of his pants wiped out his footprints.
For presidential humor, it’s about as good as it gets.
This is an undated photo of the 17th President of the United States, Andrew Johnson.
Andrew “Trainwreck” Johnson (1865—1869)
Perhaps Johnson’s 1865 vice presidential inauguration speech should’ve been taken as a clue: After an undetermined but large amount of whiskey, Johnson “rose unsteadily to harangue the distinguished crowd about his humble origins and his triumph over the rebel aristocracy. In the shocked and silent audience, President Abraham Lincoln showed an expression of ‘unutterable sorrow,’ while Senator Charles Sumner covered his face with his hands. Former Vice President Hamlin tugged vainly at Johnson’s coattails, trying to cut short his remarks.” He was supposed to swear in the new senators, but he couldn’t manage it. There were calls for his resignation within a week.
It didn’t get much better after Johnson took over following Lincoln’s assassination: Professor Elizabeth Varon called him “the worst possible person to have served as President at the end of the American Civil War” and that is because of his racism and incompetence at governmental affairs, “In the end, Johnson did more to extend the period of national strife than he did to heal the wounds of war.” He was the first president to be impeached, in 1868, but the Senate did not vote to convict him.
Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States.
Ulysses S. “So Sue Me” Grant (1869—1877)
“It was my fortune, or misfortune, to be called to the office of Chief Executive without any previous political training. Under such circumstances, it is but reasonable to suppose that errors of judgment must have occurred.”
That comes from Grant’s final annual address to Congress. (Well all right then.)
According to The Miller Center, the reputation of Grant, a war hero and unlikely president, has risen recently, as scholars take a more sober-eyed view of what he was up against. Still, he low-stepped Reconstruction and, perhaps due to his emphasis on personal loyalty, saw a bunch of scandals in his administration.
And yes, he’s buried in Grant’s Tomb. How did that ever become a thing?
Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president of the United States of America.
Rutherford B. “Losing Streak” Hayes (1877—1881)
If you’re noticing that seven of the last eight presidents were kind of terrible, Hayes isn’t going to help the average. Elected in a kind of ridiculous 1876 election in which he didn’t get the popular vote OR the majority of the first vote of the Electoral College, he won in a pratfall of a process that didn’t wrap up until two days before Inauguration Day. And that was “solved” by his Republican Party giving up on Reconstruction and letting the white-supremacist Democrats dominate the South for about 100 years.
Thanks a lot, Rutherford. No lighthearted anecdotes for you.
James A. Garfield, the 20th U.S. president.
James A. “Who, Me?” Garfield (1881)
The 1880 Republican Convention was supposed to be between Ulysses Grant, running to reclaim his old office, and James Blaine, senator from Maine. James Garfield, who at the time was a senator-elect, nominated the compromise candidate John Sherman. For 33 ballots, Garfield himself just got one or two votes as the big boys battled it out. Then it turned into a stampede, and on the 36th ballot, he won the nomination. Conventions were just a little different back then.
He went on to win the election, but was shot in July 1881 and died in September.
This is an undated portrait of Chester Alan Arthur, 21st president of the U.S., from 1881 to 1885.
Chester A. “Aim High” Arthur (1881—1885)
Arthur was warned against accepting the vice presidential slot on the 1880 ticket, but he took it, saying, “the office of the Vice-President is a greater honor than I ever dreamed of attaining.”
Life comes at you fast.
Grover Cleveland, shown Aug. 9, 1892. He was the 22nd and 24th president, serving 1885-1889 and 1893-1897.
Grover “Keep My Seat Warm” Cleveland (1885—1889)
It’s hard to know where to begin: He passed the bar despite never having gone to college, let alone law school; he dealt with a scandal regarding a possible illegitimate child by saying it could in fact be true; he was single when he was elected president, but two years into his term he married his 21-year-old ward. But the thing he’s best known for is coming up.
Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States. Elected in 1888, Harrison was the grandson of William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States.
(Getty Images/Hulton Archive)
Benjamin “The Grandson” Harrison (1889—1893)
The grandson of the short-lived President William Henry Harrison, Benjamin is the only president to have followed in his grandfather’s footsteps. He also won the 1888 election in the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote to the incumbent, Grover Cleveland. Speaking of whom …
Grover Cleveland, shown August 9, 1892. He was the 22nd and 24th president, serving 1885-1889 and 1893-1897.
Grover “Back In the Saddle” Cleveland (1893—1897)
Yup. Cleveland is the only president to serve two terms that weren’t consecutive. He’s also the only president to have a child while in the White House.
His second term was marked by an economic depression, and he couldn’t get the Democratic nomination in 1896.
This is one of the last photos taken of U.S. President William McKinley on the day he was shot, Sept. 6, 1901. It shows him, left, with John G. Milburn, right, President of the Pan American Exposition, leaving Niagara Falls, N.Y., to return to Buffalo and the reception at which he was shot.
William “What the %^&#?” McKinley (1897—1901)
In 1900, McKinley was the first president to get reelected since Grant in 1872, but he was shot on Sept. 6, 1901, and died eight days later, completing a three-assassinations-in-nine-presidents run. Fantastic.
In this 1904 file photo, Theodore Roosevelt campaigns for the presidency in 1904. Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating peace in the 1904-5 war between Russia and Japan. Roosevelt, who was U.S. President for eight years from 1901, also resolved a dispute with Mexico.
Theodore “The Kibitzer” Roosevelt (1901—1909)
Roosevelt took over after McKinley’s assassination and was elected in his own right in 1904. He kept his promise not to run again in 1908, but he couldn’t stay away. He ran on a third-party ticket in 1912 and he didn’t win, but he did pretty well: 27 percent, good for second place.
His third party was eventually called the Bull Moose Party, for good reason: Just before a speech in October 1912, he was shot. (Again with the presidential shootings!) The bullet stopped short of his lung, thanks to a thick copy of his speech that he had in his pocket at the time. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” He then figured that since he wasn’t coughing up blood he hadn’t been hit in the lung, so he gave his speech. It was 90 minutes.
William Howard Taft, center, wore a big fur-lined overcoat when he reviewed parade after his inauguration as president, on March 4, 1909 in Washington. At right is James S. Sherman, vice president of the United States, and at left Edward Hallwagon, chief of the Inaugural Committee. A whirling blizzard, featured by flashes of lighting, as well as rain, snow and a cutting wind, made it one of the roughest of all inauguration days.
William Howard “Bathtub” Taft (1909—1913)
Taft (center) was the last president with facial hair, the first to throw out an Opening Day pitch, the least-successful reelection candidate (eight Electoral College votes) and the only person to be both president and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1921—1930, a job he reportedly preferred). You could remember those things. You could remember that he was a veritable oath-giving machine, swearing in a remarkable six Supreme Court justices in his presidency, then switching to the other side of the Bible and swearing in two presidents as chief justice.
But you remember the bathtub, don’t you?
Actually, there’s more than one Taft bathtub story. The one everyone “knows” — that thanks to his 320-pound girth he got stuck in the White House bathtub — isn’t totally confirmed. What is, however, is that after he was president he was visiting a function at a hotel in New Jersey and took a bath in his room. He displaced a bit more water than he thought he would, though, and the resultant overflow ended up on the heads of the guests in the function room below.
President Woodrow Wilson delivers a speech to a joint session of Congress in Washington on April 2, 1917, just days before Congress passed a resolution declaring war on Germany. The resolution, already passed by the Senate, passed the House of Representatives just after 3 a.m. on April 6 by a vote of 373 to 50.
Woodrow “Unfortunately, the Nickname ‘The Bachelor’ Is Already Taken” Wilson (1913—1921)
Edith Bolling Galt was Wilson’s second wife. He was the only president to be widowed and remarried while president.
Of course, Wilson also suffered a stroke in 1919, and it’s unclear how many of the duties of the presidency were fulfilled by him and how many by his wife, Edith. She said in her memoirs, “I, myself, never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs. The only decision that was mine was what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband.”
That’s pretty important.
Wilson was the first president since John Adams to give the State of the Union Address live. The Washington Post reported at the time that such a stunt was “not to become a habit.”
This combination of file photos shows former President Warren G. Harding, left, and Elizabeth Ann Britton. Genetic tests proved 2015 that Harding fathered a child with long-rumored mistress Nan Britton. Nan Britton published a memoir several years after the president’s death, claiming that Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, formerly Elizabeth Ann Britton, was Harding’s daughter.
Warren G. “Jerry” Harding (1921—1923)
Historians don’t rate Harding as much of a president — the Teapot Dome scandal didn’t help — but the thing that stands out about him is the philandering. As a married senator, Harding took up with a young woman named Nan Britton, who told him she had his campaign posters up all over her room. Ew.
They eventually had a child; Harding paid Britton money, but never acknowledged the child. He also had an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips, a German sympathizer during World War I who tried to blackmail him and was paid off by the Republican Party. He died in 1923 in San Francisco on a speaking tour. There’s a rumor his wife poisoned him. That, frankly, would be awesome.
Harding’s middle name was Gamaliel, which is about the only excellent thing about him I could find. So why “Jerry”? Well, in his recently unearthed letters to Phillips, it was a nickname for … you don’t want to know. But you probably just guessed. Sorry.
Calvin Coolidge, left, wears wing collar and muted top hat en route to take oath on inauguration day, March 4, 1925.
Calvin “Rocking Horse” Coolidge (1923—1929)
Coolidge (left) was famously cool and calm: He was woken up in the middle of the night to be sworn in as president (by his father) after Harding’s death; after taking the oath, he went back to bed. He told reporters “I do not choose to run” for reelection in 1928 before telling his wife.
But historian David Greenberg said he could break up his wife and friends by riding the stationary mechanical horse he had installed in the White House. It’s deeply disappointing to think it’s no longer there.
U.S. President Herbert Hoover, right, is shown with first lady Lou Henry Hoover and their dogs in Washington, D.C., on June 15, 1932, in the final year of his presidential term.
Herbert “Crash” Hoover (1929—1933)
Early in Hoover’s presidency, his doctor invented a game called Hoover-ball as an exercise routine. I have no idea what the rules are here, but anything involving throwing a medicine ball around and running all over the place has to be good for you.
So why “Crash”? Well, Hoover was president during the 1929 stock market crash and resultant Great Depression. Historians argue about how effective his response was — his reputation has grown over the years as observers realize what he was up against — but anytime you can give someone the nickname “Crash,” you do it.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt lifts his dog Fala as he prepares to motor from his special train to the yacht Potomac at New London, Conn., Aug. 3, 1941.
Franklin D. “You’re Fired” Roosevelt (1933—1945)
As if four terms as president (really three and a couple of months) wasn’t enough, Roosevelt’s presidency was longer than others in a different way — his first inauguration, in 1933, was the first to be held Jan. 20 instead of March 4.
While the presidency was stable for a long time in Roosevelt’s hands, the vice presidency wasn’t: He had three vice presidents. John Nance Garner jumped ship after two terms, in part because FDR was breaking George Washington’s precedent (the two-term limit wasn’t law until the 22nd Amendment in 1951). Henry Wallace was his third-term vice president; Harry Truman, seen as a more moderate figure, took over that incomplete fourth.
In this Feb. 10, 1945 file photo, Vice President Harry S. Truman plays the piano as actress Lauren Bacall lies on top of it during her appearance at the National Press Club canteen in Washington.
(AP Photo, File)
Harry S. “S” Truman (1945—1953)
As a young man, I was told that the “S” in Harry S. Truman didn’t actually stand for anything, and that therefore it shouldn’t have a period after it. That’s only kind of true: In fact, there were two prominent names beginning with “S” in the Truman family — Shipp and Solomon. And rather than choose, they just went with the initial to honor both.
Truman was only vice president for a couple of months when he rose to the White House. No one had even told him that the atomic bomb had been developed. Shortly thereafter, he told reporters, “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”
This picture was taken when he was vice president, in 1945. Yup, that’s Lauren Bacall on the piano.
Dwight Eisenhower takes the oath of office Jan. 20, 1953, as president of the United States. The oath is administered by Chief Justice Fred Vinson, left. Supreme Court Clerk Harold B. Willey is at center.
Dwight D. “The Quote Machine” Eisenhower (1953—1961)
Eisenhower’s time in office was thought of as a sleepy, complacent period — he was known to golf regularly. But for such a seemingly easygoing guy, he said some pretty interesting stuff. Some of his greatest hits:
— “Now I think, speaking roughly, by leadership we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it, not because your position of power can compel him to do it.”
— “I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”
Comparing the presidency with being a general, he said: “There have been times in war where I thought nothing could be quite as wearing and tearing as that with lives directly involved. But I would say, on the whole, this is the most wearing, although not necessarily, as I say, the most tiring.”
And for a former general, he was rather a peacenik:
“We know something of the cost of that war. We were in it from December seventh, ’41, till August of ’45. Ever since that time, we have been waging peace. It has had its ups and downs just as the war did.” (AP Photo)
President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, arrive at Dallas Love Field, Nov. 22, 1963, the day he was assassinated.
John F. “Mosquito” Kennedy (1961—1963)
Kennedy had whooping cough, measles, chickenpox and scarlet fever as a child. The running joke in his family was that if a mosquito bit him, the mosquito would die. (AP Photo/files)
President Lyndon Johnson poses with Freckles, mother of five Beagle pups at the White House in Washington, Nov. 4, 1966. The president, just before leaving the Executive Mansion for his Texas ranch, showed off the pups, Freckles and Edgar, a gift from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The father of the pups is reported to be Jones Brookline Buddy, owned by Jean Austin DuPont of Wilmington, Delaware.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS/John Rous)
Lyndon B. “Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy!” Johnson (1963—1969)
This nickname would probably be fightin’ words to Johnson, actually: Before his vice presidency and presidency, Johnson was known as master of the Senate (as one of Robert Caro’s books about him was titled). But Johnson actually lost his first race for the Senate, by a mere 1,311 votes, to W. Lee O’Donnell, who led a family band called The Hillbilly Boys. One of their most popular songs was — you guessed it:
In this April 17, 1973 file photo, President Richard Nixon speaks during White House news briefing in Washington. President Donald Trump’s surprise firing of FBI Director James Comey drew swift comparisons to the Nixon-era “Saturday night massacre.” Both cases involve a president getting rid of an official leading an investigation that could ensnare the White House, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.
(AP Photo/Henry Burroughs. File)
Richard M. “No, You Don’t Get a Funny Nickname” Nixon (1969—1974)
Nixon was elected in 1968 despite having lost a presidential election in 1960 and the California governor’s race in 1962, after which he gave the famous “last news conference” during which he said, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.”
He was the only president to resign; his fellow Republicans told him he would probably be removed in impeachment proceedings growing from the scandal of dirty tricks collectively known as Watergate. His first vice president, Spiro Agnew, a former Maryland governor, was the second vice president to resign, in 1973 after pleading no contest to tax fraud charges. Nixon apparently had been trying to replace him with John Connally — a Democrat! — for years, even though Nixon referred to Agnew as “impeachment insurance” because no one would want him as president.
President Gerald R. Ford kisses his wife Betty, Aug. 9, 1974, after he was sworn in as 38th President of the United States by Chief Justice Warren Burger, right, in the East Room of the White House.
Gerald R. “Leslie King Jr.” Ford (1974—1977)
Leslie King Jr.? Well, that was Ford’s birth name. His mother left his abusive father when Leslie was less than a year old. A couple of years later, she married Gerald R. Ford Sr., and they started calling the future president Gerald R. Ford Jr. He didn’t officially change his name until he was 22.
President Jimmy Carter meets with congressional supporters of the proposed B-1 bomber June 7, 1977, in Washington. From left are Rep. Marjorie Holt, (R-Md.), Rep. Wesley W. Watkins (D-Okla.), Carter, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), and Rep. Jack Brinkley (D-Ga.).
(ASSOCIATED PRESS/Harvey Georges)
Jimmy “Still Going Strong” Carter (1977—1981)
Carter only spent four years in the Oval Office; he’s now spent 39 years outside it. That’s the longest presidential retirement ever. Coming in second is Herbert Hoover, whose term ended in 1933. Hoover spent 31 years as a former president.
President Ronald Reagan checks his watch while talking with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during a meeting in the White House Oval Office, Dec. 9, 1987. Reagan and Gorbachev were meeting for the third time in two days.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS/J. Scott Applewhite)
Ronald “Keep Trying” Reagan (1981—1989)
Plenty of people made an unsuccessful run for president before winning, but Reagan did it twice, in separate decades (1968 and 1976), before winning on his third try in a third decade (1980). He took a similar tack with marriage, becoming the first divorcee to be elected president. Seems commonplace now, but Nelson Rockefeller’s split was one of the main reasons he lost what looked like a sure shot at the 1964 Republican nomination.
In this June 9, 1992 file photo, then-House Minority leader Bob Michel of Ill. listens at left as President George H.W. Bush in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington.
(AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File)
George H.W. “Living Right” Bush (1989—1993)
When the elder Bush died in 2018, he was the longest-lived president ever — he was 93. Jimmy Carter is 111 days younger. Bush was also the first sitting vice president since Martin Van Buren to be elected president in his own right.
In this Feb. 12, 1993 file photo, U.S. President Bill Clinton names Janet Reno the nation’s first female attorney general at a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington.
Bill “Alta Vista” Clinton (1993—2001)
Clinton was the first president since Andrew Johnson in 1868 to be impeached. Like Johnson, he was not convicted in his Senate trial. He was also the first president to have a website. Archived versions of some of those pages live on in splendid internet retro glory.
I also would be remiss if I didn’t point out, as I do every time I get the chance, that the 1992 presidential election contested among George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot was an all-left-handers affair.
In this Jan. 12, 2009 file photo, President George W. Bush gestures during a news conference at the White House in Washington.
George W. “Sis Boom Bah” Bush (2001—2009)
Bush was not only the second son of a president to make it to the Oval Office himself (doing so despite losing the popular vote, just as first son John Quincy Adams did); he was also a cheerleader in high school at Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts. According to the cheerleading site FloCheer, he was actually the fourth cheerleader-president, after FDR, Eisenhower and Reagan.
In this Jan. 18, 2017, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks during his final presidential news conference, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington.
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
Barack “Globetrotter” Obama (2009—2017)
There isn’t much that’s not known about Obama’s life, but the story of his upbringing is still rather remarkable: Born in Hawaii, he also lived in Seattle, Indonesia, Hawaii (again) and then Los Angeles and New York for college. He once called his family “like a little mini-United Nations. I’ve got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I’ve got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher.”
He was also, of course, the first black president — and he’s left-handed, completing a five-out-of-seven string of lefty presidents, including Ford, Reagan (who was born left-handed but made to switch), H.W. Bush and Clinton.
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with law enforcement officials on the MS-13 street gang and border security, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, in Washington.
Donald “Slugger” Trump (2017 —)
The current president is notable for several reasons — he’s the oldest to attain the office (70 years and 220 days when he was inaugurated), the first to be divorced twice and the first president never to have held an elective office or served in the military. He’s also the third president to be born in 1946, along with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, making it the only year to see the birth of three presidents.