President Joseph R. Biden became the 46th president of the United States of America, officially taking office on January 20, 2021. Since George Washington was elected as the nation’s first president in 1789, there have been a number of intriguing storylines about all succeeding 45 commanders in chief. Without getting political, let’s look at 22 fun facts about U.S. presidents in honor of Presidents’ Day in 2022.
#1: Say What?
Only one U.S. president has spoken English as a second language. Martin Van Buren’s first language was Dutch. He grew up in Kinderhook, NY, a predominantly Dutch region at the time.
#2: Transportation Firsts
William McKinley was the first U.S. president to ride in an automobile. The trip was in a Stanley Steamer, a steam-powered vehicle. Following the trip, McKinley reportedly said he felt quite unsafe during the expedition. Theodore Roosevelt would later ride in a government-operated Stanley Steamer during his presidency, foreshadowing the modern-day motorcade. Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first sitting president to take an airplane flight.
#3: A Speeding Ticket on Horse and Buggy?
In 1872, Ulysses S. Grant received a speeding ticket because he was riding his horse and buggy too fast down a road in the Washington, D.C. area. He was known to be a fast driver. The police officer was reportedly embarrassed when he realized who was in the buggy, but Grant wanted to be fair and agreed to pay the fine.
#4: Insight on Height
Standing at 5’4’’, James Madison was the shortest U.S. president. In fact, he only weighed about 100 pounds. The tallest presidents were Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson, both of whom stood at 6’4’’.
#5: Boy Meets President…Then Becomes President
In 1887 at just five years old, Franklin D. Roosevelt met then-President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland reportedly told Roosevelt, "I am making a wish for you. It is that you may never become president of the United States.” Forty-six years later in 1933, Roosevelt began his 12-year presidency.
#6: A Lifelong Boxing Injury
After sustaining an injury in a boxing match with Col. Daniel T. Moore, his military aide, Teddy Roosevelt was permanently blinded in his left eye. Roosevelt was known to box at the White House and even competed against professional boxers of the early 20th century.
#7: Hanging an MBA Diploma
George W. Bush is the only president to have earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. He completed the graduate degree program at Harvard in 1975. His bachelor’s degree in history came from Yale University in 1968.
#8: Musically Inclined
Since he was young, Bill Clinton has enjoyed playing the tenor saxophone and was a member of a band called 3 Kings, also known as Three Blind Mice, in high school because the trio wore dark shades when performing. He would later perform on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1994 while in office.
#9: Snapping a Piece of History
In 1849, James K. Polk was the first president to have his picture taken as a photograph while in office. The photographer was Matthew Brady and the shot was snapped in New York City.
#10: A Lifelong Presidential Bachelor
James Buchanan remains the only president to have never been married. While he was engaged at one point, his fiancée broke off the engagement and later died of an overdose.
#11: A Shocking Experience
In 1891 during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, electricity was introduced in the White House. Because he reportedly got shocked one time, Harrison and his family members would often avoid touching light switches and were known to have left the lights on at night because of this.
#12: Handshakes Galore
Teddy Roosevelt set what was then a world record of the most handhsakes in one day. He shook over 8,100 hands on New Year’s Day in 1907 during a White House reception.
#13: Play Ball!
William Howard Taft was the first sitting president to toss the ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game. He threw it on April 14, 1910 before the Washington Senators defeated the Philadelphia Athletics, 3-0. However, Taft did not actually throw the ball from the mound. He tossed the ball to Senators pitcher Walter Johnson, and Johnson then threw it to his catcher, Gabby Street.
#14: A Busy Presidential Dad
John Tyler was the father of 15 children, the most of any president. He and his first wife, Letitia Christian, had eight children. After her passing, he remarried with Julia Gardiner with whom he fathered seven more children. They were born between 1815 and 1860.
#15: Gators Running Wild
Herbert Hoover had a son, Allan Henry, who owned two pet alligators. The gators occasionally would run loose around the White House, although they were normally kept in a bathtub.
#16: Was That a UFO?
Prior to becoming president, Jimmy Carter filed a UFO sighting report with the International UFO Bureau on Sept. 18, 1973. The report stemmed from an experience in October of 1969 when he and at least 10 others were waiting outside for a Lions Club meeting in Leary, GA around 7:30 p.m. local time. He saw what he called “the darndest thing I’ve ever seen” moving in the sky and ultimately vanishing into the distance.
#17: Can You Hear Me Now?
The first telephone was installed in the White House in 1877 during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. Believe it or not, the phone number was simply 1.
#18: The First Raccoon
Calvin Coolidge had a pet raccoon named Rebecca. It was sent to the White House from Mississippi and Coolidge pardoned the creature for Thanksgiving in 1926, then later decided to keep her as a pet.
#19: A Ban on Broccoli
George H. W. Bush banned broccoli from being served on Air Force One because he disliked it so much. He did state that his wife, Barbara, was a fan of the vegetable.
#20: First Lady…Err...Sister
Grover Cleveland’s sister, Rose Cleveland, served as First Lady in the infancy of his presidency before he married. She held the title from March of 1885 until June of 1886 when he and Francis Folsom tied the knot.
#21: A Model Ford
Gerald Ford was a model on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1942. However, it was not a regular photograph and he was not credited for the appearance. In the illustration, designed by acclaimed artist Bradshaw Crandell, Ford is donning his Navy uniform and posing with his then-girlfriend Phyllis Brown.
#22: Earth to Adams: It’s Not Hollow
John Quincy Adams actually signed off on a real-life expedition to the center of the Earth. Very little was known about planets at the time, and the idea that the Earth was hollow was not necessarily viewed as completely outrageous for this era. However, when Andrew Jackson succeeded Adams, he scrapped the idea, and the journey never happened.
(SOURCES: Facts for this blog article were compiled from National Geographic, the National Constitution Center, Readers’ Digest, and several presidential library websites.)