By Kevin Geary, Curator of Education
Tri-Cities Historical Museum
February 20 marked Presidents’ Day this year. While some states still observe both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays as holidays, the recognition of all U.S. Presidents on Presidents’ Day has gained in popularity since the early 1970s.
The first U.S. President was George Washington. Washington remains the only U.S. President to be elected unanimously by the Electoral College. This occurred twice, in both of Washington’s elections. When Washington turned down the opportunity to run for a third term, this set a precedent that U.S. presidents would not serve more than eight years in office. That would hold true until Franklin Roosevelt’s 4-time election as President during the Great Depression and World War II. After Roosevelt’s death, the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution would officially set the presidential term at eight years.
The question of what to call the first President arose soon after his election. Such titles as “Electoral Highness,” “Excellency,” and even “Majesty” were considered. Washington preferred the less exalted title, “Mr. President,” which is still in use today.
To date, 45 men have been elected to the U.S. presidency. Following is a list of fun presidential facts to enjoy:
- John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died hours apart from each other on the same day, July 4, 1826, the nation’s 50th birthday.
- There have been two sets of father-son presidents: John Adams and John Quincy Adams and George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
- There has been one set of grandfather-grandson presidents: William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison.
- Martin Van Buren was the first President to be born an American citizen. The previous seven presidents were all born under British rule, making them British citizens by birth.
- Grover Cleveland was, so far, the only president to be married in the White House. He married Frances Folsom there in 1886.
- Two other Presidents were married while they served as President: John Tyler married his second wife, Julia Gardiner in 1844, and Woodrow Wilson married his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt in 1915. Both Tyler’s and Wilson’s first wives had died.
- The first and only President, so far, to serve two non-consecutive terms was Grover Cleveland. Therefore, Cleveland is listed as both the 22nd and the 24th President.
- William Henry Harrison served the shortest term, only 30 days, after catching pneumonia during his inaugural speech.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt was our longest serving president, being elected to four terms. He died on April 12, 1945, three months into his fourth term.
- James K. Polk made an unusual campaign promise. He said, if elected, he would only serve for four years. He was elected and he kept his promise, only serving one term as President.
- James Buchanan was, so far, our only bachelor president. His niece, Harriet Lane Johnston, acted as First Lady.
- Rutherford B. Hayes banned alcohol from the White House. His wife earned the nickname “Lemonade Lucy,” both because of the ban and because of her staunch support of the Temperance Movement.
- Four American presidents have been assassinated while in office: Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John Kennedy.
- William Howard Taft became the only person to head two branches of the government by serving a term as President, and then later being appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
- During the presidency of Harry Truman, the White House was completely gutted and rebuilt after the discovery that the building was literally falling apart.
- The most common first name for Presidents is James. There have been six presidents with that first name.
- James Madison was the shortest to serve as President, standing at 5’4”. The tallest was Abraham Lincoln at 6’4”.
- It was said that James Garfield could write two foreign languages...one with his left hand and one with his right...at the same time.
- Harry S Truman actually didn’t have a middle name, just a middle initial.
- Four Presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama.
- Fourteen Presidents first served as Vice-Presidents: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Lynden Johnson, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush.
- The most common job for Presidents? 25 worked at one point or another in their careers as a lawyer.
- John Tyler had had more children than any other President: 15 by two wives. Surprisingly, two of Tyler’s grandsons are still alive today.
- Theodore Roosevelt officially named the President’s residence by having “The White House” printed on the stationery.
There are countless interesting facts to learn about the U.S. Presidents and about all of history. We at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum encourage all to study, appreciate, and enjoy history of all kinds. Please stop by the museum to learn about the fascinating people and events which comprise the story of our area. The Tri-Cities Historical Museum is open Tuesday-Friday, 10:00-5:00 and Saturday-Sunday, noon-5:00. Check out www.tri-citiesmuseum.org for more information.