Presidential Trivia

As I recently read Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, I thought that in honor of President’s Day I would share some presidential trivia from various places I’ve visited or books I’ve read (some of which have been reviewed on this blog).  Without further ado…

Famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

  • George Washington’s teeth were not made of wood; they were made from cow teeth.  A couple years back, a set of teeth he used was on display as part of a temporary exhibit on his life in the nearest big city to where I live.  Washington was very self-conscious of his teeth, which is why portraits do not show him smiling.
  • John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were great friends and exceptional political allies throughout the American Revolution.  However, during Adam’s time as president, they drifted.  Adams felt that Jefferson was always against him.  This divide was the first real case of political parties in action, as Adams was a Federalist and Jefferson a Democratic-Republican.  Years after Jefferson’s terms as president, they rekindled their friendship via letters.  in 1826, both died within hours of each other on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (Source: Founding Brothers, chapters 5-6)
  • Abraham Lincoln’s body was kept laid in state for 19 days after his death.  This included 6 days in the capital and for 13 days while Lincoln’s body was carried by train from Washington, D.C. back to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois by special train.  One can learn more and see a full scale replica of the coffin lying in state at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.
  • Ulysses S. Grant’s real name was not Ulyses.  It was Hiram and Ulysses was his middle name.  When he was selected to attend West Point, the legislator nominating him thought that his middle name was his first and assumed Grant’s middle name was Simpson, his mother’s maiden name.  This name stuck for the rest of his life and led to the Civil War era joke that his initials stood for Unconditional Surrender Grant. (Source: Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site exhibits)
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt did without a bartender in his White House.  Instead, each evening he hosted “Children’s Hour” where he mixed drinks for his guests.  In December, 1941, when Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited, Churchill complained that Roosevelt used too much vermouth in his martini’s and other mixed drinks. (Source: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns Alfred and Pearl Harbor Christmas by Stanley Weintraub)
  • Harry S. Truman first met Bess Wallace as young children in Sunday school. Harry immediately knew Bess was the only woman he wished to marry.  Time and multiple moves separated the pair expect for a brief period when they attended the same high school but Bess took no notice of Harry.  Serendipity struck during the summer of 1910 when Harry was sent on an errand to return a cake plate to his aunt’s neighbor, Bess’ mother.  Bess answered the door instead.  Soon after, Truman proposed but Bess turned him down.  Truman was extremely determined.  For the next two years they wrote and when Harry proposed again, Bess accepted. (source: National Archives)
  • John F. Kennedy was not his father’s first choice to thrust into politics.  Instead it was JFK’s older brother, Joseph Kennedy, Jr.  When his brother was killed on a mission in World War II Europe, their father placed his focus on JFK.  Amazingly, JFK succeeded in his political endeavours despite being Catholic and the fact his father once ruined his own political aspirations by trying to be an isolationist while serving as America’s ambassador to England. (Source: When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys by Thomas Maier)

Please feel free to share more trivia in the comments below.


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