These Little Known Facts about 40 of America's Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs

Larry Holzwarth - January 31, 2019

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Fillmore’s presidency was forgettable, though he did help rebuild the Library of Congress. White House

13. Millard Fillmore was a true booklover

Millard Fillmore ascended to the presidency following the death of Zachary Taylor in office, and his tenure is consistently ranked as one of the worst administrations in American history. A lover of books and libraries, Fillmore was in the White House on Christmas Eve when the Library of Congress suffered the worst fire in its history, and though he went to the scene to assess the damage, he did not join in fighting the fire as is often reported. He spent a great deal of time and energy to restore the library’s collection in the aftermath of the fire, which was one of the few successes of his presidency.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Pierce’s life was one of continuing tragedy and heavy drinking. Wikimedia

14. Franklin Pierce was a devotee of the bottle

Franklin Pierce was elected to the presidency in 1852, following the forgettable Fillmore, and spent his single term in office becoming even more forgettable. In fairness, much of his life had been filled with tragedy; his wife suffered with bouts of mental illness and their children all died young, the last of which in a train accident which occurred before Franklin’s eyes. His heavy drinking throughout his presidency was an open secret in Washington circles. After leaving office and following the Civil War, Pierce began to drink less for a brief period, but resumed drinking heavily in 1869 as his health worsened. He died in the fall of that year of cirrhosis of the liver.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Discussion of Buchanan’s sexual orientation began during his lifetime and continues today. White House

15. James Buchanan was the only lifelong bachelor president

James Buchanan never married, though in his youth he courted a woman to whom he became engaged, though she later broke off the engagement. His niece served the functions of his First Lady. William Rufus King and Buchanan shared rooms in a Washington boardinghouse for nearly a decade in the 1830s and 1840s, which ended when King was sent to France in 1844. During their time residing together they also attended social events together and wagging Washington tongues, especially among political opponents, spread rumors about the still small city. Andrew Jackson called the pair “Aunt Fancy and Miss Nancy”. Though no definitive evidence exists of Buchanan’s sexual leanings, the rumors have never stopped.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Lincoln, here reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet, named one of his dogs Fido. Wikimedia

16. Abraham Lincoln may have popularized the name Fido for dogs

The Lincoln White House teemed with pets which included dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, horses, goats and a turkey which became a pet after Tad Lincoln intervened with a cook who was preparing to kill it for Thanksgiving Dinner. Lincoln sided with his son in the first presidential pardoning of a turkey. One pet which did not accompany Lincoln to the White House was a dog left behind in Springfield in a neighbor’s care, named Fido by its master. Lincoln never returned to Springfield alive, and a few months after his assassination Fido was killed by an angry drunk. The American Kennel Club attributes the popularity of the name Fido for dogs to Lincoln’s use of the name.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
With no pets and needing solace, Andrew Johnson took to feeding White House mice. White House

17. Andrew Johnson needed a cat in his White House

After the Civil War the White House was not in the best of condition. Drapes and wallpapers had been cut up by souvenir seekers, carpets were worn and shabby, and the overall condition of the fifty year old building (it had been rebuilt after the war of 1812) was not good. President Andrew Johnson was penurious by nature – the former tailor made his own suits – and found pets to be an unnecessary expense. But when he found white mice in his bedroom in the somewhat dilapidated house he made sure to take bread crumbs and other foods from his table to feed them, rather than having them removed or employ a cat as a mouser.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
The only president cited for speeding, Grant collected at least four tickets from DC police while in office. Library of Congress

18. President Grant was cited for speeding

Ulysses Grant loved horses, and had several for riding kept in the White House stables, including a thoroughbred of international fame. He liked to ride fast and drive fast, and he nearly always drove himself in his own coach, often unaccompanied. He was doing just that when a Metropolitan Police Officer pulled over his coach for driving too fast on the streets of the District. After seeing who he had pulled over, the officer offered to let him go. Grant insisted that the officer do his duty and paid the fine (the coach was temporarily impounded. The ticket cost the President five dollars, equivalent to about $70 today, and after paying the President walked back to the White House.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
The Hayes White House was a boon for temperance supporters during his administration. White House

19. The Hayes White House was dry as a bone

Rutherford B. Hayes served a single term in the White House, accompanied by a horde of pets and his wife Lucy. At the first White House reception held during his administration he allowed wine to be served, over the protests of his wife. From that time on, alcohol was banned from the premises and Lucy Hayes became known to the indulgers in alcohol around town as Lemonade Lucy. The ban in the White House encouraged members of the growing temperance movement around the country to vote Republican, and although many Republican functionaries in Washington personally opposed the ban they welcomed the support at the polls.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
James Garfield was the last American president to have been born in a log cabin. Wikimedia

20. James Garfield was the first President who was not right-handed

Reports that Garfield was the first left-handed president are not wholly accurate. He was ambidextrous. Garfield could write with either hand and frequently wrote with both hands simultaneously. He enjoyed demonstrating this skill by having a visitor ask him a question. Garfield would then compose the answer, on two sheets of paper, using both hands to write his reply before handing them to the visitor, who would no doubt view them with considerable astonishment. One page would be written in Latin and the other in Greek. Garfield, the last American president to have been born in a log cabin.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
As in many rummage sales, Arthur rid the White House of what he considered junk, though today may be priceless treasure. White House

21. Chester A. Arthur sold off the White House furnishings

When John Adams entered the White House he complained in a letter to Abigail about the lack of furniture and other furnishings in the building. Over the years every president had added to the building’s furnishings, many of which were stored in the White House basement when not in use in the residence or the president’s offices and studies. When Chester A. Arthur entered the White House following the death of Garfield, he reviewed the furnishings and ordered them sold to the highest bidder. Furniture, artwork, and other furnishings dating back to the Madison administration (those prior to that were burned) were hauled off and sold.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
When the truth of Cleveland’s surgery finally emerged it led to the passage of the 25th Amendment. White House

22. Grover Cleveland had a secret operation while in office

Grover Cleveland served two terms as president, but they were not contiguous. Just after taking office for the second time he detected a lump in his mouth which was diagnosed as cancer. His doctors recommended removal, and with the country sliding into recession the president decided to keep the surgery secret. The president told the country that he was taking a four day trip on a friend’s yacht and during the trip the surgery was performed. A reporter had the story within a few weeks, but the White House and Cleveland issued firm denials and took steps to discredit the reporter. The truth about the surgery remained secret for more than two decades.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Both Harrison and his wife refused to touch the newfangled electrical switches in the White House. White House

23. Harrison was the first to electrify the White House

Benjamin Harrison was a single term president, in office from 1889 – 1893. His voice is the earliest of the American presidents to have been recorded, a thirty six second wax cylinder recording still exists. It was Harrison who decided to have electricity installed in the White House, and the project was completed by the Edison General Electric Company. However the Edison technicians were unable to eliminate Harrison’s fear of electricity, nor that of his wife. After the electric lights were installed, the Harrisons refused to touch the light switches for fear of electrocution, often sleeping with the lights on.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Though McKinley reportedly wore a red carnation at all times when fully dressed, there are few photgraphs in which he is so adorned. Wikimedia

24 According to some, William McKinley gave away his good luck charm just before he was shot

Following the assassination of William McKinley a story arose that the president gave away a red carnation to a little girl in the reception line as he was shaking hands with the public. According to the story McKinley habitually wore a red carnation as a good luck totem, and he kept them in a bowl on his desk in the White House to give to favored visitors. He was known to occasionally remove the carnation in his lapel and give it away, though his habit was to replace the flower as soon as he could. Years later a woman named Myrtle Ledger claimed to have been the recipient of the carnation, though the lack of contemporaneous reporting of the story makes it possibly apocryphal.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
The large Roosevelt family and his own love of animals ensured a swarm of pets occupied the White House and grounds. Wikimedia

25. Theodore Roosevelt kept a menagerie at the White House

As president Teddy Roosevelt kept animals at the White House and in its outbuildings which included several dogs of different breeds, guinea pigs, other pigs, macaws and canaries, a small bear, cats, rabbits, rats, a pony, several horses, snakes, and lizards. He also kept a badger he had been given as a gift on a western trip. Roosevelt also often sojourned to the Potomac Island known as Rock Island for shooting sessions, where a probably apocryphal story claims that his targets bore the images of the Russian Tsar and other European leaders.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Since William Howard Taft was the first to admit it, nearly every American president has embraced the game of golf. White House

26. Taft was the first President known to worship the game of golf

The first man (and thus far the only man) to serve as President of the United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Taft was also the largest president in American history in terms of weight, topping well over 300 pounds. He did not let his girth deter him from hitting the links, playing golf at every opportunity. Taft was the first president to openly admit to playing the game; it is likely that others did before him but kept it secret from the public, fearing criticism from those believing the game consumed too much time. Taft referred to the game as “a splendid form of exercise”.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Sheep grazed on the White House lawn (and the National Mall) as a cost saving measure during the Wilson Administration. Library of Congress

27. Woodrow Wilson was not a man known for frivolity

Woodrow Wilson was a serious, sober man of letters, educated at Davidson and Princeton, a student of history and political science. In the late 1970s and since he was been berated as both a racist and having possessed anti-Semitic views, despite having appointed Louis Brandeis, an active Zionist, to the Supreme Court, overcoming strong opposition. Wilson was also thrifty. Rather than retain groundskeepers to trim the White House lawns, Wilson had a flock of sheep kept on the property which at one point numbered four dozen head, as an economical means of keeping the grass short. The wool from the sheep was sold and the proceeds donated to the American Red Cross.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
The popular Harding was a player of poker in the White House, though according to biographers not a very good one. White House

28. Warren G. Harding was a dedicated poker player

Warren G. Harding was a publisher from Ohio with a background in both state and national politics when he successfully ran for president in 1920. He didn’t so much run as stand; the candidate remained at home and delivered speeches from his front porch. His presidency is mostly remembered for scandals, cronyism, and extramarital affairs. Harding enjoyed poker games at the White House, playing often with a group of friends which became known as the Ohio Gang. The same friends led his administration into scandals, few of which were known about during his presidency. Harding died on a trip to the west while still in office after years of heavy drinking, poor diet, and lack of exercise.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Coolidge practiced a strange hair care ritual along with his breakfast each morning. White House

29. Calvin Coolidge kept a small zoo of pets and a strange morning ritual

Among the many animals kept as pets by President Coolidge were a pygmy hippopotamus, lion cubs, a wallaby, and several other exotic animals and birds, as well as a pack of dogs, cats, and at least two raccoons, one of which found White House life not to its taste and escaped. Coolidge also enjoyed a daily scalp treatment which involved his head being massaged with petroleum jelly, often while he enjoyed his breakfast, which he habitually took while in bed. The purpose of the treatment was lost to history. After his retirement from public life the man known as Silent Cal penned his autobiography and a newspaper column he called Calvin Coolidge Says.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Though often blamed for the Great Depression, Hoover was a self made millionaire and famous humanitarian. White House

30 Hoover starred in America’s first long-distance television transmission

Before he became president Herbert Hoover was a highly successfully mining engineer, a self-made man who had been a member of the first graduating class of Stanford University. He became internationally famous for his humanitarian work feeding refugees in the aftermath of World War 1 (an act he would repeat following World War 2). As Secretary of Commerce under Coolidge, Hoover was the subject of the first television transmission, with him speaking in Washington DC and the image and sound sent to an audience of reporters and others in New York City. “Human genius has now destroyed the impediment of distance”, he said.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Specially modified cars allowed FDR to indulge his love of driving, despite not having the use of his legs. Library of Congress

31. Franklin Roosevelt was a devoted stamp collector and loved to drive

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s devotion to his stamp collection is well known, and he was working over his collection on a December day when word of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor reached the East Coast of the United States. FDR, despite being restricted for the most part to a wheelchair, nonetheless loved to drive his own car. Most of his driving was restricted to his estate at Hyde Park, though he did from time to time drive his own vehicle before reporters. A specially modified Ford Phaeton which allowed FDR to drive using hand controls was kept at Warm Springs, and while there the president loved to drive around the area, attempting to elude the Secret Service.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Poker was a popular form of relaxation for President Truman, along with sipping bourbon. Truman Library

32. Harry Truman was a fan of bourbon and poker

Harry Truman and his wife Bess enjoyed bourbon at the end of the work day, and Harry was known to take a setting up shot in the morning before he had his breakfast, a practice he continued almost to the day he died. He was also a devoted poker player, and during presidential trips by train, airplane, and presidential yacht the time was passed in poker games. On one trip the President was accompanied by Winston Churchill, and Truman noted that Churchill was not a particularly good player, losing steadily. During a break Truman warned the other players to go easier on the former Prime Minister, allowing him to win a hand here and there.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Eisenhower’s love of golf is well-known but he was equally as passionate over the game of bridge. White House

33. Ike was a well-known devotee of golf and bridge

Dwight Eisenhower was an accomplished athlete in his youth, excelling at baseball, football, and horseback riding. He later famously focused his athletic competiveness into the game of golf, which he played as often as he could, both as president and in retirement. He was also, as were many presidents, a lover of cards, but Ike preferred bridge over poker. Eisenhower learned the game in his youth, and during his war years in Europe it was his main source of relaxation. He continued to use the game to keep his mental faculties sharp as president, with Saturday nights at the White House set aside for bridge games with guests.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
JFK and family at Hyannisport in the summer of 1962. JFK Library

34. Kennedy was another president deluged with pets

As would be expected of an astute political operative with a highly photogenic family, JFK’s White House was another in which the press of numerous pets was visible. Several were gifts from dignitaries and foreign leaders for JFK’s daughter Caroline, among them a pony named Leprechaun, given to her by Irish President Eamon de Valera. Another was a dog by the name of Pushinka. The dog was a puppy of the Soviet space dog Strelka, which had orbited the earth in 1960. Pushinka later had pups of her own, fathered by Kennedy’s dog Charlie, and which the president referred to as pupniks.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Lyndon Johnson did several unusual things which startled aides and friends unaccustomed to his habits. White House

35. LBJ didn’t let calls of nature interrupt meetings

Lyndon Johnson was known to reach out during meals, with hands, fork, or spoon, and help himself to the contents of one of his fellow diner’s plates, often claiming a food which was outside of the president’s dietary restrictions. Even more startling to staffers and others, when he felt the call of nature during a meeting or while giving dictation, he would enter a nearby bathroom, leave the door open, and continued to conduct business while he did his business. He was known to insist that aides accompany him into the bathroom at times, whether he required the use of a stall or a urinal, in order to not interrupt the business of government.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Nixon bowling (and foot-faulting) in the White House bowling alley during his administration. Library of Congress

36. Nixon preferred private recreation over public appearances

Richard Nixon was known for his lack of social skills, a difficult failing for a career politician to overcome. He was famously poor at small talk and the routine interchange of conversation. For recreation he preferred what could be performed privately. He played no less than five musical instruments, learning from his aunt in his youth, and after discovering his talent could be a political asset he performed on piano before television cameras. For physical exercise he preferred bowling, using the alleys at the Old Executive Office building before installing a single alley in the White House basement, beneath the North Portico.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
The young Jerry Ford worked as a male model and turned down offers to play professional football. National Archives

37. Gerald Ford could have played professional football

During his presidency Gerald Ford developed a reputation for stumbling down stairs and falling off of sidewalks. LBJ often commented that Ford had played too much football without a helmet. Ford was an athlete for most of his life, an avid skier and golfer when serving as president. In his youth, the former Michigan football player received offers from the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions, though the recent graduate chose Yale Law School instead. Also in his youth, Ford worked briefly as a male model, appearing on the cover of the April, 1942 edition of Cosmopolitan.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
President Carter, as befits a former Naval officer, defends his craft from an attacking enemy, a vicious rabbit. Jimmy Carter Library

38. Jimmy Carter was attacked by a rabbit and reported a UFO

President Carter was on a fishing trip after which he later told staffers that a rabbit swam towards his boat, and that he had had to use an oar to roil the water and fend off the attack. The staff thought he was kidding them until footage from a White House photographer confirmed the incident. Earlier, when serving as governor of Georgia in 1969, Carter reported seeing a UFO in the night sky over Leary, Georgia. Carter later explained the he called it a UFO because it was unexplained, but that his training in engineering and physics precluded him calling it alien in nature.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
Nancy Reagan used atrology to guide her husband (with his knowledge) in decisions about all aspects of their lives. Wikimedia

39. Ronald Reagan and astrology

In May of 1988 White House spokesman Marvin Fitzwater confirmed to the press that Ron and Nancy Reagan used astrology and readings in preparing their schedules and for other activities. According to Reagan’s former Chief of Staff Donald Regan, the first couple consulted with a San Francisco based astrologer before making all major decisions. Regan did not identify the astrologer but it wasn’t long before the press did, and Reagan’s political opponents had a field day with the news, which came following the revealing of theIran-Contra Affair. Later biographers wrote that the Reagan’s faith in astrology was a long-standing affair.

These Little Known Facts about 40 of America’s Presidents Snatched Our Powdered Wigs
George H. W. Bush, here with doubles parner Chris Evert, loved escaping being cooped up in the White House by visiting Camp David. National Archives

40. George H. W. Bush hated being trapped in the White House

The first president Bush was known to be an affable man according to many who met him. On occasion, the President would join a White House tour, without fanfare, until one of the other tourists spotted him. The physically active president didn’t care for being stuck in the White House and journeyed to Camp David as frequently as possible during his single term presidency. Few modern presidents more openly expressed their displeasure for entrapment within the bubble of security and filtered information which are characteristics of the modern presidency.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Soldier, statesman, dog lover: George Washington’s pups”. George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Online

“John Adams”. David McCullough. 2002

“Grizzly Bears”. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Online

“The Surprising Raucous Home Life of the Madisons”. David O. Stuart, Smithsonian.com. February 10, 2015

“James Monroe”. Entry, whitehouse.gov

“John Quincy Adams’s Pet Alligator Was A Crock”. Howard Dorre, Plodding Through the Presidents. February 19, 2018. Online

“A history of White House profanity – and one cursing presidential parrot”. Cleve R. Wootson Jr., The Washington Post. January 12, 2018

“Martin Van Buren’s Tigers”. Entry, Presidential Pet Museum. Online

“William Henry Harrison’s killer inauguration speech”. Brenna Williams, CNN Politics. January 5, 2017

“John Tyler”. Entry, whitehouse.gov

“James K. Polk”. Entry, whitehouse.gov

“Zachary Taylor”, Entry, US President’s Lives, The Independent. Online

“Millard Fillmore”. Entry, whitehouse.gov

“Franklin Pierce”. Entry, US President’s Lives, The Independent. Online

“Our First Gay President?” Brion McClanahan, The Daily Caller. May 14, 2012

“Abe and Fido”. Matthew Algeo. 2015

“Andrew Johnson’s Mice”. Entry, Presidential Pet Museum. Online

“DC police once arrested a U. S. president for speeding”. WTOP staff, WTOP. October 6, 2012

“Teetotalers in Chief”. Tonya Riley, Medium.com. 2016

“Which US President Also Served As An Executioner?” Robert J. Szczerba, Forbes. February 16, 2015

“Decorating the White House”. Entry, The White House Historical Association. Online

“A Yacht, A Mustache: How A President Hid His Tumor”. Transcript for Morning Edition, National Public Radio. July 6, 2011. Online

“The History of Electricity at the White House”. US Department of Energy. October 14, 2015. Online

“William McKinley”. Kevin Phillips, 2003

“The Roosevelt Pets”. Entry, Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. National Park Service. Online

“The president who loved golf too much (it’s not Donald Trump)”. Matthew Algeo, The Washington Post. April 21, 2017

“White House Sheep, a History”. Brian Resnick, The Atlantic. October 17, 2014

“Warren G. Harding”. Entry, US President’s Lives, The Independent. Online

“Calvin Coolidge”. David Greenberg. 2006

“Hoover joins 1st American demo of long distance TV, April 7, 1927″. Amy Norcross, EDN Network. April 7, 2018

“Check Out the Early Accessibility Devices of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Ford Phaeton”. Sam Keller, Autotrader. August 2017

“Truman”. David McCullough. 1993

“BRIDGE; Another Reason to Like Ike”. Alan Truscott, The New York Times. September 27, 1992

“Pets in the Kennedy White House”. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

“Pushinka: A Cold War puppy the Kennedys loved”. Alison Gee, BBC World Service. January 6, 2014

“Three New Revelations About LBJ”. Robert Dallek, The Atlantic. April 1998

“Nixon: A Life”. Jonathan Aitken. 1996

“Gerald R. Ford”. Mary Mueller Winget. 2007

“The Gospel According to Jimmy”. Wil S. Hylton, GQ Magazine. December 5, 2005

“Nancy Reagan turned to astrology in White House to protect her husband”. Shelby Grad and David Colker, Los Angeles Times. March 6, 2016

“George Herbert Walker Bush”. Tom Wicker. 2004

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