Presidential Trivia, Fun Facts and Firsts

George Washington in military uniform, by Rembrandt Peale

George Washington in military uniform, by Rembrandt Peale.

George Washington was the only American president to be unanimously elected.

Chester A. Arthur was nicknamed “Elegant Arthur” because of his fashion sense.

Franklin Pierce was the first president to have a Christmas tree in the White House.

John Kennedy Press Conference

John F. Kennedy was the first president to hold a press conference on television.

John F. Kennedy was the first president to hold a press conference on television.

The Presidential Election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was one of only two elections that resulted in the House of Representatives deciding who would be President of the United States. It was also the only time where there was a tie for President in the Electoral College. Although it wasn’t a tie, the House of Representatives also had to decide the President in the election of 1824, between Adams son John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson, when no candidate reached the required majority of electoral votes.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1826. Not knowing that Thomas Jefferson has already passed John Adams was quoted as saying “Jefferson survives,” when he whispered his last words.

William McKinley was the first president to campaign by telephone.

Franklin Pierce gave his 3,319-word inaugural address from memory, without the aid of notes.

Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to call his residence in Washington, D.C. the “White House.” Prior to his term, it had been called the Executive Mansion or the President’s House.

James Madison was the shortest and lightest president at 5 feet, 4 inches and about 100 pounds.

Lyndon B. Johnson was the first American president to name an African American to his cabinet.

James Monroe was wounded during the American Revolution.

When Millard Fillmore moved into the White House, it didn’t have a Bible. He and his wife, Abigail, installed the first library.

John Quincy Adams dug the first spade of dirt near Little Falls to begin the construction of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal on July 4, 1828.

Millard Fillmore installed the first bathtub and kitchen stove in the White House.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was the first president to ride a railroad train.

Barack Obama collects Spiderman and Conan the Barbarian comic books.

Zachary Taylor received his nomination for presidency late because he refused all postage due correspondences.

Thomas Jefferson wrote his own epitaph never mentioning that he served as president. His epitaph read, “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, Author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and the Father of the University of Virginia.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only American president to be elected four times. After his service, the 22nd Amendment ratified in 1951, limited the presidential office to two terms.

Abraham Lincoln was a man of perseverance. Before Lincoln’s election as the 16th president of the United States, he failed as a businessman, storekeeper, and farmer. He also failed in his first attempt to obtain political office, when he sought the office of speaker, in his first attempt to go to Congress, when he sought the appointment to the United States Land Office, when he ran for the United States Senate and when friends sought for him the nomination for the vice-presidency in 1856.

James K. Polk fulfilled all his campaign promises. During his administration, Polk acquired California from Mexico, settled the Oregon dispute, lowered tariffs, established a sub-treasury, and retired from office after one term.

Chester A. Arthur enjoyed walking at night and seldom went to bed before 2 a.m.

Lyndon B. Johnson was the only president to take the oath of office from a female official, Judge Sarah T. Hughes.

Harry S. Truman used to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to practice the piano for two hours.

Zachary Taylor was the second president to die in office. Taylor spent July 4, 1850, at a ceremony at the Washington Monument. He became ill from the heat and died five days later of intestinal ailments. Recently, his body was exhumed because some believed he was poisoned, but this was proved to be false.

Millard Fillmore refused an honorary degree from Oxford University because he felt he had “neither literary nor scientific attainment.”

William Taft, who weighed 332 pounds, got stuck in the White House bathtub the first time he used it. A larger one was ordered.

The term “O.K.” is credited to Martin Van Buren who was raised in Kinderhook, New York. After he went into politics, Van Buren became known as “Old Kinderhook.” Soon people were using the term O.K. referring to Van Buren and the word “okay” was derived.

William Henry Harrison served the shortest presidency, dying just 32 days after he was elected..

Calvin Coolidge refused to use the telephone while in office.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant established Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park on March 1, 1872.

Grover Cleveland personally answered the White House phone.

John Tyler was the first vice president to ascend to the presidency upon the death of a president. He did not make an inaugural address, and he never ran for the office of the Presidency.

Jimmy Carter was the first president born in a hospital.

Herbert Hoover approved “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem.

Calvin Coolidge lighted the first national Christmas tree in 1923 on the White House lawn.

George Washington was the only president who did not represent a political party.

Jimmy Carter studied nuclear physics at Annapolis.

Harry S. Truman’s mother, a Confederate sympathizer, refused to sleep in Lincoln’s bed during a White House visit.

George W. Bush-Pilot

George W. Bush-Pilot

George W. Bush was a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 until 1973.

At age 69, Ronald Reagan became the oldest person ever elected U.S. president.

George H.W. Bush is distantly related to Presidents Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Gerald Ford, as well as Benedict Arnold, Marilyn Monroe, and Winston Churchill.

Andrew Johnson was buried beneath a willow tree that he planted. His head rests on a copy of the Constitution.

To set a good example for the country Rutherford B. Hayes banished liquor and wine from the White House. Because of the ban, his wife was known as “Lemonade Lucy.”

Thomas Jefferson was the first president to shake hands with guests. Previously people bowed to Presidents. Jefferson’s library of 6,000 books was purchased for $ 23.950 and formed the basis of the Library of Congress.

At his inauguration, George Washington had only one tooth. At various times he wore dentures made of human teeth, animal teeth, ivory or even lead. Never wood.

Ulysses S. Grant was the first president to run against a woman candidate, Virginia Woodhull the nominee of the “Equal Rights Party” in 1872.

Warren Harding was the first president to speak over the radio.

Jimmy Carter is a speed reader, having been recorded reading 2,000 words per minute.

Franklin Pierce was the only president to have no turnover in his cabinet.

Ulysses S. Grant was the first president to view the Pacific Ocean (1852).

Harry Truman

Harry S. Truman was the first president to give a speech on television.

Harry S. Truman was the first president to give a speech on television.

William Taft’s wife was responsible for the planting of the Japanese cherry trees in Washington.

James Buchanan was the only president that never married.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was paralyzed from the disease polio; he served his entire presidency without the use of legs.

James Buchanan tired of being president and refused to run for reelection.

Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to travel outside the U.S. – Panama.

Zachary Taylor’s wife, Margaret, learned to shoot a gun when she lived with her husband on the Western frontier. When she lived in the White House, she refused to serve as hostess, giving that role to their daughter Betty Taylor Bliss.

Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, was riding two cars behind President Kennedy’s car when he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Johnson was administered the presidential oath aboard Air Force One.

William Taft is the only president to also serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1921-1930).

Witness to some of the bloodiest battles in history, Ulysses S. Grant could not stomach the sight of animal blood. Rare steak nauseated him.

John Adams was the first president to reside in the White House, moving in November 1800 while the paint was still wet.

When England’s Prince of Wales visited the White House in 1860, so many guests accompanied him that James Buchanan had to sleep in the hall.

Theodore Roosevelt craved attention. It was said that he wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.

William Taft was the first president to own a car.

Before becoming a politician, Lyndon B. Johnson taught school in Texas.

Harry Truman popularized the saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

George Washington owned 300 slaves when he died.

Franklin Pierce’s wife, Jane, discouraged her husband’s interest in politics.

Jimmy Carter was the sixth cousin of Richard Nixon.

Ulysses S. Grant’s wife, Julia, owned slaves during the Civil War while her husband served as general of the Union Army.

Theodore Roosevelt was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He was awarded the prize in 1906 for his role as a peacemaker in the Russo-Japanese War.

Gerald Ford Cosmopolitan

Gerald Ford once worked as a fashion model for Cosmopolitan and Look magazines in the 1940’s. He was on this Cosmopolitan cover with Phyllis Brown in April 1942. Illustrator Bradshaw Crandall.

Gerald Ford once worked as a fashion model for Cosmopolitan and Look magazines in the 1940’s.

John F. Kennedy was the only president to win a Pulitzer Prize, for his biography “Profiles in Courage”.

Abraham Lincoln was the first president to wear a beard and the tallest president at 6’ 4″.

Ronald Reagan was the first actor elected president. He acted in 53 films before becoming president.

Andrew Johnson was impeached for removing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton during the turbulent Reconstruction Period but was acquitted by one vote in the Senate.

Andrew Jackson was the only president to have been a prisoner of war.

The tradition of playing “Hail to the Chief” whenever a president appeared at a state function was started by John Tyler’s second wife.

Lyndon B. Johnson rejected his official portrait painting, saying it was the ugliest thing he ever saw.

William Henry Harrison was the first president to die in office, about 32 days after elected.

Ronald Reagan was twice named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.”

Ulysses S. Grant smoked 20 cigars a day, which probably caused the throat cancer that resulted in his death.

While Rutherford B. Hayes was still in the Union Army, Cincinnati Republicans ran him for the House of Representatives. He accepted the nomination, but would not campaign, explaining, “an officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer… ought to be scalped.”

John Quincy Adams was the son of the 2nd president, John Adams, who served from 1797-1801.

John F. Kennedy was the only president to appoint his brother to a cabinet post.

George Washington StampGeorge Washington was the first President to be on a postage stamp. His face is also on the $1 bill and the quarter.

Ulysses S. Grant was the first president to host an Indian Chief in the White House.

William Taft owned the last presidential cow.

Harry S. Truman was the first president to travel underwater in a submarine.

John F. Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic president.

Chester A. Arthur told a temperance group that called on him at the White House, “I may be President of the United States, but my private life is my own damn business.”

Theodore Roosevelt lost sight in one eye while boxing in the White House.

Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, was at the scene of or nearby three presidential assassinations — his father’s (he was at the White House having declined an invitation to Ford’s Theatre from his parents), William McKinley’s, and James Garfield’s. He was also once saved from possible injury or death by Edwin T. Booth, the brother of his father’s assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Bill Clinton was the first president to be a Rhodes Scholar.

Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to visit the West Coast.

“First Lady” was used first in 1849 when President Zachary Taylor called Dolley Madison “First Lady” at her state funeral. It gained popularity in 1877 when used in reference to Lucy Ware Webb Hayes. Most First Ladies, including Jackie Kennedy, are said to have hated the label.

Grover Cleveland was the only president to be elected two nonconsecutive terms. (22nd President)

Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump are the only divorced presidents.

Andrew Jackson was the only president to serve in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

D-Day Invasion during World War II.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was in charge of the D-Day invasion during World War II.

George Washington might have had a set of false teeth — but he made sure each of his six horses had their teeth brushed every day!

Only five United States presidents had facial hair when they took office, the latest one being Benjamin Harrison in 1889.

James Buchanan’s niece, Harriet Lane, was the White House hostess for the only president to remain a bachelor

William Henry Harrison was the only president who studied to become a doctor.

Grover Cleveland was the only president married in a ceremony at the White House, June 2, 1886.

James A. Garfield was the second president to die by assassination. Two months after being sworn into office, Garfield was shot in a Washington railroad station. Doctors repeatedly probed for the bullet with non-sterile instruments and unwashed fingers, the president died 80 days later.

Zachary Taylor did not vote until the age of 62. Until that time, he had not established an official place of residence because he had moved many times as a soldier.

Martin Van Buren was the first U.S. president born in the United States. The presidents preceding Van Buren were born in colonies that later became states. Van Buren was the first to be born under the Articles of Confederation, in 1782.

While governor of Massachusetts, Calvin Coolidge was once punched in the eye by the mayor of Boston.

Chester A. Arthur was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, a fatal kidney disease; a year after he succeeded to the presidency. Arthur ran for a second term in 1884 in order not to appear that he feared defeat, though he knew the more active he was the greater his chance was of succumbing to the disease. He did not gain his party’s nomination and died in 1886.

Richard Nixon talked to astronauts on the moon from the White House by radio-telephone on July 21, 1969.

A stamp collector, Franklin D. Roosevelt received the first sheet of every new commemorative issue.

Gerald Ford became vice president and president without being elected to either office.

James Madison was the first president to wear trousers rather than knee-breeches.

Warren Harding was the first newspaper publisher to be elected into the presidency.

George Washington never lived in the White House. The nation’s capital was located in Philadelphia, as well as several other cities, prior to its move to Washington, D.C.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president licensed to fly an airplane.

James Polk’s wife, Sarah, worked as the president’s secretary without taking a salary and forbade dancing and card-playing the White House.

Bill Clinton Saxophone

Bill Clinton plays the saxophone.

In high school, Bill Clinton played saxophone in a jazz trio, who wore dark glasses on stage and called themselves “Three Blind Mice”.

Grover Cleveland vetoed 414 bills in his first term, more than double the 204 vetoes cast by all previous presidents.

John Tyler was the president with the most children—he had 15.

John Quincy Adams was the first president to be photographed.

Benjamin Harrison was the only president to be a grandson of a president (William Henry Harrison) and great-grandson to a signer of the Declaration of Independence (Benjamin Harrison).

Grover Cleveland was the first president to have a child born in the White House; his daughter Esther in 1895.

William McKinley was the first president to ride in an automobile.

Thomas Jefferson was the main author of the Declaration of Independence.

George H.W. Bush received his military commission in 1943, he became, at age 19, the youngest pilot in the Navy. He served in the World War II Pacific Theater.

The first annual White House Thanksgiving dinner was hosted by James K. Polk’s wife, Sarah.

John Quincy Adams regularly swam nude in the Potomac River. The first American professional journalist, Anne Royall, knew of Adams’ 5:00 a.m. swims. After being refused interviews with Adams many times, she went to the river, gathered his clothes and sat on them until she had her interview. Before this, no female had interviewed a president.

The third president to die from an assassin’s wound, William McKinley was shot during the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York and died of his wounds about a week later.

President Theodore Roosevelt by Forbes Litho

President Theodore Roosevelt by Forbes Litho

Theodore Roosevelt had a photographic memory. He could read a page in the time it took anyone else to read a sentence.

A skilled chef, Dwight D. Eisenhower was famous for his vegetable soup, steaks, and cornmeal pancakes.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to have earned a Ph.D. He received a degree in political science in 1886.

A man-about-town, Chester A. Arthur entertained lavishly and often and enjoyed going to nightclubs.

Upon the election of his successor, Abraham Lincoln, James Buchanan sent him a note saying, “My dear sir, if you are as happy on entering the White House as I on leaving, you are a happy man indeed.”

John F. Kennedy was the first president to have served in the U.S. Navy.

Benjamin Harrison was the first president to use electricity in the White House. After he got an electrical shock, his family often refused to touch the light switches and sometimes would go to bed with the lights on.

Gerald Ford was the only president whose two assassination attempts against him were made by women.

Chester a. Arthur, Buek and Lindner, 1881

Chester A. Arthur was a man about town

Chester A. Arthur destroyed all of his personal papers before his death.

James Madison was one of two ( George Washington was the other), American presidents to sign the Constitution. Madison’s contributions towards the development of the Constitution earned him the title “Father of the Constitution.”

The name “Teddy” bears for stuffed animals was coined in 1903 when a stuffed toy bear was given to the noted outdoorsman Theodore Roosevelt.

John F. Kennedy’s father gave him $1,000,000 when he turned twenty-one. (Each of his nine brothers and sisters got a million dollars too!)

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the only president to serve in both World War I & World War II.

Nixon Resigns

President Nixon resigns

Richard Nixon is the only U.S. president to resign.

William Taft was the first of two presidents to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. John F. Kennedy is the other.

An avid golfer, Woodrow Wilson used black golf balls when playing in the snow

Dwight D. Eisenhower played football at West Point and was injured trying to tackle Olympic and NFL star Jim Thorpe.

During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, a flock of sheep was raised on the White House lawn. The wool was used to raise money for the Red Cross during World War I.President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty on October 28, 1886.

Warren Harding was the first president to own a radio.

A man of few words, a dinner guest made a bet that she could get Calvin Coolidge to say more than two words. When she told the president of her wager, he replied, “You lose.”

While sheriff of Erie County, New York, Grover Cleveland was also the public executioner and personally hanged two murderers.

Calvin Coolidge averaged nine hours of sleep a night and took afternoon naps of from two to four hours.

Herbert Hoover was the first president born west of the Mississippi River.

During Rutherford B. Hayes’ administration, the first telephone was installed in the White House by Alexander Graham Bell himself.

President-elect James A Garfield campaigned for the American presidency from the front porch of his house.

While president, Warren Harding played golf, poker twice a week, followed baseball and boxing and sneaked off to burlesque shows.

Herbert Hoover donated his salary to charity. Donald Trump donates his salary to Federal agencies.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson read Greek, Latin, French and English.

James K. Polk was the first president to have his inauguration reported by telegraph.

Millard Fillmore and his cabinet helped fight the Library Congress fire of 1851.

Jacqueline Bouvier was an inquiring “camera girl” for the Washington Times-Herald shortly after her graduation from George Washington University in 1951. That year she interviewed Congressman John F. Kennedy and married him two years later.

Gerald Ford is the only president who was employed by the National Park Service. He served as a Yellowstone Park Ranger in 1936.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president whose mother was eligible to vote for him.

Since Grover Cleveland was the sole supporter of his family during the Civil War, he paid a substitute to take his place.

William Henry Harrison delivered the longest inaugural address at 105 minutes. He did not wear an overcoat or hat and afterward developed pneumonia and died in the White House exactly one month after giving his speech, on April 4.

Andrew Jackson was the only president to ever kill a man in a duel. Jackson was also wounded and carried the bullet, lodged near his heart, to his grave.

When John Adams and his family moved to Washington to live in the White House, they got lost in the woods north of the city for several hours.

Andrew Johnson had no formal education. His wife taught him reading, writing and math.

Grover Cleveland was the only president to have a child born in the White House – his daughter, Esther.

As a child, Theodore Roosevelt suffered asthma attacks and was too sickly to attend school.

Barack Obama does not like ice cream as a result of working at an ice cream shop as a teenager.

Lyndon Baines Johnson used to go through the White House at night turning lights off that were not needed. He did not want to waste the taxpayers money. At fifteen he ran away from home and traveled to California where he worked as a grape picker and auto mechanic.

President Eisenhower chipping onto the green around 1957

Dwight David Eisenhower liked to play golf so much he had a putting green built on the White House lawn.

Zachary Taylor’s horse grazed on the Whiter House lawn.

George W. Bush was the first managing general partner of a Major League baseball team (Texas Rangers) to become president.

Warren G. Harding once lost all the White House china gambling, on one hand of cards.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother forced him to wear a dress until he was five years old.

Abraham Lincoln was the first president to die by assassination. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

George H.W. Bush was the captain of the baseball team at Yale University.

While president, Ulysses S. Grant was arrested for driving his horse too fast and was fined $ 20.

Franklin Pierce installed the first central heating system in the White House.

Herbert Hoover often spoke Chinese to his wife to keep their stories private.

During their first three years in the White House, the Hoovers dined alone only three times, each time on their wedding anniversary.

Harry S. Truman read every book in his hometown library

Gerald Ford Held his daughter’s High School prom in the White House

George H.W. Bush survived four planes crashes during World War II

Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Claudia “Lady Bird” Alta Taylor, were married with a $ 2.50 wedding ring bought at Sears Roebuck.

Richard Nixon was the first president to visit all 50 states and the first president to visit China.

Ulysses S. Grant said he knew only two songs. “One was Yankee Doodle and the other wasn’t.”

Ulysses S. Grant was the victorious Union commander of the Civil War. He received General Lee’s sword at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

Calvin Coolidge was the only president sworn into office by his father, a justice of the peace and notary public.

Bill Clinton was the first U.S. Democratic president to win reelection since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

George W. Bush was the first son of a president to take the office since John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams.

Barack Obama was the first African American to be elected president.

John F. Kennedy was the youngest American elected president and the youngest to die in office.

Thomas Jefferson was an avid inventor who is credited with inventing several items including the coat hanger, hideaway bed, and dumbwaiter.

Warren Harding played poker at least twice a week and once put an entire set of White House china up to stake his hand — he lost the hand and the china.

On June 12, 2018, George H.W. Bush made history becoming the first former president to reach the age of 94. Bush died on November 30, 2018.

39th President Jimmy Carter

In 2012, James Earl Carter Jr. (Jimmy) surpassed Herbert Hoover as the longest retired president in U.S. history. In 2017 he became the first president to live to see the 40th anniversary of his inauguration.

On March 22, 2019, Jimmy Carter surpassed George H.W. Bush as the longest-lived president in U.S. history at 94 and 172 days old.  The 39th President was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2015, which is apparently no match for the former world leader.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated February 2020.

Also See:

Presidents of the United States of America

American History

Presidents of the United States Photo Gallery

Who’s Who in American History

You might also like this website:  Ranking The Health of U.S. Presidents –  A rank all of the U.S. presidents based on 6 factors and 58 health conditions. Find out who’s at the top and the bottom of the list. (You might be surprised with where some of them landed.)  Includes interesting trivia about Presidents and their habits and more.

 

5 thoughts on “Presidential Trivia, Fun Facts and Firsts”

  1. One correction….Robert Lincoln was not in attendance at Ford’s Theater to witness his father’s assassination.

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