Presidents’ Day Fun Facts

Zoe Fenner, staff writer

Presidents’ Day has its origins in 1885 when it became a federal holiday to celebrate the late George Washington on his birthday, February 22. Throughout the next century, Americans began to include other Presidents on the holiday; notably Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12. In 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act changed the name of the federal holiday from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day and shifted the date from the 22 to the third Monday of February, ensuring a three-day weekend for workers. 

A total of 46 Presidents have served the United States and have all left their own distinct legacies. To honor their contributions and remember their oddities, here are some surprising facts about many of our nation’s past leaders. 

                                                               George Washington (1789-1797) – 1st President of the United States

All images courtesy of Pixabay.

One of the oldest examples of American folklore resides in the mystery surrounding Washington’s dentures. The myth that they were carved out of wood has been debunked countless times by historians. The many sets of dentures that Washington used have been proven to have been constructed of various materials; including hippopotamus ivory. 

                            John Adams (1797-1801) – 2nd President of the United States 

John Adams was the first president to speak to a female reporter – but not by choice. Anne Royall, a female journalist, struggled to gain an interview with Adams. Resorting to desperate measures, Royall followed Adams to the Potomac river where he swam daily. Once had left his clothes on the bank of the Potomac and was in the river, Royall “sat on [Adams’s clothing] and refused to give them back until Adams, trapped in the river, agreed to answer her questions.” (Brody)

James Madison (1809-1817) – 4th President of the United States

Standing at 5’4 and never weighing more than 130 pounds, Madison wins the title of the smallest American president. Although his stature was diminutive, his contributions to the Constitution as a founding father of the United States are larger than life. 

     Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) – 7th President of the United States

Jackson was the first president to prevail against an assassination attempt. As Jackson was leaving the US Capitol, Richard Lawrence, an insane house painter, fired a gun at the president at  close range. After the gun misfired, Lawrence pulled out another gun and fired at the president, only for it to misfire. Jackson charged Lawrence with his cane and successfully survived the attack.

William Henry Harrison (1841-1841) – 9th President of the United States

Ironically, Harrison had both the longest commencement speech in American presidential history and served the shortest amount of time in office. Wishing to prove his strength as a 68-year-old entering office, Harrison delivered his speech for two hours in cold, miserable weather on March 4, 1841. A little over a month later, Harrison died from pneumonia he contracted during his speech.

             Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) – 13th President of the United States

To this day, Fillmore is falsely known for being the first president to put a bathtub in the White House. The origins of this myth come from an article written in 1917 by journalist H.L. Mencken, who claimed that “when bathtubs first came to the United States in 1843… they created a bitter controversy,” and that “it took President Millard Fillmore installing a bathtub in the White House for them to become widely accepted.” Mencken later admitted to falsifying facts to bolster his fame as a journalist. In Cayuga, New York, Fillmore’s hometown, hundreds of people gather annually at Fillmore Glen State Park to race bathtubs outfitted with wheels. (Nelson)

              Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) – 16th President of the United States

When Americans remember Lincoln, his accomplishments like leading the Union through the Civil War, abolishing slavery, and his famous oration of the Gettysburg address often come to mind. A little-known fact about Lincoln is that he is also recognized in the Wrestling Hall of Fame, where fans of Lincoln can visit a life-size animatronic of the former president. “Thanks to his long limbs, he was an accomplished wrestler,” and “defeated only once in approximately 300 matches.” Lincoln was commended by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992 as an “outstanding American.” (Klein), (National Wrestling Hall of Fame) 

                       Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) – 21st President of the United States

Although largely unrecognized in comparison to other presidents, Arthur did many noteworthy things during his time in office. In 1882, to raise money to refurbish the White House, Arthur famously auctioned off White House relics, including “24 wagon loads of furniture, 30 barrels of china and a pair of Abraham Lincoln’s trousers.” (Top of Texas Gazette) 

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) – 26th President of the United States

Roosevelt was once the world record holder for the most handshakes in one day. He accomplished this feat on January 1, 1907, at a White House reception. In one day, “Roosevelt [shook] the hands of 8,510 people, setting a new Guinness World record. That record would hold until July of 1977 – over 70 years.” (Teddy Roosevelt Life)

   Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) – 28th President of the United States

In 1934, Wilson’s face appeared on the $100,000 dollar bill, which was “legal tender but was never publicly circulated.” Wilson’s likeness was used to exchange and move funds between Federal Reserve banks.  (Museum of American Finance)

Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) – 30th President of the United States

Coolidge was known for his love of animals which he demonstrated during his presidency. During his time in office, Coolidge was the proud owner of 9 dogs, 4 cats, 7 birds, 2 raccoons (Including one named Rebecca, famously pardoned from Coolidge’s Thanksgiving dinner by the first lady.), a black bear, a wallaby, 2 lion cubs, a pygmy hippo, an antelope, and 13 ducklings. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) – 34th President of the United States

Eisenhower may have shared Coolidge’s love for dogs but this amity did not extend to the squirrels that incited Eisenhower’s fury. An avid golf player, Eisenhower was plagued by gray squirrels that were “burying nuts in the golf practice hole that had been installed on the White House grounds” Eisenhower ordered his valet, “the next time you see one of those squirrels go near my putting green, take a gun and shoot it!” (Kelly)

Jimmy Carter (1997-1981) – 39th President of the United States

On September 18, 1973, Carter attested that he spotted a UFO in 1969 while campaigning for presidency in Leary, Georgia. The former president claimed to have seen a UFO that was “very bright [with] changing colors and about the size of the moon.” and that “the object hovered about 30 degrees above the horizon and moved in toward the earth and away before disappearing into the distance.” Carter has stood by this statement and has given interviews on his mysterious sighting as recently as in 2005. 

George Bush (1989-1993) – 41st President of the United States

Bush is one of four presidents who was formerly a cheerleader. When Bush attended Phillips Academy for high school, he was made head cheerleader his senior year. Going on to Yale University, Bush also cheered for his Alma Mater. (WHO)

                   Barack Obama (2009-2017) – 44th President of the United States

When Obama was 16, he had a job scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins, and after “one too many free scoops,” he “lost [his] taste for ice cream.”