In honor of President’s Day 2013, The List looks at some intriguing facts about America’s chief executives.
- • Twenty four presidents served in the military. George Washington, James Monroe and Andrew Jackson served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Jackson and William Henry Harrison served in the War of 1812. Abraham Lincoln served in the Black Hawk War. Franklin Pierce and Ulysses S. Grant served in the Mexican War. Grant also served in the Civil War, along with Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley. Theodore Roosevelt served in the Spanish American War. Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower served in World War I. Eisenhower also served in World War II along with John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. Jimmy Carter served in the Navy at the beginning of the Cold War. George W. Bush served in the Air Force Reserve during the Vietnam War. Numerous others served in state militias.
- • Wedding bells toll even for the presidents. John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, and Woodrow Wilson all married while in office, with Cleveland’s marriage occurring in the White House.
- • John Tyler had 15 children, the most of any president. Two of his grandchildren were still alive in 2012.
- • Woodrow Wilson is the only president buried in Washington, D.C. He is entombed at the Washington National Cathedral.
- • John Tyler joined the Confederacy when his native Virginia succeeded from the Union in 1861, and when he died a year later, he believed that he was not an American citizen. More than 100 years, later President Jimmy Carter restored Tyler’s citizenship.
- • Three presidents were also college presidents: James Garfield was president of Hiram College in Ohio, Woodrow Wilson was president of Princeton University, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of Columbia University.
- • Ronald Reagan was the only president who was a member of a union. As an actor, he joined the Screen Actors Guild, and eventually rose through its ranks, twice becoming its president. His second tenure as SAG president resulted in the first pension and health plan for its members, as well as residuals for films sold to television.
- • Nine presidents assumed office by succession. Gerald R. Ford assumed the office upon Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. The other eight — Andrew Johnson, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon Johnson — were elevated upon the death of his predecessor. Coolidge’s elevation was one of the more remarkable. He was vacationing at his family’s Vermont homestead, which did not have electricity, when President Warren G. Harding died in San Francisco. Coolidge was sworn in by the light from a kerosene lamp by his father, the local notary public.
- • George Washington believed hand shaking to be undignified. However, his fellow Founding Father Thomas Jefferson greeted his guests with a handshake, instead of bowing, as was custom at that time. Ever since, all presidents have made it a point to shake hands with as many people as possible. While Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley and Bill Clinton were prodigious hand shakers, Theodore Roosevelt set the record for presidential handshakes when he shook 8,150 hands on New Year’s Day 1907.
Compiled by John Sopko
Sources: Department of Veterans Affairs; Profiles of the Presidents; Encyclopedia Brittanica; Miller Center, University of Virginia; Screen Actors Guild; Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger
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