27 Facts About Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

You don’t have to be much of a trivia buff to know that the nation’s 26th president, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1858-1919), was responsible for putting a name to the teddy bear phenomenon after a newspaper cartoon depicted him refusing to shoot an injured bear on a hunting trip. ("Teddy's bear" became a buzz phrase.) But Roosevelt—who passed away on January 6, 1919—certainly had a much more storied life than influencing the stuffed animal industry. Here are some things you might not have known about the dedicated environmentalist who had a fondness for skinny-dipping, on the 100th anniversary of his death.

1. He went from wimp to warrior.

Born on October 27, 1858, Roosevelt—often called “Teedie” or “Teddy” by friends—was a frail kid, prone to illness, asthma, and lacking physical strength. Despite his modest build, he was an avid outdoors enthusiast, and sometimes carried his fascination with wildlife indoors by practicing taxidermy. At 14, his family went on a tour of Egypt, and he traveled with his somewhat macabre tools of the trade, including arsenic. As a teen, Roosevelt put his stuffed birds aside and decided to become aggressive in his physical routine, training in gymnastics and weightlifting. Later, he would practice both boxing and judo. The intense interest he showed in combat sports made him a fitness advocate for the rest of his life.

2. He was an odd man out at Harvard.

The enthusiastic and boisterous Roosevelt, who began attending Harvard in the fall of 1876, was unlike many of his more subdued peers. When he was in a fervent discussion, he’d strike his hand into his palm to make a point. When he saw a friend, he’d yell at him from across the grass. Despite his rough manners, Roosevelt still made plenty of friends through his athletic pursuits. And he did OK academically, too: At the time of his graduation, he was ranked 21 out of 161 students.

3. He could be extremely jealous.

While at Harvard, Roosevelt met his first wife, Alice Lee. After a courtship, the two got engaged with an eye on marriage after graduation. Despite Alice’s adoration, Roosevelt was said to be apoplectic when any man dared approach her. If a man got out of line, Roosevelt would threaten to challenge him to a duel. At one point, he even mailed away for a pair of French dueling pistols in case anyone wished to take him up on the offer.

4. He tried his hand at becoming a rancher.

Roosevelt was often at his most comfortable when he was surrounded by the tropes of the outdoors: cattle, horses, guns, and vast stretches of land. Traveling to the Dakota Territory in 1883 to hunt bison, Roosevelt was intrigued by the idea of operating a cattle ranch there and soon went in business (with a $14,000 investment) with Sylvane Ferris, the brother of his hunting guide, and cattleman Bill Merrifield. That led to a second ranch, which he dubbed Elkhorn. While he enjoyed playing cowboy—complete with buckskin shirt and spurs—overgrazing and bad weather conspired to create financial losses. Roosevelt sold his interest in the ranches by 1898.

5. He was an accomplished author.

Drawing on his affection for the outdoors, Roosevelt spent considerable time before taking presidential office authoring books with titles like Hunting Trips of a Ranchman and a primer on the Western frontier, the four-volume Winning of the West. The writing was in some measure an escape for Roosevelt, who once retreated to his Dakota Territory ranch in 1884 after his wife, Alice, and his mother both died on the same day. (In his journal entry for that day, he wrote, "The light has gone out of my life.") Roosevelt continued writing for the rest of his life, relying on income from publishing rather than his public-office salaries to support himself.

6. He once chased down boat thieves.

In 1886, Roosevelt’s moored boat was stolen from his ranch and taken down the Little Missouri River. Calling it a matter of personal honor and feeling the need to pursue criminals in his role as a deputy sheriff, Roosevelt gave chase while accompanied by his two ranch hands. Trailing armed thieves was dangerous enough, but the frigid late winter weather had turned the river into an icy, treacherous path. Sensing he could be in for a prolonged ride, Roosevelt packed up flour, coffee, and a copy of Anna Karenina for downtime. After three days and braving freezing weather, the group crept up on the thieves on the river bank and apprehended all of them. Fearing that tying them up might cut off their circulation in the cold air, Roosevelt ordered the men to take their boots off. In cactus country, that was as good as a pair of handcuffs. Roosevelt spent the long ride back reading Anna Karenina.

7. He was a war hero.

Theodore Roosevelt in his Rough Riders uniform.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Drawn to public service after dropping out of law school, Roosevelt became president of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners in 1895 and assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy in 1897. After the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Roosevelt insisted on serving and eventually became colonel of the First U.S. Volunteer Calvary. His “Rough Riders” were involved in skirmishes and Roosevelt himself was wounded by shrapnel while advancing on the San Juan River in Cuba. At the Battle of San Juan Hill, he led a charge with a skeleton crew of men, holding Spanish soldiers at bay and keeping position until they were relocated by superiors. Roosevelt’s leadership was hailed by many as an exemplar of courage, and reports of his bravery helped win him a seat as governor of New York upon his return.

8. He's still the youngest president in history.

Vice President Roosevelt became president in 1901 immediately following the assassination of sitting president William McKinley. At the age of 42, he was—and remains—the youngest president in the country’s history. (John F. Kennedy was 43 when he was sworn in; Bill Clinton was 46.)

9. He was a dedicated environmentalist.

A lover of the outdoors, Roosevelt made protecting the natural wonder of American territory a priority. Over his tenure in the White House, he reserved 200 million acres of land for national forests and wildlife refuges; previous presidents combined had only done a fifth of that. “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources and we have just reason to be proud of our growth," he said in 1908. "But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation.

"These questions do not relate only to the next century or to the next generation. It is time for us now as a nation to exercise the same reasonable foresight in dealing with our great natural resources that would be shown by any prudent man in conserving and widely using the property which contains the assurance of well-being for himself and his children.”

10. He knew how to charm the press.

More than any other president before him, Roosevelt knew how to enact effective change: Get the press and public opinion on his side. He created a press room at the White House and invited correspondents for informal chats while he got a shave; he was also prone to publicity stunts, like riding 98 miles on horseback and field-testing a new submarine vessel by diving to the bottom of Long Island Sound.

11. He had a beef with beef.

Food safety was not of paramount concern to lawmakers in the early part of the 20th century. (As an example of their suspect methodology, the U.S. government once solicited volunteers to ingest one common food additive, formaldehyde, to see if there were any adverse effects.) Roosevelt was firm in his mission to make sure American beef products were safe to consume, dispatching investigators to meat-packing plants and collecting horror stories of dirty preparation areas and putrid meat. Despite intense objection from the meat industry, Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act into law in 1906.

12. He helped save football.

In the early 1900s, football was perhaps even more dangerous than it is today, with only loose regulations requiring protective equipment guarding players from serious injury. Roughly 45 players died from 1900 to 1905 from a variety of ailments as a result of collisions, from broken necks to broken backs. With public tide turning against the game, Roosevelt summoned representatives from Yale, Harvard, and other schools in 1905 to discuss new measures that would improve its safety profile. His concern helped usher in new rules—while the sport wasn’t and isn’t “safe,” it did largely turn around its alarming mortality rate.

13. He practically kept a zoo while in office.

Roosevelt’s White House was no place for anyone skittish over animals. In addition to the numerous dogs, rabbits, and horses, the president also kept snakes, flying squirrels, chickens, bears, a lion, a zebra, and what he described as a “friendly and affectionate” rat.

14. Boxing blinded him in one eye.

Roosevelt’s fondness for combat sports didn’t leave him when he was elected to the highest office in the land. In 1905, when he was almost 50, Roosevelt was sparring in a boxing match with a partner when he was struck with a right to his left eye. The blow left him with a detached retina and led to significant vision issues. In his autobiography, he described the punch as leaving him “dim” in that eye. Fortunately, Roosevelt had other physical pursuits to keep him busy, including the tennis courts he had installed in 1902, although he never allowed himself to be photographed while wearing his sporty racket outfit.

15. He burned his presidential portrait.

Not known as a vain man, Roosevelt was still disappointed in his official presidential portrait. Artist Théobald Chartran, Roosevelt claimed, had made him look like a “mewing cat.” Even his children teased him about it. After being displayed in Chartran’s home country of France, the painting returned to the White House, where Roosevelt burned it as one of his final acts in office.

16. He was the first president to leave the country during his term.

Roosevelt, who had petitioned for the construction of the Panama Canal for years, couldn’t resist an opportunity to see the site for himself when plans were finally underway. In 1906, he visited Panama and in doing so became the first president to travel outside the U.S. while holding office. The workers let him operate a steam shovel.

17. He hated being called "Teddy."

Still life of a 'Teddy' Bear sitting with its tag describing the origin of the toy and US president Theodore Roosevelt circa the 1950s.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Despite giving his blessing for stuffed-animal makers to refer to their bears as “Teddys,” Roosevelt—whose childhood nickname was "Teedie"—was no fan of the nickname. Reportedly, it reminded him of his late first wife, Alice, who used the term when addressing him; Roosevelt hardly ever spoke of her following her untimely death in 1884. (He married second wife Edith Carow in 1886.) He liked being called “Colonel Roosevelt” in his later years. While on safari, his African escorts called him “Bwana Tumbo,” or “Mr. Unusually Large Belly.”

18. He went skinny-dipping with the French ambassador.

Virtually all of our presidents have retained their modesty, but Roosevelt was never bashful about abandoning his clothes for a quick, naked dip in the water. While walking near the Potomac River in 1903, the president and the Chief of the Division of Forestry, Gifford Pinchot, jumped in for a swim, leaving their clothes behind. The French ambassador was with them, though he elected to keep his gloves on because “we might meet ladies!”

19. His oldest daughter tried his patience.

The eldest of Roosevelt’s children—and the only one with his first wife, Alice— Alice Roosevelt was 17 when her father took office and quickly became infamous for a series of public indiscretions. She was fond of smoking cigarettes on the roof of the White House after her father told her she couldn’t smoke indoors; she walked around with a boa constrictor on her neck. Alice’s carefree attitude made her a celebrity in her own right, with one color—“Alice blue”—named after her. Active in Washington until her death at age 96, Alice was known as “the other Washington monument.”

20. He had a chest tattoo.

Decades before Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau flashed his arm ink, Roosevelt sported a large tattoo directly on his chest. It was a depiction of the Roosevelt family crest. He might not be the only U.S. president who’s had work done, though: Andrew Jackson was said to have a tomahawk on his thigh, while James Polk supposedly had a Chinese character meaning “eager.”

21. He drank coffee by the gallon.

Perhaps not literally—but close. According to his family, Roosevelt's coffee cup was akin to a "bathtub," and he sweetened each cup with seven lumps of sugar. He was such a fan of the beverage that Maxwell House once put his face on some of their print ads.

22. He was a voracious—if curious—reader.

Roosevelt was said to have devoured a book a day, reading through texts with such speed it didn’t seem possible he could retain much information—but he did, firing off answers to anything he was quizzed on. He also read magazines but maintained an odd habit: After reading each page, he would rip it out and toss it to the floor.

23. He ran for a third term.

After winning re-election in 1904, Roosevelt told his supports that would be the end for him. In 1908, he supported Republican William Howard Taft. Taft won, but by 1912, their relationship had soured. Historians have long debated the specifics of the split; theories include Taft failing to keep his campaign promises, Taft being more rigid in the law than Roosevelt would have liked (especially in attempting to break up U.S. Steel, which Roosevelt had assured wouldn’t happen), Taft’s firing of Pinchot, or just differing views on how the government should respond to a nation rapidly becoming more urbanized and industrial. Whatever the reason, Roosevelt ran against Taft in 1912 on the new Progressive ticket. Republican support was split between Roosevelt and Taft, allowing Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency. Despite the loss, Roosevelt’s attempt at a three-peat was among the most successful third-party campaigns in history.

24. He was the first former president to fly in an airplane.

Heeding another call to adventure, in 1910 Roosevelt became the first current or former president to board a plane. The opportunity came at the invitation of aviator Arch Hoxsey, who invited Roosevelt to climb on board his plane in St. Louis, Missouri. A crowd of 10,000 people watched, with some expecting the beloved public figure to meet a bad end in the suspect-looking craft. After a three-minute, 20-second flight, Roosevelt was beaming. “I envy you your professional conquest of space,” he told Hoxsey.

25. He gave a speech immediately after being shot.

Roosevelt's speech pages showing where the bullet passed through.
Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard Library, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Roosevelt’s reputation as a “bull moose,” his term to describe anyone made of sturdy stuff, was never on better display than October 14, 1912, when the former president was giving a speech in Milwaukee and announced he had just been shot by a would-be assassin named John Schrank. A shocked crowd looked on as Roosevelt revealed a bloody shirt and a stack of prepared remarks with a bullet hole in them (above; you can see both the papers and the shirt at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City). Roosevelt spoke for 90 minutes before allowing his aides to take him to a hospital. The bullet had lodged itself near his ribs and would remain there for the rest of his life.

26. A trip to the Amazon almost killed him.

An incurable adventurer, Roosevelt set his sights on an Amazon river in 1913, declaring it his "last chance to a boy." Plotting his course on the largely-uncharted and inherently dangerous "River of Doubt," Roosevelt's notoriously sturdy constitution was challenged like never before. Several people in his party were struck down by tropical illness and half of the pack animals traveling with them died of exhaustion; food became scarce. Roosevelt himself grew ill with fever and reportedly was prepared to be left to die. After two months, they were able to return to civilization.

27. He met Houdini.

Harry Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt pose for a picture.
Library of Congress // Public Domain

Sailing on the SS Imperator in 1914, Roosevelt was captivated by the ship’s booked entertainment: famed illusionist Harry Houdini. After a “séance” in which the magician correctly surmised Roosevelt had been in Brazil recently, an astounded Roosevelt asked if Houdini was really practiced in the dark arts. He played coy, but the truth was that Houdini knew Roosevelt would be on board and asked associates for information about his recent exploits.

When George W. Bush's Severed Head Made a Controversial Appearance on Game of Thrones

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

While watching a show as complex as Game of Thrones, fans regularly keep their eyes peeled for Easter eggs that connect episodes to other parts of the series, or even sometimes to real life. All that careful watching has paid off, as viewers have discovered many clues that actually foreshadow what’s to come. But on at least one occasion, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it detail led to a controversy for the show's co-creators.

The epic series caught a lot of heat back in 2012 when it was revealed that former President George W. Bush’s severed head appeared on a stake in season one. If you revisit "Fire and Blood," the 10th episode in the first season, and fast-forward about 12 minutes in, you’ll get to the part where Joffrey brings Sansa to see her late father’s severed head, which is surrounded by several others ... including the noggin of the 43rd President.

In the Season 1 DVD commentary, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss confirmed that the head was indeed created in Bush's likeness,  explaining that, "The last head on the left is George Bush. George Bush's head appears in a couple of beheading scenes. It's not a choice, it's not a political statement. We just had to use whatever head we had around." That admission, of course, did not go unnoticed. HBO ultimately faced a ton of backlash because of it and issued an apology, which read:

“We were deeply dismayed to see this and find it unacceptable, disrespectful and in very bad taste. We made this clear to the executive producers of the series who apologized immediately for this inadvertent careless mistake. We are sorry this happened and will have it removed from any future DVD production.”

In response, Benioff and Weiss released their own statement in which they declared that there was no ill intent intended:

"We use a lot of prosthetic body parts on the show: heads, arms, etc. We can't afford to have these all made from scratch, especially in scenes where we need a lot of them, so we rent them in bulk. After the scene was already shot, someone pointed out that one of the heads looked like George W. Bush. In the DVD commentary, we mentioned this, though we should not have. We meant no disrespect to the former president and apologize if anything we said or did suggested otherwise."

Maybe it wasn't the best idea to admit to basically decapitating a former president, but other people might consider it an honor. A Song of Fire and Ice creator George RR Martin is dying to see his head on a stick before the series ends later this year. But the showrunners have clearly learned from their mistake; most of the heads you now see belong to members of the show's production team.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Calvin Coolidge

National Archives/Newsmakers, Getty Images
National Archives/Newsmakers, Getty Images

The 30th president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) left office just as America was about to shift from an era of great joviality (the Roaring Twenties) to one of unprecedented economic despair thanks to the Great Depression. A stern figure, Coolidge was all business, practicing minimalism in both his social activity and in his political career. Here's what you should know about one of our nation’s more intriguing Commanders-in-Chief.

1. Calvin Coolidge is the only president born on the Fourth of July.

John Calvin Coolidge was born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, on July 4, 1872—giving him the distinction of being the only president born on the fourth of July. (Three of the first five U.S. presidents died on the Fourth of July, however: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1826, and James Monroe in 1831.)

2. Coolidge was elected to political office the same year he opened his own law firm.

Coolidge was an engaged student. He graduated with honors from Amherst College in 1895, then earned his law degree. After passing the bar, he opened a firm in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1898, and was elected to the town's city council. That modest office led to an escalating interest in politics that led to his election as governor of the state in 1918.

3. A police strike made Coolidge a household name.

In 1919, Coolidge faced his biggest challenge yet as a politician when a police strike led to panic and violence in the streets of Boston. After sending in the state guard to quell the tension, Coolidge admonished the officers for leaving their posts. That hard-line stance impressed the public at large, and by 1920, he was an easy pick for a vice-presidential nomination on the Republican ticket next to presidential nominee Warren G. Harding. When Harding died just two years into his term, Coolidge found himself in the Oval Office.

4. Coolidge's own father swore him in.

In a moment that had never transpired before and has never been repeated since, Coolidge was sworn into the presidential office by his own father, also named John Calvin Coolidge. The pair found themselves together while the younger Coolidge was visiting his father in Vermont. News arrived of Harding’s sudden death, which prompted Coolidge Senior, a notary public, to swear in his son in the middle of the night.

5. Coolidge was popular for doing nothing.

In contrast to presidents who lent a heavy hand in American affairs, Coolidge captured the public’s favor by essentially doing nothing. He allowed businesses to prosper by minimizing government interference and satisfied voters who believed bureaucracy had become too overwhelming. But his conservative approach may have been a little too reserved. He's quoted as saying that he spent much of his presidency “avoiding the big problems.” Critics later argued his reluctance to stem the stock market speculation boom in the 1920s may have contributed to the market crash in 1929.

6. Coolidge wasn't very talkative.

Complementing his understated political style was Coolidge’s economy of words. Though he was communicative with the public, holding about eight press conferences a month and making regular radio addresses, direct dialogues were more succinct. He often answered “yes” or “no” to questions posed by the press or associates and prided himself on remaining largely quiet in social settings. According to legend, a dinner companion offered to bet she could extract at least three words from him during the evening. Coolidge turned to her and said, “You lose.”

7. His wife, Grace Coolidge, brought attention to the hearing-impaired.

Grace, whom Coolidge had married in 1905, was a onetime instructor for the hearing-impaired, a disability that had not received much in the way of national attention. But Grace was interested in raising awareness, educating the public at large and inviting Helen Keller to the White House. Grace was able to raise $2 million for the Clarke School for the Deaf, assisted by her husband, who often told friends to contribute to the school.

8. Coolidge rode a mechanical horse for exercise.

After his horseback riding activities were reportedly curtailed by concerned Secret Service agents, Coolidge installed a mechanical horse saddle in the White House. The machine ran on electricity and was able to mimic the bouncy agitation of trotting or galloping, and Coolidge rode the contraption up to three times a day, believing it was beneficial to his health. Referred to as “Thunderbolt,” by the press, the device was widely mocked by observers who felt riding a replica horse was not conduct befitting a president. Coolidge eventually tired of it, opting for other ill-advised exercise contraptions like a belly-reducing vibrating machine.

9. Coolidge was the first sitting president to visit Cuba.

Coolidge was the first—and, until Barack Obama went there in 2016, the only—president to to travel to Cuba while still in office.

When he arrived in Havana for a conference, Coolidge seemed pleased at the warm reception expressed by citizens there—so much so that he temporarily broke free of his laconic stature and took a bow. Maybe it was the grandiose entrance: Coolidge pulled up to Havana in the U.S.S. Texas, a World War I battleship.

10. Coolidge pardoned a raccoon.

Coolidge was very fond of animals, collecting everything from cats to birds to lion cubs that he wryly named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau. For Thanksgiving in 1926, an admirer sent him a live raccoon with the suggestion he cook it and consume it as part of the family dinner. Wary of sampling raccoon meat, Coolidge “pardoned” the animal and it soon became a close friend of his wife's and given the name Rebecca Raccoon. But the pet’s undomesticated status became a source of contention among the Secret Service: She was prone to ripping up furniture and speeding through the White House. Rebecca was eventually donated to a zoo in 1928, Coolidge's final full year in office.

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