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15 Facts About William Howard Taft

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Here are 15 larger-than-life fun facts to help you celebrate William Howard Taft—born 157 years ago yesterday—and his plus-sized legacy.

1. He Was the Last President to Rock Facial Hair While in Office.

Between the Lincoln and Taft administrations, all but two commanders-in-chief boasted some sort of face fuzz. But since our 27th president left the White House in 1913, clean-shaven candidates have monopolized the job.

2. Taft’s Family Maintained a Long-Standing Political Dynasty.

His son, Robert (also known as “Mr. Republican”), became one of the twentieth century’s most influential senators; his grandson—William Howard Taft IV—went on to tackle various executive duties for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

3. A Dairy Expo Once Spent Two Days Fretting Over his Missing Milk Cow.

Pauline Wayne was quite the bovine beauty. A gift from Wisconsin Senator Isaac Stephenson, this purebred cow produced roughly eight gallons of daily milk for the first family. Sensing a crowd-pleaser, the 1911 International Dairymen’s Exposition arranged to transport her all the way from D.C. to Milwaukee—but Pauline’s train car wound up getting lost en route. After some frenzied telegraphing, the President’s cow was discovered two days later in a Chicago stockyard, where she just barely avoided getting slaughtered.

4. Taft Valued Being on the Supreme Court Over his Presidency.

Though he’s best remembered for his one-term stint on Pennsylvania Avenue, Taft had been pining for the Judicial Branch since 1889. Upon becoming Chief Justice in 1921, he happily declared “I don’t remember that I was ever president.”

5. He Debuted the “Presidential First Pitch.”

Hall of Famer Walter Johnson managed to snag a low-flying ball Taft gracelessly lobbed from the stands at the start of a 1910 Washington Senators game. One hundred and four years later, this opening day tradition’s still going strong.

6. Taft’s Wife Crashed the 1912 DNC to Shield Him from Ridicule.

It’s hard to demean someone whose spouse is sitting right in front of you. After her husband won the Republican presidential nomination, First Lady Helen Herron “Nellie” Taft made a beeline for the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. Grabbing a front-row seat, she stared down orator after orator, including the cantankerous William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, who suddenly decided to soften his anti-Taft rhetoric.

7. His Nicknames Included “Big Bill” and “Big Lub.”

For the record, Nellie called him “Sleeping Beauty” due to Taft’s bad habit of dozing off at parties (more on that later).

8. Taft Swore in Two Other Presidents.

As Chief Justice, he administered the oath of office to fellow conservatives Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

9. He Briefly Worked as a Part-Time Reporter.

Taft covered courthouse news for The Cincinnati Commercial while making ends meet as a law student. However, after becoming president, his attitude towards journalists cooled considerably.

10. He Lost 70 Pounds After Leaving the White House.

“I can truthfully say that I never felt any younger in all my life,” Taft announced, having given up bread, potatoes, pork, and liquor. “Too much flesh is bad for any man.” 

11. You Know About Teddy Bears, But “Billy Possums”?

Ever been to a “Build-An-Opossum” workshop? Neither have we. Worried that America’s Teddy Bear mania would evaporate after Roosevelt’s last term, toy manufacturers started producing stuffed “Billy Possums”—named in president-elect Taft’s honor—en masse. Needless to say, these things didn’t last long.

12. Taft Tended to Fall Asleep at Public Functions.

“Most of the time,” admitted Indiana Senator James Watson, “[Taft] simply did not and could not function in alert fashion… Often while I was talking to him after a meal, his head would fall over on his breast and he would go sound asleep for 10 or 15 minutes. He would waken and resume the conversation, only to repeat the performance in the course of half an hour or so.” President Taft was also seen snoozing at operas, funerals, and—especially—church services.

13. He Successfully Lobbied for the Modern Supreme Court Building.

The government’s Judicial Branch didn’t always convene in the majestic building we know today. Before 1935, the Supreme Court issued its rulings from various rooms inside the Capitol. Chief Justice Taft changed all that, successfully lobbying Congress to give the Court its own separate building at a cost of $10 million.

14. Taft Recently Became One of the Washington Nationals’ Racing Mascots.

Since 2006, wonky caricatures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt have been sprinting across the Nats’ home field and into the hearts of D.C. sports fans. These Rushmore racers were given some awfully big competition when Taft was added to their roster in 2013. “He might even give Teddy a run for his money,” said Nationals COO Andy Feffer.

15. Taft Once Had an Embarrassing Bathtub Incident (No, Not That One).

Today, most people remember Taft as “the president who got stuck in a bathtub while in office.” The actual evidence behind this particular washroom anecdote is rather murky, but at least one of Taft’s bathing sessions ended in catastrophe. While entering a hotel tub in 1915, the ex-president apparently failed to take fluid displacement into account. A wave of Taft’s dirty bathwater instantly poured out, seeped through the floor, and started dripping all over people’s heads on the level beneath him. Though briefly humiliated, Taft made light of the situation. While looking out at the Atlantic Ocean shortly thereafter, he quipped, “I’ll get a piece of that fenced in some day, and then I venture to say there won’t be any overflow.” 

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History
The Funky History of George Washington's Fake Teeth
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo
Screenshot via Mount Vernon/Vimeo

George Washington may have the most famous teeth—or lack thereof—in American history. But counter to what you may have heard about the Founding Father's ill-fitting dentures, they weren't made of wood. In fact, he had several sets of dentures throughout his life, none of which were originally trees. And some of them are still around. The historic Mount Vernon estate holds the only complete set of dentures that has survived the centuries, and the museum features a video that walks through old George's dental history.

Likely due to genetics, poor diet, and dental disease, Washington began losing his original teeth when he was still a young man. By the time he became president in 1789, he only had one left in his mouth. The dentures he purchased to replace his teeth were the most scientifically advanced of the time, but in the late 18th century, that didn't mean much.

They didn't fit well, which caused him pain, and made it difficult to eat and talk. The dentures also changed the way Washington looked. They disfigured his face, causing his lips to noticeably stick out. But that doesn't mean Washington wasn't grateful for them. When he finally lost his last surviving tooth, he sent it to his dentist, John Greenwood, who had made him dentures of hippo ivory, gold, and brass that accommodated the remaining tooth while it still lived. (The lower denture of that particular pair is now held at the New York Academy of Medicine.)

A set of historic dentures
George Washington's Mount Vernon

These days, no one would want to wear dentures like the ones currently held at Mount Vernon (above). They're made of materials that would definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth. The base that fit the fake teeth into the jaw was made of lead. The top teeth were sourced from horses or donkeys, and the bottom were from cows and—wait for it—people.

These teeth actually deteriorated themselves, revealing the wire that held them together. The dentures open and shut thanks to metal springs, but because they were controlled by springs, if he wanted to keep his mouth shut, Washington had to permanently clench his jaw. You can get a better idea of how the contraption worked in the video from Mount Vernon below.

Washington's Dentures from Mount Vernon on Vimeo.

There are plenty of lessons we can learn from the life of George Washington, but perhaps the most salient is this: You should definitely, definitely floss.

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Pop Culture
11 Famous Men Who Used to Be Cheerleaders
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When cheerleading was “born” on November 2, 1898, it looked a lot different than it does today. There were no tiny outfits, no wild stunts and—surprise!—no women. University of Minnesota student Johnny Campbell rallied a football crowd with the ad-libbed cheer, "Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-u-mah, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah!” and unwittingly became the father of cheerleading. (The school, by the way, still uses Campbell’s original cheer to this day.)

Soon after Campbell’s performance, the University of Minnesota organized a six-man “yell squad” and other colleges followed suit. Women didn’t really enter the picture until 1923. Although male cheerleaders are the minority today, there was a time when they were the vast—and loud—majority. Here are 11 famous examples of them.

1. GEORGE W. BUSH

Future president George W. Bush wasn't just a cheerleader at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in the 1960s: he was head cheerleader. And he’s in good company ...

2. AARON SPELLING

Aaron Spelling may have made his name behind the scenes as one of television's most prolific—and successful—producers, but he was front and center when he was head cheerleader at Southern Methodist University.

3. JIMMY STEWART


Getty Images

Iconic actor Jimmy Stewart was also head cheerleader during his tenure at Princeton.

4. DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER

When he was no longer able to play football at West Point, Eisenhower decided to continue supporting his team by cheerleading instead.

5. FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

FDR cheered for Harvard football in 1904, notably rallying the crowd for a particularly heated game against Brown.

6. SAMUEL L. JACKSON

Samuel L. Jackson lent his legendary voice to the squad at Riverside High in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

7. STEVE MARTIN


NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Steve Martin tried to write cheers for the squad he was on, but has said “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs” didn’t go over too well.

8. TRENT LOTT

Former Mississippi senator Trent Lott was a cheerleader at Ole Miss.

9. RONALD REAGAN


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ronald Reagan cheered on his basketball team at Eureka College in Illinois.

10. AND 11. KIRK DOUGLAS AND MICHAEL DOUGLAS

Before he was an actor, Kirk Douglas honed his performance skills as a cheerleader at Amsterdam High School in Amsterdam, New York. As with acting, Kirk's son Michael also followed in his dad's footsteps in cheerleading; he was on the squad at Choate.

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