Original image
Rebecca O'Connell // istock (background) / getty images (obama)

How Many Presidents Visited All 50 States Before Leaving Office?

Original image
Rebecca O'Connell // istock (background) / getty images (obama)

As you may have read, President Obama raised some eyebrows earlier this month when it was reported that he has only visited 49 out of 50 states since his first term began. The lone outlier? South Dakota.

“We’d always love to have him,” said ex-senator Tom Daschle, who suggested one of the state’s nine Indian reservations for a stop on Obama’s next road trip. Back in 2013, South Dakota’s department of tourism officially invited him over, noting “your wife and daughters have visited Mount Rushmore … now it is your turn.” And don’t miss John Oliver’s brilliant take on Obama’s neglect of South Dakota (complete with a phony, somewhat NSFW ad).

A little over a week after the comedian’s bit aired, Obama announced that he would indeed be dropping by Watertown, S.D., where he’ll deliver a commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute. By exploring the great states of South Dakota, North Carolina, Idaho, and Utah this year, Obama will soon become only the fourth sitting president in U.S. history to have set foot in all 50 states.


FDR would be on this exclusive list, if it weren’t for the fact that Alaska and Hawaii didn’t become states until 1959. Fittingly, the longest-serving POTUS managed to explore—or at the very least pass through—those two territories and all 48 extant states during his twelve-year stint in the White House. 

“Unfortunately,” says archive specialist Jim Armistead of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, “no one has compiled a list of all the states which President Truman visited while he was in office.” Still, his public papers reveal that at least 40 hosted him at one point during his two terms. Furthermore, Armistead notes that before Hawaii joined the union, Truman stopped there “on his way to Wake Island for a conference with General Douglas MacArthur in 1950.” As for America’s other soon-to-be state, he considered taking an Alaskan vacation during the summer of ‘46, but ultimately opted for a New England getaway instead.

Dwight Eisenhower was technically the first president to serve all 50 states—under his watch, two new stars were added to our flag after Alaska and Hawaii joined the union. But despite that—as well as Eisenhower’s part in the creation of America’s interstate highway system—there were a few states that the 34th president never got around to seeing before he left D.C.

For example, Idaho, which got snubbed by Ike and his successor. In John F. Kennedy’s defense, he did manage a visit to every single state at some point (just not during his tragically-short administration). Next up was Lyndon Johnson, who made time for Idaho as chief executive, but neglected places like North Dakota.

Then came Richard Nixon. One day in 1971, “Tricky Dick” met with Republican fundraisers at a Delaware estate. As unassuming as this little foray was, it capped a remarkable accomplishment. By crossing Delaware off his list, Nixon had done something that no previous president had—he’d checked out all 50 states while in office, and did so in less than three years.

According to his press secretary Ronald L. Ziegler, Nixon firmly believed in getting out and meeting everyday people—as his travels purportedly demonstrated. “He has done that,” said Ziegler. “I think he will continue to do that.” 

Unfortunately, Nixon’s sudden, scandalous departure didn’t give Gerald Ford much time to work with, and he couldn’t keep the fifty-state visitation streak alive. (Just like Johnson, North Dakota was among those Ford missed). Jimmy Carter also fell short during his one-term presidency, failing to reach such states as South Dakota and Vermont.

Let’s pause here for a moment, because the syrup-scented home of Ben & Jerry’s really deserves a shout-out. Historically, presidential visits to Vermont have been quite scarce. Before Obama was sworn in, three of the previous five commanders-in-chief never came calling on the New England gem. After Carter overlooked it, Vermont went on to become one of only four states that Ronald Reagan passed over (along with Maine, Rhode Island, and Delaware). Even so, the whole quartet voted for him in 1984—and all but Rhode Island had done so in 1980.

George H.W. Bush did in a single term what Reagan couldn’t in two, becoming the first president since Nixon to see every state. Bill Clinton then followed suit, squeezing in his final state just under the wire.

While Clinton was in office, GOP leaders in Nebraska began taking pride in an odd piece of trivia. “We have the distinction,” Governor Mike Johanns gloated at the Republican National Convention in 2000, “of being the only state in the union, I repeat the ONLY state in the union, never visited by Bill Clinton since he’s been president.” Naturally, the conservative crowd went wild. Four months later, Clinton finally showed and shook hands with Johanns himself when Air Force One touched down at the Kearney Municipal Airport.

George W. Bush spent time in a grand total of 49 states before calling it quits. Care to guess which one he spurned? (We’ll give you a hint: it starts with a “V” and rhymes with “croissant.”)

To say that the 43rd president wasn’t a popular guy in Vermont would be a serious understatement. After all, in 2008, two Vermont towns—Brattleboro and Marlboro—approved a nonbinding measure supposedly requiring local police officers to arrest Bush and then-VP Dick Cheney on sight. Perhaps it was for the best that the head of state kept his distance.

Original image
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Barack Obama Taps Kehinde Wiley to Paint His Official Presidential Portrait
Original image
Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Kehinde Wiley, an American artist known for his grand portraits of African-American subjects, has painted Michael Jackson, Ice-T, and The Notorious B.I.G. in his work. Now the artist will have the honor of adding Barack Obama to that list. According to the Smithsonian, the former president has selected Wiley to paint his official presidential portrait, which will hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley’s portraits typically depict black people in powerful poses. Sometimes he models his work after classic paintings, as was the case with "Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps.” The subjects are often dressed in hip-hop-style clothing and placed against decorative backdrops.

Portrait by Kehinde Wiley
"Le Roi a la Chasse"
Kehinde Wiley, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Smithsonian also announced that Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald has been chosen by former first lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait for the gallery. Like Wiley, Sherald uses her work to challenge stereotypes of African-Americans in art.

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former president and first lady,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a press release. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

The tradition of the president and first lady posing for portraits for the National Portrait Gallery dates back to George H.W. Bush. Both Wiley’s and Sherald’s pieces will be revealed in early 2018 as permanent additions to the gallery in Washington, D.C.

Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Time Teddy Roosevelt Was Shot in the Chest, Then Gave a Speech Anyway
Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 14, 1912—105 years ago today—Theodore Roosevelt was on the campaign trail in Milwaukee, running for another term. It was a tough race: Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson proved to be a formidable opponent, and William Howard Taft, while unpopular, was the Republican incumbent. Roosevelt was running as a third-party Progressive, and in order to keep pace with his big-ticket rivals he had to work hard. By this point in the election season, he was giving 15 to 20 speeches per day, most of which stretched on for an hour or sometimes more. But this day, TR didn't feel too well. His throat was scratchy, he was tired, and so he planned a relatively quick stop.

What Roosevelt and his security team didn't know was that a man with a .38 caliber revolver had been trailing the campaign since they departed New Orleans. For a thousand miles, he rode quietly, just waiting to get his shot at the Colonel.

John Schrank was a Bavarian-born saloon-keeper from New York. He'd had some strange and troubling dreams in recent months, mostly about President McKinley, whose assassination resulted in Roosevelt's first term. In his dreams, Schrank said that President McKinley asked him to avenge his death and protect democracy from a three-term president. All Schrank had to do was kill Roosevelt before he could be reelected.


Roosevelt stood in the seat of his automobile to wave at the crowds and Schrank, who was standing in the front row of the crowd, had his shot. He took aim: point-blank, right at Roosevelt’s head. Then three things happened at the same time. A bystander hit Schrank’s arm; Roosevelt’s security detail spotted the gun and leapt from the car; Schrank pulled the trigger. The shot landed squarely in Roosevelt’s chest just as Schrank was tackled and put in a headlock by the bodyguard. Roosevelt is said not to have noticed he was hit until he reached into his overcoat and felt the blood on his fingers.

But it turns out that Teddy’s long-winded speeches saved his life that day: The bullet traveled through a 50-page copy of his prepared speech and the steel eyeglasses case he carried in the same pocket. The bullet was slowed enough not to reach his lung or heart, which Teddy deduced from the absence of blood when he spoke or coughed. He refused to go to a hospital and insisted on giving his speech.

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose,” he began. He spoke for at least 55 more minutes (though some estimates say 90), still wearing his blood-soaked shirt. (You can read a stenographer’s report of his speech here.)

The pages of the speech that saved Roosevelt's life were later bound into a book.
The pages of the speech that saved Roosevelt's life were later bound into a book, which—along with the eyeglasses case and the shirt TR was wearing—can be seen at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City.
Erin McCarthy

Roosevelt would spend the next eight days in the hospital. The bullet had lodged in his chest wall and removing it was deemed too unsafe. The wound healed and he never reported trouble from the injury again. Despite having lived through his assassination attempt, the presidency would not be Teddy’s again: Woodrow Wilson’s 41 percent of the vote meant the office would be his, though Roosevelt did beat out incumbent Taft, marking the only time a sitting president has come in third place in a reelection bid.

Schrank, in the meantime, was apprehended immediately. He lived the rest of his life in an insane asylum, and died of pneumonia in 1943.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


More from mental floss studios