In anticipation of Presidents Day on Monday, Fun Facts Fridays gives tidbits about former U.S. Presidents. The story of Presidents Day begins in 1800 following the death of President George Washington (1732-1799). The February 22 birthday of the first President became an annual day of remembrance. In 1879 President Rutherford Hayes (1822-1893) signed the federal holiday into law, initially applying it only to D.C. but by 1885 to the whole country. Washington’s Birthday was the first holiday to celebrate the life of an individual American. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, signed into law in 1983 by President Ronald Regan (1911-2004), was the second.
The shift from calling the holiday Washington’s Birthday to Presidents Day began in the late ’60s, when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. The Act took effect in 1971 by an executive order from President Richard Nixon (1913-94). Washington’s Birthday changed from the fixed date of February 22 to the third Monday of February. By the early 2000s, the holiday as Presidents Day took root — though it often continues to highlight the lives of esteemed Presidents Washington and Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).
A DOZEN FACTS
- Once elected President of the United States of America, the individual never loses the title. Indeed Mr. President joins an elite men’s club — though in theory it’s no longer for men only — of 44, four of whom plus the incumbent are alive. A four story townhouse at Jackson Place in Washington opens its doors exclusively to the club’s members.
- Over half the U.S. presidents were born in four states: Virginia (8), Ohio (7), New York (5) and Massachusetts (4).
- Twenty-nine states haven’t produced any presidents. Most are in the west and didn’t exist when the country was founded. Arizona claims two presidential candidates: Barry Goldwater (born in Phoenix in 1909 when Arizona was still a territory) and John McCain (who represented Arizona in Congress and the Senate from 1982-2000).
- William Taft (1857-1930) was the first president (in office 1909-12) to have an official White House automobile: a White Motor Company Model M seven-passenger steam-powered touring car that cost $4,000. After President Kennedy’s assassination, the military and government began examining the vehicles more closely. By the time of President Barak Obama (1961- ), the cars are created from the ground up at a cost of about $1.5 million. The new limo is aptly named The Beast.
- In 1903, toy store owner and inventor Morris Michtom placed two stuffed bears in his shop window, advertising them as Teddy bears. President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) had given Michom permission to use his nickname. Other toy manufacturers started turning out copies of the stuffed bears. They soon appeared in most households in the nation.
- Herbert Hoover (1874–1964) was the first president to give his federal paycheques of $75,000/yr to charity. John Kennedy is the only other president to donate his salary of $100,000/yr.
- Three presidents died on the Fourth of July: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (both in 1826 on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence) and James Monroe (1831). President Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4th, 1872.
- Eight presidents died in office: William Harrison (1773-1841), Zachary Taylor (1774-1850), Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), James Garfield (1831-1881), William McKinley (1843-1901), Warren Harding (1865-1923), Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), and John Kennedy (1917-1963).
- Franklin Roosevelt is the longest serving President, completing three full terms and dying two months and 23 days into a fourth (in office 1933-1945). However, the 22nd Amendment, ratified on February 27, 1951, establishes a two-term limit for presidents.
- Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969), in office from 1953-61, was the first president to preside over fifty states. Hawaii and Alaska were admitted to the union in 1959. He also gave permanent status to FDR’s presidential retreat in Maryland, changing its name from Shangri-la to Camp David. “Shangri-la was just a little too fancy for a Kansas farm boy,” he said.
- Email was introduced to the White House in 1992 and George W. Bush (1946- ) was the first president to use the new technology. (He was also the first president to complete a marathon, finishing the Houston Marathon with a time of 3 hours, 44 minutes and 52 seconds on January 24, 1993.) Bill Clinton’s (1946- ) administration developed the White House’s first web site, which debuted on October 20, 1994.
- Three presidents have won Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word Album: Bill Clinton (My Life, 2004), Jimmy Carter (Our Endangered Values, 2006, A Full Life, 2015 and Faith—A Journey for All, 2018), and Barack Obama (Dreams From My Father, 2005 and The Audacity of Hope, 2007).
Please add your fun facts about U.S. Presidents in the comments below. •
P.S. In summer 1926, White Pine Camp in the Adirondacks of New York State served as the seasonal White House for President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) and his family. In summer 2017, Glen, Marina, Andrew, our grandchildren Henry and Charlie, and I stayed for a week at that very Camp.