45 Odd Facts About U.S. Presidents

Oleksii Liskonih/iStock via Getty Images
Oleksii Liskonih/iStock via Getty Images

Did you know the United States had a president named Leslie? That isn't the odd thing about him.

It turns out that Presidents are also human, which means they are also deeply weird. Here are 45 strange tidbits of trivia all about the people who have taken up residence in the White House.

1. Gerald Ford was a model.

Gerald Ford in 1934.
Michigan University/Getty Images

Gerald Ford—birth name Leslie Lynch King, Jr.—was a model for Cosmopolitan, appearing in a cover illustration he posed for in 1942. He also met his wife through modeling.

2. Herbert Hoover invented his own sport.

Watch out, Calvin Coolidge Ball. To stay fit, Herbert Hoover and his personal physician invented their own sport: Hooverball. The game was a sort of cross between volleyball, tennis, and dodgeball, except much more terrifying, because it was played with a medicine ball.

3. Herbert Hoover managed the football team at Stanford.

Herbert Hoover
getty images

Speaking of Hoover and sports: young Herbert was manager of the football team at Stanford, but he was a little bit Holden Caulfield about the gig. At the first Stanford-Cal game in 1892, for instance, he forgot to bring the game ball.

4. Teddy Roosevelt didn’t think a black eye seemed presidential.

Noted pugilist Teddy Roosevelt said he cut back on boxing in the White House because it was "rather absurd for a president to appear with a black eye or a swollen nose or a cut lip."

5. But that didn't stop Teddy Roosevelt from sparring.

Equally absurd? Throwing a Swiss minister to the floor during a Judo demonstration, which Teddy also did. At a state luncheon. Even though Switzerland is neutral.

6. Teddy Roosevelt had a lock of Abe Lincoln's hair.

Close view of Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln on Mt. Rushmore
Justin Brewer iStock via Getty Images

Incidentally, during his inauguration, Teddy Roosevelt wore a ring that contained a lock of Abraham Lincoln's hair, which may be the 14th weirdest thing about him.

7. Teddy Roosevelt viewed Abe Lincoln's funeral procession.

In 1865, Teddy Roosevelt watched Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession in New York City, and apparently it left quite an impression. Enough to make Teddy want some of Lincoln's hair and to call the man his "great hero."

8. Abraham Lincoln's hair was incredibly versatile.

Speaking of Lincoln's hair: it was amazing. Stately, bed-tossed, shaggy, neatly trimmed. He pulled off dozens of looks with what one reporter called "wild Republican hair."

9. Ulysses S. Grant was given a speeding ticket ... while he was president.

Ulysses S. Grant
U.S. Library of Congress, Getty Images

In 1872, sitting president Ulysses S. Grant was pulled over and fined $20 for exceeding the Washington speed limit ... on a horse.

10. Bill Clinton is kind of a brony.

When Bill Clinton appeared on Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!, he aced the three questions about My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

11. Bill Clinton's cat had its own video game.

The Clintons' cat almost had his own Super Nintendo game called Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill. The release didn't go through, but, fortunately, a Kickstarter campaign made the game a reality in 2018.

12. Richard Nixon proposed to his wife the day they met.

Pro tip: that is not a good idea. Then he obsessively pursued Pat for two years until she finally said yes. (Also not a good idea.)

13. Richard Nixon drove his future wife on dates with other guys.

But it gets weirder than that, because to spend time with Pat in the interim, Nixon acted as her chauffeur, driving her on dates with other guys ... which is not creepy at all.

14. Richard Nixon's favorite snack was cottage cheese with ketchup.

A portrait of 37th president Richard Nixon
Keystone/Getty Images

He also had yogurt flown in from California every day.

15. Warren Harding bet white house china on a poker game.

It was a priceless set. And he lost. Not the only example of corruption in his administration.

16. George H.W. Bush thought about naming Clint Eastwood as his running mate.

Ultimately, Bush chose Dan Quayle. If he had picked Eastwood, he would have elevated the mayor of a small town in California to the second highest position in the federal government—not to mention that Bush would have had a movie star as his VP.

17. Martin Van Buren wrote an autobiography without mentioning his wife.

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) on engraving from 1859. 8th President of the United States during 1837-1841.
GeorgiosArt iStock via Getty Images

They had six children together. Sadly, she died at 35 of tuberculosis before he became president. He never remarried.

18. Lyndon Johnson issued the first Medicare card to Harry Truman.

This is a presidential twofer: President Truman was the first to call for federal medical insurance that would take care of those at retiree age, so President Johnson made it a symbolic act to sign the bill creating Medicare at the Truman Library, awarding the 81-year-old Truman the first card.

19. The bowling alley in the White House was a birthday present for Truman.

Speaking of Truman: For his birthday in 1947, Harry's pals had a bowling alley installed in the White House ... but he hadn't bowled since he was 19 years old.

20. Harry Truman never pardoned a turkey.

President Harry Truman laughing
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Contrary to popular belief, Truman never granted clemency to a turkey. Several history sites claim that Truman was the first president to pardon a Thanksgiving Day turkey, but the Truman Library can't find any "documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records" tying him to the custom. According to their research, the one time President Truman was given a live turkey for the holidays, his family did what people expected them to do: eat it.

21. The first turkey pardon was by JFK.

So, who was the first president to give a bird a pass? John F. Kennedy. In 1963, Kennedy announced he wouldn't eat the turkey he'd been given. Instead, he sent it to a farm upstate where it had plenty of space to run and play and gobble and contemplate what its country had done for it.

22. Rutherford B. Hayes was the first to host an Easter egg roll.

It was fairly impromptu. Denied access to the grounds of the United States Capitol in 1878, children went to the White House instead, and Hayes instructed his security detail to let them in.

23. Gerald Ford was the first president to host a prom.

It was for his daughter Susan's school. Nothing says "not embarrassing" like having the Secret Service chaperone your high school dance.

24. LBJ sold muzak to the White House.

Johnson owned a franchise of the easy listening music in Austin and sold the tunes to Eisenhower's White House years before he'd sit in the Oval Office himself.

25. Before he was president, Grover Cleveland was president.

Hats off to #22 and #24, the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.

26. Before he was president, Grover Cleveland was a hangman.

As sheriff of Erie County, Cleveland personally carried out two hanging sentences to save his district money.

27. William Faulkner turned down an invitation from JFK.

By Abbie Rowe - John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The great William Faulkner once refused an invitation from President Kennedy's White House. "Why that's a hundred miles away," Faulkner explained. "That's a long way to go just to eat."

28. Calvin Coolidge really didn't like talking.

His nickname, Silent Cal, was well-earned. Upon hearing the news of the notoriously quiet Calvin Coolidge's death, Dorothy Parker reportedly asked, "How can they tell?"

29. There was an assassination attempt on FDR'S life.

Getty Images

In 1933, a would-be-assassin shot at Franklin Delano Roosevelt five times while Roosevelt was giving a speech. Five people were hit. None of them were Roosevelt.

30. Ronald Reagan wrote about Drew Barrymore in his diary.

An excerpt from Ronald Reagan's diary from October 17, 1984 reads: "Little Drew Barrymore—the child in E.T.—was one of the children [I met]. She's a nice little person."

31. Reagan absolutely dominated in the electoral college.


If you combine the electoral college results of the 1980 and 1984 elections, Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale 1014-62.

32. Ronald Reagan was offered a role in Back To The Future III.

Reagan was a mild punch line in the first Back to the Future, which he screened at the White House. So director Robert Zemeckis liked the idea of him playing a small role as the 1885 mayor of Hill Valley. They got Reagan's former agent (who was then head of Universal Studios) to reach out to offer him the part.

33. Ronald Reagan quoted the franchise in a state of the union address.

In his 1986 address, Reagan name-checked the Michael J. Fox sci-fi comedy and delivered the "Where we're going we don't need roads," line. How hip is that?

34. Reagan also convinced Mr. T to play Santa.

Getty Images

Which is how we got a great photo of Nancy Reagan sitting on Mr. T's lap.

35. Harry S. Truman's middle name is S.

Just S. His middle name was a compromise initial denoting both grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.

36. David Beckham gave Barack Obama a pair of underwear.

Fifty pairs of boxer briefs to be exact.

37. Ludacris made headphones exclusively for Barack Obama.

 Former U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama participate in the unveiling of their official portraits during a ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC
Mark Wilson, Getty Images

They had the presidential seal on the sides and everything.

38. Barack Obama turned down a pet donkey.

Not from Ludacris. The Colombian village of Turbaco prepared a donkey to give to the president during a visit, but Obama diplomatically declined.

39. John Adams had a great name for his dog.

An illustration of John Adams at a writing desk
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John and Abigail Adams had a dog named Satan. Their other dog was Juno.

40. Benjamin Harrison had pet possums.

They were named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection in reference to a Republican party slogan of the era.

41. Teddy Roosevelt's children had guinea pigs.

Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans, and Father O'Grady ... those are some intense guinea pig names. They also owned dogs, cats, kangaroo rats, and a badger.

42. Jimmy Carter wrote a children's book.

The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer is about a young boy growing up in poverty who meets an unusual deep-sea creature.

43. Dwight Eisenhower named Camp David after his grandson.

Fox Photos/Getty Images

Before then, the presidential retreat was called "Shangri-La." Ike renamed it in 1953 to honor his then-five-year-old grandson, Dwight David.

44. Bill Clinton's first job was selling comic books.

At the age of 13, Bill Clinton went to work at a grocery store and convinced the owner to let him sell comic books. He made $100.

45. Andrew Johnson made his own suits.

A portrait of U.S. president Andrew Johnson
National Archives/Newsmakers/Getty Images

Andrew Johnson was a tailor in Tennessee before launching his political career, and old habits die hard. Even after he became president, he made his own clothing.

Watch our full video of of odd facts about the U.S. presidents below.

This Innovative Cutting Board Takes the Mess Out of Meal Prep

There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
TidyBoard, Kickstarter

Transferring food from the cutting board to the bowl—or scraps to the compost bin—can get a little messy, especially if you’re dealing with something that has a tendency to roll off the board, spill juice everywhere, or both (looking at you, cherry tomatoes).

The TidyBoard, available on Kickstarter, is a cutting board with attached containers that you can sweep your ingredients right into, taking the mess out of meal prep and saving you some counter space in the process. The board itself is 15 inches by 20 inches, and the container that fits in its empty slot is 14 inches long, 5.75 inches wide, and more than 4 inches deep. Two smaller containers fit inside the large one, making it easy to separate your ingredients.

Though the 4-pound board hangs off the edge of your counter, good old-fashioned physics will keep it from tipping off—as long as whatever you’re piling into the containers doesn’t exceed 9 pounds. It also comes with a second set of containers that work as strainers, so you can position the TidyBoard over the edge of your sink and drain excess water or juice from your ingredients as you go.

You can store food in the smaller containers, which have matching lids; and since they’re all made of BPA-free silicone, feel free to pop them in the microwave. (Remove the small stopper on top of the lid first for a built-in steaming hole.)

tidyboard storage containers
They also come in gray, if teal isn't your thing.

Not only does the bamboo-made TidyBoard repel bacteria, it also won’t dull your knives or let strong odors seep into it. In short, it’s an opportunity to make cutting, cleaning, storing, and eating all easier, neater, and more efficient. Prices start at $79, and it’s expected to ship by October 2020—you can find out more details and order yours on Kickstarter.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Do Politicians Need a Musician's Permission to Play One of Their Songs at a Campaign Event?

Dyana Wing So, Unsplash
Dyana Wing So, Unsplash

Whether it’s the songwriter, the performer, or the recording label, someone always owns the rights to a song. Whether or not one needs permission to play that song depends a lot on the circumstances. A DJ at a wedding doesn’t need to worry about any consequences for playing Peter Gabriel's “In Your Eyes” or The Righteous Brothers's “Unchained Melody.” Sports arenas can pipe in the Rolling Stones's “Start Me Up” without a release.

In the world of politics, however, campaigns and rallies that rely on music to stir up crowds often come under fire for unauthorized use. What’s the reason?

According to Rolling Stone, it’s not typically an issue over copyright, though using a song without permission is technically copyright infringement. If a song is played in a public venue like a stadium or arena that has a public performance license, no permission is needed. The license is typically granted through a songwriters’ association like the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) or Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). Even so, ASCAP still recommends [PDF] that political campaigns seek out permission from the musicians or songwriters, as these licenses exclude music played during conventions or campaign events.

Additionally, most artists aren’t concerned with their music being played at a wedding or sporting event. It is, after all, a form of free publicity and exposure, and no one is really making any substantial amount of money from their work. But the political realm is different. Because artists might have differing political beliefs than a candidate using their music, they sometimes grow concerned that use of their material might be construed as an endorsement.

That’s when artists can begin to make noise about wanting politicians to stop playing their music. In this instance, they can object on the basis of their Right of Publicity—a legal argument that covers how their image is portrayed. They can make the assertion that use of their work infringes on their right to not be associated with a subject they find objectionable. Other arguments can be raised through the Lanham Act, which covers trademark confusion (or a False Endorsement), which addresses the implication an artist is endorsing a political message if their music is used.

In 2008, for example, Jackson Browne won a lawsuit against John McCain and the national and Ohio GOP when the McCain campaign used Browne’s song “Running on Empty” in ads attacking Barack Obama over gas conservation.

Even if the musician isn’t supportive of a candidate, it’s not always advisable to take such action. A contentious legal confrontation can often result in more publicity than if a musician simply let the campaign continue uninterrupted. Other times, recording artists feel strongly enough about distancing themselves from a message they disagree with that they’ll take whatever steps are necessary.

The bottom line? More often than not, a song played during a campaign isn’t there because an artist or label gave their permission. And unless the artist strenuously objects to the campaign message and is willing to get into a legal tussle, they probably can’t do a whole lot to stop it.

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