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.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

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Apple

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Sony

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Evachill

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Do You Remember? 12 Memorable Events That Happened on September 21—the Internet’s Favorite Day of the Year

Earth, Wind & Fire performs during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival just two weeks ahead of their favorite date: September 21st.
Earth, Wind & Fire performs during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival just two weeks ahead of their favorite date: September 21st.
George Pimentel/Getty Images

“Do you remember the 21st night of September?” Earth, Wind and Fire first asked the question back in 1978. In the years since—with many thanks owed to writer and comedian Demi Adejuyigbe’s viral videos celebrating the song and the day—September 21st has become something like the internet’s birthday or, as some have called it, “the most important day of the year.”

In honor of the ceremonious occasion, here are 12 memorable things that have happened on September 21st. After reading them, not only will you remember the 21st night of September—you’ll remember exactly what makes it worth singing about.

1. The Last Day of Summer

September 21 frequently marks the last official day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, as the Autumnal Equinox often falls on September 22 (which is the case in 2020).

2. The Ganesha Milk Miracle

Palani Mohan/Getty Images

In what has become known as the “Ganesha Milk Miracle,” India was briefly brought to a standstill on September 21, 1995, when statues of the elephant deity Ganesha appeared, when offered, to sip milk by the spoonful. Millions of people stood outside the country’s temples, hoping for a glance of this marvel, which stopped as quickly as it started. Milk prices increased by fourfold.

3. Belize Independence Day

After years of diplomacy talks, in 1981 Belize became a nation independent from the United Kingdom.

4. H.G. Wells’s Birthday

H.G. Wells was born on September 21, 1866. His work later influenced and has been referenced by author Stephen King, who was born on the very same day, 81 years later.

5. Mad Men Made Basic Cable TV History

Jon Hamm stars in Mad Men.Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

The Academy of Television of Arts and Sciences confirmed what everyone was thinking in 2008 when it named Mad Men the year’s Outstanding Drama Series, making AMC the first basic cable network to ever win the award. Bonus: Bryan Cranston also took home his first Emmy (of an eventually record-breaking four) for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Breaking Bad.

6. Benedict Arnold Became a Traitor

General Benedict Arnold committed the act that would make his name synonymous with treason and betrayal. In 1780, he met with British Major John Andre, offering to hand over his command of West Point in exchange for money and a high ranking within the British army.

7. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit Was Published

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit—which would eventually go on to sell 100 million copies, be translated into more than 50 languages, and most importantly, introduce the world to the concept of second breakfast—was published in 1937. In its honor, Tolkien Fans everywhere will celebrate Hobbit Day on September 22 (presumably with some second breakfast, amongst other felicitations).

8. Sandra Day O’Connor Confirmed as First Female Supreme Court Justice

Sandra Day O'Connor is sworn into the Supreme Court by Chief Justice Warren Burger while her husband, John O'Connor, looks on.The U.S. National Archives, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

On September 21, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed by the U.S. Senate with a vote of 99–0 to become the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Four days later, on September 25, O'Connor was officially sworn in.

9. Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” Made its Debut

In 1968, Jimi Hendrix released his cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” While this was the first cover of the song, it became the definitive version as well.

10. NASA’s Galileo Mission Concluded

NASA, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

After becoming the first spacecraft to visit an asteroid (visiting two, actually) and successfully completing its mission to gather information about Jupiter and its moons, NASA concluded its Galileo mission in 2003. In order to avoid an unwanted crash between Galileo and the Jupiter moon of Europa—and in a poetic twist, to protect its own discovery of a possible ocean underneath Europa’s icy crust—Galileo was plunged into Jupiter’s atmosphere.

11. Perry Mason Made His Television Debut

Perry Mason premiered in 1957 and with it, we got America’s first weekly, hourlong primetime series to follow one character, which created the DNA for all of your favorite courtroom procedurals to follow (including all the Law & Orders, and then some), and a lawyer with a strikingly high success rate (yes, even for a fictional lawyer).

12. National Pecan Cookie Day

A tray of pecan cookies—just in time for Pecan Cookie Day.rojoimages/iStock via Getty Images

September 21 marks National Pecan Cookie Day, likely because pecan trees become ready to harvest in September. But really, who needs an excuse to eat a pecan cookie?