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.

MICHAEL EVANS, THE WHITE HOUSE/GETTY IMAGES

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.

How Gracie Allen and the Surprise Party Got 1940s America Excited to Vote

Gracie Allen laughed her way to a presidential run in 1940.
Gracie Allen laughed her way to a presidential run in 1940.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to run for an unprecedented third term, the competition seemed to stop trying. The GOP pinned their hopes on a political novice, Wendell Wilkie. The socialist and prohibition parties put their unflexed muscles behind relative unknowns. For FDR, the race seemed to be a lock. That is, until George Burns decided to shake things up.

In early 1940, the comedian hatched a scheme to have his wife and comic partner Gracie Allen run for office as the “Surprise Party” candidate. When Allen made her announcement on the couple’s radio show that February, she and Burns thought they’d get a few chuckles and some promotional buzz. To the pair’s shock, the idea caught on with the glum electorate.

It didn’t matter that Allen’s platform made no sense. One of her proposed programs involved offering correspondence courses for unemployed workers, so they could fail to find jobs in three or four different industries. She also refused to share the ticket with a vice presidential nominee, claiming she didn’t want any vice in the White House, and promised to settle the Florida-California border dispute.

Black and white image of women in formal attire
"Presidential hopeful" Gracie Allen (far right) with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (center) at a March 1940 event.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Although the stunt was obviously a joke, “Vote for Gracie” buttons popped up around the country. Harvard students pledged their support for Allen’s campaign. A Minnesota town offered her its mayoral job. Allen and Burns’s modest stunt went as viral as anything could in pre-YouTube days. The pair even mounted a “real” campaign, with Allen embarking on a 34-city whistle-stop train tour that drew hundreds of thousands of supporters.

The silliness escalated. In May of 1940, the Surprise Party held its own convention. All 8000 “delegates” in attendance threw their support behind the Gracie Allen ticket. But shortly after the event, the comedian put the brakes on her gag campaign. In a rare serious moment, Allen acknowledged the country was in rough shape. Everyone had enjoyed the laugh, but it was time for the real candidates to get their messages out.

In the end, Roosevelt beat Wilkie, piling up over 27 million popular votes on his way to a third term. Oddly, several thousand Americans still cast their votes for a dark horse candidate who had ended her campaign months earlier: Gracie Allen of the Surprise Party.

18 Surprising Things Stolen From Libraries

The 17th-century Samuel de Champlain map of New France was stolen from the Boston Public Library.
The 17th-century Samuel de Champlain map of New France was stolen from the Boston Public Library.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

It’s no secret that library books disappear. Many are misshelved and eventually resurface. Others are lost by library users, and some are borrowed and kept long after their return date. In many cases, the borrower pays the corresponding fine—just ask Emily Canellos-Simms, who returned a book to the Kewanee Public Library in Illinois a full 47 years late, at a cost of $345.14.

Then there’s theft, a common problem for libraries both big and small. In some of the most costly cases, these thefts are carried out by dedicated “tome raiders” who target rare books, maps, and documents, normally to sell to collectors. But it’s not always books that go missing: In recent decades, everything from presidential rocking chairs to swords and skeletons have been stolen from libraries across the world.

1. Alan Turing’s Order of the British Empire and other memorabilia

When Julia Schinghomes visited Alan Turing’s former school in Dorset, England, in 1984, she quietly walked out with an entire collection of artifacts Turing's mother had donated to the library. Bizarrely, the woman later wrote to the library to express her joy at having the items in her possession before returning some pieces by mail. But she held on to Turing’s OBE medal, his diploma from Princeton, school report cards, and a letter from King George VI. In 2018, the same woman offered the items to the University of Colorado, but under a different name: Julia Turing. She claimed to be related to the mathematician, but it’s believed she was just a Turing-obsessed superfan. The Department of Homeland Security confiscated the items, and there's now a lawsuit to have them officially forfeited to the U.S. government.

2. A 400-year-old Geneva bible

People working at desks inside a library
The interior of the main branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

A Geneva Bible, published in 1615, was one of the rarest books to disappear from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library during one of the largest library heists ever recorded. The pilfering, which took place over two decades, was allegedly an inside job. So far 40 books have been recovered, including the bible. It was sold to the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum in the Netherlands for $1200 and returned to Pittsburgh when the museum’s owners realized it had been stolen.

3. President Harry S. Truman’s diamond-studded swords and daggers

In 1978, thieves broke into the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri—but they weren’t looking for books. Their target was a case in the lobby that contained swords, scabbards, and daggers gifted to Truman by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Saud and the Shah of Iran. The weapons, which were variously decorated with gold, diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, had a combined value of more than $1 million. The robbery took less than a minute and the items have never been recovered.

4. A copy of Columbus’s first letter from the New World

In 1875, the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, Italy, acquired a Latin copy of the first letter Christopher Columbus wrote to Ferdinand, King of Spain, describing his discoveries in the Americas. The letter, known as the Plannck I edition, was stolen from the library between 1985 and 1988. It disappeared without a trace, until, in May 2003, a collector unwittingly purchased the letter from a rare book dealer in the United States. He was tracked down by investigators, and the copy was examined and found to be the genuine Plannck I. The owner agreed to turn the document over, which must have been a crushing blow, considering its estimated market value of $1.3 million.

5. A “holey dollar” and other rare coins

An Australian "holey dollar" against a white background
A single "holey dollar" is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
State Library of New South Wales, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 AU

When a thief broke into an armored glass display case in the State Library of New South Wales, he managed to make off with 12 Australian coins with a total value of almost $1 million AUD ($660,995.00 USD). The earliest and by far the most expensive coin was a “holey dollar,” the first currency minted in Australia. Only around 300 holey dollars are known to exist today. The stolen coins were never recovered.

6. President John F. Kennedy’s rocking chair

After the death of John F. Kennedy, his family entrusted Kennedy’s longtime personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, with the safekeeping of his personal effects. Lincoln was tasked with gathering together all the items while Kennedy’s family decided which to keep and which to donate to the Kennedy Library. Lincoln, however, decided to hold onto many of the pieces, including Kennedy’s rocking chair from the Oval Office, eventually giving them away or selling them. It was not until 2003 that the National Archives and Records Administration managed to reacquire many of the objects.

7. A copy of Ukraine’s oldest printed book

In 2017, a copy of the Apostolos, the first book printed in modern-day Ukraine, went missing from Ukraine’s National Conservation Center. At the same time, an artist working on the book’s restoration also went missing, prompting an ongoing search for both the book and the man. The man’s wife later phoned the library, promising her husband would return to explain everything. He never did. It wasn't the first time a version of the 16th-century tome disappeared. Another copy of the Apostolos, valued at around $150,000, went missing the year before, stolen from the Vernadsky National Library by a man claiming to be a supervisory authority.

8. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s official portrait and inaugural address

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, has been the scene of two notable disappearances. In 2004, the library’s director realized a 5-foot-by-4-foot portrait of FDR had mysteriously disappeared. Apparently the painting had been left in a shipping crate upon its return from a loan at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It was never seen again, and was either stolen from the crate or accidentally thrown away. Later, in 2011, two men were arrested in the library while trying to steal documents. The FBI raided the apartment of one of the men, where they found 10,000 stolen items, including seven copies of FDR’s 1937 inaugural address, all previously stolen from his presidential library.

9. A 17th-century Samuel de Champlain map of New France

Before his arrest and conviction in 2006, the notorious American art thief Forbes Smiley had stolen at least 97 rare maps valued at more than $3 million. One of his favorite haunts was the Boston Public Library, whose map collection was a relatively easy target for Smiley. One map that went missing from the library was the 17th-century Samuel de Champlain map of New France, which details an area stretching from current day Maine to Quebec and Newfoundland. Smiley never admitted to stealing the map, but he was the last person to view it, according to library records.

10. A fiberglass skeleton was stolen from an Australian city library.

In 2017, the Adelaide City Library was hosting a traveling exhibition by the Australian Orthopaedic Association. It’s fair to say no one was expecting a heist. However, the exhibition was infiltrated by a group of three men pretending to be council workers. Their target, for reasons unknown, was a fiberglass skeleton with a street value of about $300 USD. The men were caught on CCTV cameras casually walking out of the library and then boarding a bus, accompanied by the skeleton. No one was ever arrested for the crime.

11. Lyndon B. Johnson’s class ring

Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech to the Coast Guard Academy’s graduating class of 1964. As a thank you, the Academy presented LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson with customized class rings made of 14-carat gold with yellow sapphire settings. The president's ring was gifted to the LBJ Presidential Library in 1970, but disappeared in 1989 during library renovations. To this day, no one knows if the ring was stolen or simply misplaced during the remodeling.

12. The Well of the Scribes sculpture

Exterior of the Los Angeles Central Library entrance
The Los Angeles Central Library has been without the Well of the Scribes since 1969..
Karen, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 1969, the Los Angeles Central Library demolished its entire West Lawn to make room for more parking space. One of the main features of the lawn was the Well of the Scribes, a bronze sculptural basin weighing more than 3000 pounds. During the renovations, it somehow disappeared. Fifty years later, the city librarian received a call from an antique store owner in Arizona, who claimed to have in his possession a panel from the Well of the Scribes. It checked out. The man had purchased the piece—one of three panels from the sculpture—10 years previously for $500, from a woman who had kept it in her garden. It was returned to the library, and the search for the other two panels continues.

13. A Boer War veteran's diaries and possessions

The South Australian State Library was once home to Boer War artifacts belonging to an Australian soldier and ornithologist named Captain Samuel Albert White. The items included diaries, letters, photographs, uniform badges, a fob watch, and a compass, which together formed a compelling history of Captain White’s experiences. In 2015, the library informed the police that the entire collection was missing. But this was no smash and grab theft: The collection had been housed in a non-public storage area, raising suspicions of an inside job. So far, the artifacts have not been recovered.

14. A 15th-century register of blacksmiths' statutes

The Biblioteca Passerini-Landi in Piacenza, Italy, is yet more proof that renovations are a prime time for thievery. While the library was undergoing repairs in 1985, 145 rare volumes were stolen, including a priceless manuscript called Matricula et statuta paratici fabrorum ferrariorum, which documents the economic exchange and work of blacksmiths in Piacenza in the 15th century. The Carabinieri art squad, which had been trying to track down the book for decades, eventually found it on an internet auction site for the measly sum of 600 euros, far less than its actual value. It was returned to the library.

15. The first Prime Minister of India's gold dagger

A black and white headshot of Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru served as Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, died in 1964, many of the gifts he had received from visiting dignitaries were given to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. One such item was a janbiya, a gold dagger with a short curved blade, presented to Nehru by the King of Saudi Arabia. In 2016, library staff discovered a display case containing the dagger, as well as a precious ivory box and a scroll container, had been broken. Only the dagger had been removed. Two of the museum’s sanitation workers were eventually arrested. They pleaded guilty and admitted to stealing the dagger as a means to pay off their debts.

16. Rare LDS books and an original portrait of Porter Rockwell

In 2018, the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, was the target of a self-proclaimed Latter-day Saints antiquities dealer. The culprit, Kevin Mark Ronald Schuwer, checked out eight books valued at $300 each, having first switched the barcodes with other tomes. He also stole an original photo of Porter Rockwell, a Wild West lawman known as “The Destroying Angel of Mormondom,” which he replaced with a fake copy to avoid detection. Schuwer’s scheme eventually fell apart after he sold the items to collectors, partly because the books had markings that showed they belonged to the university.

17. Rare medical books

When books began disappearing from the Moody Medical Library in 1989, suspicion soon fell upon Emil Frey, the head librarian at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where the library is located. During the course of the year, some 80 books had vanished from the 12,000-volume rare book collection. Frey was only charged for five of the missing books, which were valued between $750 and $20,000.

18. Individual pages from ancient books

In 2009, a millionaire named Farhad Hakimzadeh was found guilty of stealing individual pages from ancient books from both the British Library and Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Using a scalpel, he carefully stripped out pages from 16th- and 17th-century tomes, including a 500-year-old map painted by Henry Vlll’s court artist. When suspicion fell on Hakimzadeh, investigators found that of the 842 volumes he had requested, 112 had been mutilated. Police raided his flat in London and found more than 100 pages from the ancient books, some with intriguing titles such as Unheard-of Curiosities and A History of Monsters. Hakimzadeh claimed his obsessive-compulsive bibliomania drove him to remove the pages to complete his own vast collection, even telling the court that on his wedding night he left his bed to go polish his books. The court was unsympathetic and sentenced him to two years in prison.

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