1 Misconception About Each U.S. President

Did Thomas Jefferson really bring ice cream to the U.S.?
Did Thomas Jefferson really bring ice cream to the U.S.? / SimpleImages/Moment/Getty Images (flag); Jena Ardell/Moment/Getty Images (ice cream); Rembrandt Peale/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain (Jefferson); Kat Long/Mental Floss (illustration)

U.S. presidents are the subjects of some of the most entertaining, baffling, and/or misleadingmisconceptions in history. Did George Washington really chop down a cherry tree? Did William Howard Taft really get stuck in a bathtub? And, if not, where on Earth did those stories come from? Let’s debunk one tall tale about each person who’s held the highest office in the land.

1. Misconception: George Washington chopped down a cherry tree—then confessed.

We’ve all heard the story about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and then fessing up because he just couldn’t bring himself to lie. The tale has been told for centuries to illustrate that our first president always had an unshakeable moral compass.

The anecdote first showed up 1806, in the fifth edition of Washington’s biography The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington by Mason Locke Weems. In the book, 6-year-old George mutilates a cherry tree with his beloved hatchet (though he doesn’t cut it down, per se). He confesses the crime to his father, crying out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie.”

George’s father is so proud of his son for telling the truth that he then says this: “Glad am I, George, that you … killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”

Though Weems credits the story to an old family friend of the Washingtons, there’s no evidence to suggest this story ever actually happened. It’s also suspicious that Weems failed to mention such a compelling tale in any of his first four editions—plus, he was known to sometimes play it fast and loose with facts about Washington.

2. Misconception: John Adams was a monarchist.

Painting of second U.S. president John Adams.
John Adams: not a monarchist. / Heritage Images/GettyImages

John Adams did argue that everyone should call George Washington “His Majesty, the President” or “His Highness, the President.” But that was mainly because he thought the office should have a title that elevated it above the presidents of random clubs and other organizations.

And he was sort of an elitist who favored a strong central government and wasn’t keen on majority rule. But that was partially because he was worried America might otherwise be susceptible to anarchy in the vein of the French Revolution.

In practice, however, Adams was a Federalist who staunchly believed in a republic. He just wasn’t as democratic-minded as Thomas Jefferson. When the two ran against each other for president in 1800, Adams was depicted as a raging monarchist. Jefferson’s camp even spread a rumor that Adams wanted his son to marry King George III’s daughter so they could start a British-American dynasty. Adams lost his bid for reelection that year, and his largely propagandized affinity for the monarchy became part of his legacy. So did the title “His Rotundity,” which is what people nicknamed Adams when he said he wanted to call the president “His Majesty.” 

3. Misconception: Thomas Jefferson introduced ice cream to the U.S.

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Gilbert Stuart
Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Gilbert Stuart. / Burstein Collection/GettyImages

At a dinner party in May 1744, Maryland governor Thomas Bladen served a dessert that one attendee described as containing “some fine Ice Cream.” The previous month, Thomas Jefferson had turned 1 year old. So consider that proof that ice cream arrived on these shores before Jefferson could even say “ice cream.” 

In 1789, in fact, before the White House had even been built, let alone occupied by Jefferson, Abigail Adams commented on a reception put on by first lady Martha Washington. According to Adams, “the company are entertaind with Ice creems & Lemonade.”

4. Misconception: James Madison always wanted a Bill of Rights.

Portrait of James Madison
Portrait of James Madison. / Fine Art/GettyImages

The right to peaceably assemble, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, the assurance that you won’t have to become an unwilling Airbnb host for soldiers—the Bill of Rights has some bangers. But when George Mason first proposed a Bill of Rights at the Constitutional Convention, it was unanimously voted down. Even James Madison, the man who would eventually shepherd the U.S. Bill of Rights into law, was initially against it.

Some felt that defining individual rights didn’t make sense for a government based on enumerated powers—by definition, the thinking went, any power not granted to the government in the Constitution belonged to the people. Choosing to proactively assert some rights might muddy the waters, they argued. When pro-Constitution Federalists agreed to eventually pass a Bill of Rights, Madison wrote that “the amendments are a blemish,” but noted it was “the least offensive form.”

Eventually, because of ideological evolution, political expediency, or some combination thereof, Madison became a staunch supporter of the Bill of Rights. As he said to Congress in 1789, after the Constitution had gone into effect but before some of the individual states had ratified it, “I think we should obtain the confidence of our fellow citizens, in proportion as we fortify the rights of the people against the encroachments of the government.”

5. Misconception: James Monroe was the mastermind behind the Monroe Doctrine.

James Monroe (1758-1831) 5th american president, engraving
Engraving of James Monroe. / Apic/GettyImages

In his 1823 message to Congress, James Monroe included a section that basically said the U.S. would henceforth stay out of European affairs, and European nations would no longer be allowed to try to take over places in the Western Hemisphere. It became known as the Monroe Doctrine and affected foreign policy for decades to come. 

But Monroe was originally keen on issuing some sort of joint statement with Britain to that effect. It was John Quincy Adams, then secretary of state, who urged Monroe to go it alone. Adams also wrote most of the actual doctrine.

6. Misconception: John Quincy Adams died on the Senate floor.

Portrait of John Quincy Adams by George P.A. Healy
John Quincy Adams: very much alive in this portrait. / Fine Art/GettyImages

John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Representatives after his presidency was over. So he probably wouldn’t have been on the Senate floor at all. And he didn’t die on the House floor, either. He had a stroke there in February 1848, but he was taken to a nearby room where he died a few days later.

7. Misconception: Andrew Jackson won the War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans.

Andrew Jackson
Portrait of Andrew Jackson. / Heritage Images/GettyImages

Andrew Jackson was considered a war hero for his victory at New Orleans, but oddly enough, the War of 1812 was, in some ways, already over by the time U.S. forces claimed victory there. The Treaty of Ghent, which established peace between Great Britain and the U.S., was signed on Christmas Eve 1814. So why did the Battle of New Orleans take place in early 1815?

The treaty specified that hostilities wouldn’t cease until it was ratified by the governments on both sides of the war. The British did so quickly, but the United States didn’t ratify until February, providing time for the Battle of New Orleans to be fought. Historians debate if Jackson’s victory had any influence on the treaty’s ratification, but considering it had already been signed, it’s safe to say Jackson’s victory did not “win the war.”

8. Misconception: Martin Van Buren’s parents were Dutch immigrants.

Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren. / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

Martin Van Buren and his parents were definitely Dutch. In fact, he was the first U.S. president who wasn’t of British descent—and the first to speak English as a second language. He was born and raised in a close-knit Dutch community in Kinderhook, New York. But his parents were also born in New York, not the Netherlands. According to the National Park Service, Van Buren’s family “was the fifth generation of descendants of Dutch immigrants.”

9. Misconception: William Henry Harrison caught a fatal case of pneumonia at his inauguration.

Portrait of President William Henry Harrison by James Reid Lambdin
Portrait of William Henry Harrison by James Reid Lambdin. / Fine Art/GettyImages

On March 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison gave a nearly two-hour-long inauguration address without wearing a coat, a hat, or gloves. Exactly one month later, he was dead, supposedly from a case of pneumonia that he caught at the event. But there’s no real proof that it was pneumonia—or that he caught it at the inauguration. He didn’t summon his doctor, Thomas Miller, until March 26. At that point, he complained of a few days of anxiety and fatigue.

Those issues soon gave way to an illness that included a cough, difficulty breathing, and other symptoms of pneumonia. But Harrison suffered much more from gastrointestinal grief that didn’t match the pneumonia diagnosis. 

Even Miller admitted this, writing, “The disease was not viewed as a case of pure pneumonia; but as this was the most palpable affection, the term pneumonia afforded a succinct and intelligible answer to the innumerable questions as to the nature of the attack.”

In 2014, researchers Jane McHugh and Philip Mackowiak published a study that presented an alternative diagnosis: enteric fever, a.k.a. typhoid fever. According to their theory, Harrison may have contracted the bacterial infection from drinking contaminated water. The White House got its water from springs that weren’t far from a sewage depository. Two future presidents, James Polk and Zachary Taylor, fell ill with gastroenteritis while living in the White House, which supports the idea that there could have quite literally been something in the water.

10. Misconception: When Harrison died, everyone knew John Tyler would become president.

John Tyler...
John Tyler. / National Archives/GettyImages

The Constitution says that “In case of the removal of the president from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the vice president.” So when William Henry Harrison died, it seems pretty obvious that his VP, John Tyler, would have become president.

But if you look at that text closely, you’ll see that it says the president’s “powers and duties” will devolve on the veep, not necessarily the job title. Some of Harrison’s cabinet initially called Tyler “vice president acting as president.” John Quincy Adams, among others, felt this was proper. And it went beyond semantics—if the vice president was only “acting as president,” perhaps a special election to choose a new president would make sense.

Tyler acted quickly, though, taking the oath of office as president and promptly moving into the White House, establishing a precedent for presidential succession. That precedent saw seven more VPs take the office before it was officially codified by the 25th Amendment to the Constitution a few years after John F. Kennedy’s death in 1963. The amendment says, in part, “In case of the removal of the president from office or of his death or resignation, the vice president shall become president.”

11. Misconception: Alcohol was banned from the White House during James Polk’s presidency.

Portrait of President James K. Polk
James K. Polk: liked a tipple now and then. / Heritage Images/GettyImages

James K. Polk’s wife, Sarah, was a devout Presbyterian and a bit of a party-pooper. As first lady, she prohibited card-playing, dancing, and hard liquor in the White House. Receptions during Polk’s presidency weren’t exactly the highlight of the social season. 

But Sarah Polk didn’t ban all booze at the White House. After a dinner party in December 1845, one attendee wrote in her diary about the adult beverages on offer and their colorful presentation, saying that “pink champagne, gold sherry, green hock, madeira, the ruby port, and sauterne, formed a rainbow around each plate.” 

12. Misconception: Zachary Taylor died from arsenic poisoning.

Zachary Taylor.
Zachary Taylor. / Library of Congress/GettyImages

Zachary Taylor died on July 9, 1850, after several days of debilitating cramps, diarrhea, and other related issues. His official cause of death was listed as cholera morbus, a gastrointestinal infection. Taylor had washed down a big bowl of cherries with a lot of milk shortly before falling ill, and some have suggested that the acid-and-dairy combo caused his demise. More likely, something he ate or drank harbored bacteria.

But in the early 1990s, author Clara Rising pointed out that his symptoms sounded suspiciously like arsenic poisoning. The theory proved so compelling that authorities actually exhumed Taylor’s body and had it tested it for arsenic. The traces they found were hundreds or even thousands of times lower than what you’d need to poison someone to death, in line with the expected arsenic levels found in any human being .

Rising didn’t dispute the results. As she told the Associated Press in June 1991, “We have the truth and that’s what we were after.”

13. Misconception: Millard Fillmore was Mormon.

Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore. / Library of Congress/GettyImages

During his first year in office, Millard Fillmore appointed Mormon leader Brigham Young as governor of the Utah territory, where thousands of Mormons were already residing. To thank Fillmore, Young named a county “Millard” and a city “Fillmore.” Those places still exist today, which has given rise to the notion that Millard Fillmore himself was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

He wasn’t. Based on the available information, scholars generally associate Fillmore with Unitarianism, though, to muddy the waters just a bit, it seems that he declined to self-identify as a member of the Unitarian Church on at least one occasion. 

Incidentally, a YouGov poll found that 21 percent of Americans had never heard of Millard Fillmore, and an additional 53 percent had no opinion about his quality as a president—Unitarian or otherwise.

14. Misconception: Franklin Pierce ran over a woman with his carriage.

Franklin Pierce by George P.A. Healy
Franklin Pierce by George P.A. Healy. / Fine Art/GettyImages

While he was president, Franklin Pierce was supposedly arrested for running over an old woman with his horse or carriage. According to biographer Peter A. Wallner, there’s no evidence that this ever occurred. As he told Mental Floss, “The fact that there are no newspaper stories about the accident and it wasn‘t mentioned in any correspondence convinced me that it probably didn‘t happen.”

15. Misconception: James Buchanan was single his entire life.

James Buchanan
James Buchanan. / Library of Congress/GettyImages

James Buchanan is the only president to have never been married. But in 1819, 28-year-old James got engaged to one Anne Caroline Coleman. She ended the engagement that same year, possibly over rumors that her fiancé was unfaithful or because she thought he might only be marrying her for her money.

Buchanan also lived, at one point, with an Alabama senator named William Rufus King. The two were extremely close, and people have speculated ever since that their relationship was romantic.

After King relocated to France in 1844, Buchanan wrote to a friend, “I am now ‘solitary and alone,’ having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.” 

Other scholars have posited that Buchanan might have been asexual, though this is mainly based on a lack of evidence suggesting otherwise.

16. Misconception: Abraham Lincoln owned enslaved people.

Abraham Lincoln 16th President Of The United States 1860s
Abraham Lincoln: not an enslaver. / Heritage Images/GettyImages

It’s an oversimplification-slash-misconception that Lincoln “freed the slaves” with the Emancipation Proclamation. But many people apparently believe that Abraham Lincoln owned enslaved people himself. So many, in fact, that Gerald J. Prokopowicz wrote a book called Did Lincoln Own Slaves? And Other Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham Lincoln.

For the record, there’s no evidence that Lincoln owned enslaved people, but his wife’s family, the Todds, assuredly did

17. Misconception: Andrew Johnson was kicked out of office.

Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States, 1860s (1955).
Andrew Johnson. / Print Collector/GettyImages

Andrew Johnson was the first American president to be impeached. Basically, the radical Republicans in Congress weren’t happy with Johnson’s forgiving attitude toward former Confederate states after the Civil War. In March 1867, they enacted the Tenure of Office Act, which prevented the president from firing certain officials without the Senate’s OK. When Johnson fired an official without the Senate’s OK months later, he was impeached. But the Senate acquitted him by a margin of one vote, so Johnson got to keep his job.

18. Misconception: Ulysses S. Grant’s name was Ulysses S. Grant.

Ulysses S Grant
Ulysses S. Grant / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

Ulysses S. Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant. But when Ohio Congressman Thomas Hamer submitted Grant’s name for a spot at West Point, he wrote “Ulysses S. Grant.” It’s generally agreed that Hamer thought the S stood for Simpson, which was Grant’s mother’s maiden name and also the middle name of his brother Samuel.

Grant reportedly tried to right the wrong, but ended up just rolling with it. In an 1844 letter to Julia Boggs, whom he’d later marry, he wrote, “Find some name beginning with ‘S’ for me Julia You know I have an ‘S’ in my name and don’t know what it stand[s] for.”

19. Misconception: Rutherford B. Hayes was a lifelong teetotaler.

Rutherford B Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes. / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

Unlike the Polks, the Hayeses did fully ban alcohol from the White House. Rutherford’s wife, Lucy, never drank, earning her the nickname Lemonade Lucy. But Rutherford was known to imbibe before he became president. The ban, which was his idea, was mostly a way to appeal to temperance activists.

20. Misconception: Garfield the cat is named after Garfield the president.

James A. Garfield
James A. Garfield. / Epics/GettyImages

Garfield creator Jim Davis named the lethargic, carb-loading cartoon cat after his grandfather, James A. Garfield Davis, who was in fact named after President James A.  Garfield. So, depending on how you interpret the transitive property, maybe there is some truth to this misconception.

21. Misconception: Chester Arthur was secretly born in Ireland.

Chester Alan Arthur by Daniel Huntington
Chester A. Arthur: proud Vermonter, muttonchop enthusiast / Fine Art/GettyImages

Before and during Chester Arthur’s presidency, his opponents spread a rumor that he’d actually been born outside the United States, which would, of course, make him ineligible to become the commander-in-chief. One of the bigger sources for these conspiracies was Arthur Hinman, who originally claimed that Arthur had been born in Ireland.

When that unfounded claim failed to gain traction, Chester Arthur’s opponents began saying he was born in Canada—not in Fairfield, Vermont, as he said. Arthur’s official birthplace is in Fairfield, and the Canada story was likely concocted as a way to discredit him. So while nobody’s ever come up with incontrovertible proof that he was born in Vermont or Canada, we can safely say the 21st president wasn’t originally from the Emerald Isle.

22. Misconception: Grover Cleveland married his daughter.

Portrait of President Cleveland
Grover Cleveland. / Library of Congress/GettyImages

When Oscar Folsom died in a carriage accident in 1875, his friend and former law partner Grover Cleveland took over managing his estate. Cleveland continued to be close with Folsom’s daughter, Frances, and eventually married her during his first presidential term. 

They were 27 years apart in age, and Cleveland seems to have started out as a father figure to Frances, leading some to say the president had married his adopted daughter. For what it’s worth, though, Frances’s mother was still alive and Cleveland was never formally her guardian or adoptive father.

23. Misconception: President Benjamin Harrison signed the Declaration of Independence.

Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison. / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

The Declaration of Independence was signed, as you probably know, in 1776. Benjamin Harrison was born in 1833, which means he definitely didn’t sign it. His great-grandfather, however, who was also named Benjamin Harrison, did sign it, and that’s where people get confused. 

By the way, short-lived president William Henry Harrison was the son of the Declaration-signing Benjamin Harrison and the grandfather of President Benjamin Harrison. 

24. Misconception: 46 people have been president.

Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland (again). / Print Collector/GettyImages

Joe Biden may be commonly called the 46th president, but only 45 people have actually held the job. Grover Cleveland’s two non-consecutive terms throw a wrench into the presidential numbering machine. As of now, Cleveland is the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms as president.

25. Misconception: William McKinley immediately succumbed to his gunshot wounds.

President William McKinley
William McKinley. / Library of Congress/GettyImages

On September 6, 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, Leon Czolgosz shot William McKinley once in the chest and once in the abdomen. The president was operated on almost immediately, and the doctors originally thought he’d recover. 

For the next five days or so, McKinley appeared to be doing well. Then, suddenly, his health completely deteriorated, and he died early on September 14. His cause of death was gangrene that had developed internally, perhaps from the unsanitary way his wounds were treated.

26. Misconception: Theodore Roosevelt liked the nickname “Teddy.”

President Roosevelt at Yosemite
Theodore Roosevelt: don't call him Teddy. / Library of Congress/GettyImages

After Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear in 1902, a Brooklyn couple named Morris and Rose Michtom decided to make stuffed bears in his honor. Supposedly they asked him if they could call them “Teddy bears,” and he agreed. But there are some problems with that story, not least because Roosevelt disliked the sobriquet—possibly because it’s what his first wife, who died very young, called him. No word on how he felt about “Mr. Unusually Large Belly,” which is what his African safari guides nicknamed him.

27. Misconception: William Howard Taft got stuck in a bathtub.

William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft. / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

Speaking of large bellies, William Howard Taft once tipped the scales at roughly 340 pounds. And he did love a good bath. As president-elect he even had a custom 2000-pound bathtub created for his use during a voyage to inspect construction on the Panama Canal. 

But there isn’t strong evidence that he ever got lodged in a White House tub. There is, however, a children’s book inspired by the myth. It’s called President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath.

28. Misconception: Woodrow Wilson was progressive on all fronts.

Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson. / Tony Essex/GettyImages

Woodrow Wilson was considered a leader of the Progressive movement. He spearheaded economic and labor reform and pushed for a bill granting railroad workers an eight-hour workday, among other liberal moves. 

But the word progressive implies that Wilson was a progressive person—and he really wasn’t. Wilson supported segregation; he said that he thought it was the best way to reduce “friction” between Black and white Americans. He supported government agencies segregating workers during his presidency. A lot of Black employees were simply dismissed—some by Wilson himself. He also had positive things to say about the Ku Klux Klan. Even for his time, you’d be hard-pressed to call Wilson anything close to progressive on issues related to race.

29. Misconception: Warren G. Harding had no children.

President Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding. / Library of Congress/GettyImages

It’s true that Warren G. Harding had no biological children with his wife, Florence. But he was an infamous philanderer. In a series of explicit letters with one of his paramours, Carrie Fulton Phillips, he sometimes referred to his penis as “Jerry.”

A mistress of Harding’s, Nan Britton, insisted that Harding was the father of her daughter, Elizabeth. She even published a memoir in 1927 detailing their affair. 

Harding’s supporters did everything they could to discredit Britton, though Harding himself had died back in 1923. Then, in 2015, 10 years after Elizabeth’s death, it was announced that DNA tests done on one of her sons and two of Harding’s living relatives proved Britton’s claim correct.

30. Misconception: Calvin Coolidge was boring.

President Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge. / Library of Congress/GettyImages

Calvin Coolidge was a man of few words, which earned him the nickname “Silent Cal.” But he wasn’t always a dull guy—he could even be a bit eccentric. While in office, Coolidge was fond of exercising on what was called an “electric horse,” which was basically a mechanical saddle that simulated horseback riding.

He and his wife, Grace, were also enthusiastic pet owners. In addition to the traditional White House dogs, they had a bunch of house cats and a goose named Enoch, who had apparently been a famous acting goose before his time in the White House. They also had canaries named Nip and Tuck and a bobcat named Smoky Bob (who was immediately given to the National Zoo, fortunately).

The star of the Coolidge show was a raccoon that someone had offered to Coolidge in 1926, intending for the president to eat it at Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, Coolidge pardoned the creature, named it Rebecca, and let it run around the White House for the next two years.

31. Misconception: Everyone was happy to name the Hoover Dam after Herbert Hoover.

Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover: the president who gave a dam. / Hulton Archive/GettyImages

Herbert Hoover had helped kickstart the construction of a Colorado River dam when he was secretary of commerce in the 1920s, and the project began during his presidency. Hoover’s secretary of the interior attended the groundbreaking ceremony in 1930, proclaiming, “I have the honor to name this dam after a great engineer, who really started this greatest project of all time—the Hoover Dam!”

Considering Hoover’s unpopularity during the Great Depression, it’s no surprise that people weren’t too excited about adopting the name. Plenty just called it the “Boulder Dam,” as they’d already been doing. 

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, his secretary of the interior went with “Boulder Dam.” FDR didn’t invite Hoover to the dedication ceremony two years later, and didn’t even mention him in his speech. It wasn’t until 1947 that Harry Truman made the “Hoover Dam” label permanent.

32. Misconception: Franklin D. Roosevelt couldn’t drive.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt. / Keystone Features/GettyImages

In 1921, 39-year-old FDR contracted polio and became paralyzed from his waist down. That meant he couldn’t operate the foot pedals of a car, but that didn’t stop him from driving—an activity he loved. He had a 1936 Ford Phaeton and a 1938 Ford Convertible Coupe customized with special controls so he could drive by hand.

Possible bonus misconception: Some sources actually think FDR’s condition could have been Guillain-Barré syndrome, not polio, but there isn’t universal agreement on his diagnosis. 

33. Misconception: Harry S Truman never put a period after the S.

Portrait of President Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman. / Fine Art/GettyImages

The S of Harry S Truman wasn’t meaningless or accidental, like Grant’s. It was a nod to both his grandfathers: Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. Because it didn’t stand for a particular name, Truman often omitted the period. But there are plenty of examples where he included the period.

34. Misconception: Dwight D. Eisenhower was the only Ike in his family.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower. / M. McNeill/GettyImages

Ike was meant to be short for Eisenhower, and Dwight’s older brother Edgar went by it, too. Edgar was “Big Ike,” and Dwight was “Little Ike.”

35. Misconception: John F. Kennedy’s assassination was the only attempt on his life.

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy. / National Archives/GettyImages

In December 1960, a retired postal worker filled his car with dynamite, intending to ram into JFK’s car and blow them both up in the process. The Secret Service uncovered the plot and the man was arrested before he could carry it out.

According to former agent Abraham Bolden, the Secret Service found evidence of another potential assassination planned for Kennedy’s trip to Chicago in early November 1963. He canceled his visit out of caution—but followed through with his ill-fated appearance in Dallas just weeks later.

36. Misconception: Lyndon Johnson was called “Landslide Lyndon” because he won by a landslide.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson
Lyndon Johnson: not a fan of sarcasm. / Oscar White/GettyImages

In the 1964 presidential election, Lyndon Johnson beat Republican Barry Goldwater by a landslide. He won 61.1 percent of the popular vote—the highest popular vote percentage achieved by a president in the modern era. 

But that’s not how LBJ earned the nickname “Landslide Lyndon.” That was coined after Johnson won the Democratic nomination for a Senate seat in 1948 by just 87 votes out of more than 988,000 cast. People were just being sarcastic

37. Misconception: Richard Nixon was impeached.

Richard Nixon in the Oval Office
Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. / National Archives/GettyImages

The Watergate scandal did result in Richard Nixon’s removal from office, but it wasn’t because he got impeached. In July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee delivered three articles of impeachment to the whole House of Representatives accusing Nixon of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

If the House approved the articles by majority vote, Nixon would have gone down in the history books as an impeached president. After House approval, the Senate would have held a trial and decided whether he was guilty. If convicted by a two-thirds majority, Nixon would’ve then gone down as the only president to have been impeached and convicted.

But none of that happened. Nixon chose to resign before the House got a chance to vote, making him the only U.S. president to have quit the job.

38. Misconception: Gerald Ford was related to Henry Ford.

Gerald Ford Taking Oath of Office
Gerald Ford taking the Oath of Office. / Wally McNamee/GettyImages

Gerald Ford’s birth name wasn’t even Gerald Ford—it was Leslie Lynch King, Jr., after his father, Leslie Lynch King. His parents separated just a couple weeks after his birth in 1913, and his mother married Gerald R. Ford a few years later. Soon after that, they unofficially switched little Leslie’s name to Gerald R. Ford, Jr. So even if Ford’s adoptive father had been biologically related to the automobile magnate—which does not seem to be the case—the future president still wouldn’t have been.

He didn’t actually find out that his new namesake wasn’t his biological father until he was around 13 years old. In 1935, he got his name legally updated to Gerald R. Ford, Jr.

39. Misconception: Jimmy Carter founded Habitat for Humanity.

Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter. / Fox Photos/GettyImages

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter started working with Habitat for Humanity back in 1984 and just never stopped. Every year since then—excluding 2020, 2021, and 2022 due to the pandemic—they’ve held a “Carter Work Project,” where they spend a week building houses. So far, the tradition has resulted in the construction or repair of more than 4300 houses across 14 countries. 

The Carters’ high profile has helped increase the profile of Habitat for Humanity more generally. It’s also given rise to the misperception that they founded the organization. It was actually founded in the 1970s by Millard and Linda Fuller.

40. Misconception: Ronald Reagan was supposed to star as Rick Blaine in Casablanca.

President Reagan Making a Speech
Ronald Reagan making a speech. / Wally McNamee/GettyImages

To be fair, this rumor was started by Warner Bros. itself. In January 1942, the studio put out a press release claiming this: “Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan co-star for the third time in Warners’ Casablanca, with Dennis Morgan also coming in for top billing.”

According to Snopes, it wasn’t uncommon for studios to make erroneous announcements like this as a way to keep their contracted actors in the headlines. Warner Bros. had a good reason for planting this one: Sheridan and Reagan’s film King’s Row was slated for release just weeks later. When the press release was published, Casablanca didn’t even have a screenplay yet, and no casting decisions had been made.

41. Misconception: George H.W. Bush banned broccoli from Air Force One.

President George Bush Waving from Air Force One
George H.W. Bush: enemy of cruciferous vegetables. / Wally McNamee/GettyImages

As George H.W. Bush famously declared in 1990, “I do not like broccoli and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it and I’m president of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

In 2013, data journalist Eric Ostermeier crunched the numbers and reported that Bush mentioned the cruciferous veggie about 70 times during his presidency. He absolutely hated it, and the media loved that he hated it. 

But contrary to popular belief, he didn’t literally ban broccoli from the White House or Air Force One—he just didn’t want it served to him. Bush clarified that his wife, Barbara, was a big fan of broccoli and “eats it all the time herself.” 

While speaking to the press at a state dinner, Bush said: “I have not ordered [broccoli] off Air Force One. I have just said, ‘Don’t you dare bring me another sprig of that vegetable.’”

42. Misconception: Bill Clinton attended WrestleMania X.

President Bill Clinton Announces To The Press
Bill Clinton. / Georges De Keerle/GettyImages

If you think it seems weird for a sitting president to attend WrestleMania, you’re right. The WWF made it seem like the real Bill Clinton was in attendance at 1994’s WrestleMania X at Madison Square Garden. In reality, it was Clinton impersonator Tim Watters. 

Watters would later portray the president in a 1998 episode of The Nanny, among other programs.

43. Misconception: George W. Bush’s head was intentionally featured in Game of Thrones.

George W. Bush
George W. Bush. / Pool/GettyImages

In 2012, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss mentioned in the DVD commentary for season one’s 10th episode that one of the prosthetic decapitated heads was George W. Bush.

“George Bush’s head appears in a couple of beheading scenes. It’s not a choice, it’s not a political statement. We just had to use whatever head we had around,” they said

This caused quite a bit of backlash, and Weiss and Benioff released an apology, explaining, “We can’t afford to have [the prosthetic body parts] all made from scratch, especially in scenes where we need a lot of them, so we rent them in bulk. After the scene was already shot, someone pointed out that one of the heads looked like George W. Bush.”

HBO then digitally altered the head to make it less recognizable. So Bush is no longer part of the Game of Thrones universe.

44. Misconception: Barack Obama chartered a private jet for his dog.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama. / Chip Somodevilla/GettyImages

While covering the Obamas’ visit to Acadia National Park in July 2010, the Morning Sentinel of Waterville, Maine, included this line in an article: “Arriving in a small jet before the Obamas was the first dog, Bo, a Portuguese water dog given as a present by the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; and the president’s personal aide Reggie Love, who chatted with [Gov. John] Baldacci.”

That made it seem like the Obamas had chartered a private jet for just their dog and his handler. The newspaper almost immediately issued a clarification that “there were other occupants on the plane, including several other staffers.” It also explained that two smaller jets had been used because the airport couldn’t accommodate the president’s regular, larger jet. 

45. Misconception: Donald J. Trump is the only U.S. president to have gotten divorced.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump. / Brandon Bell/GettyImages

There’s one other—Ronald Reagan, who was married to actress Jane Wyman from 1940 to 1949. 

46. Misconception: Joe Biden first ran for president in 2008.

Joseph Biden
Joe Biden: no political neophyte. / Mark Reinstein/GettyImages

Joe Biden’s winning presidential campaign in 2020 wasn’t his first rodeo, and neither was his failed bid to become the Democratic nominee in 2008. He also tossed his hat in the ring in 1987 for the election in 1988. It didn’t go very well. He lifted parts of several fellow politicians’ speeches without citing them and exaggerated his law school achievements at a campaign stop. 

The future president admitted fault and took responsibility for all the missteps, but ultimately decided to drop out of the race about three months after entering it.

This piece was adapted from an episode of Misconceptions on YouTube.