10 Fascinating Facts About US Presidents You Probably Didn’t Know

10 Fascinating Facts About US Presidents You Probably Didn’t Know

Don’t be fooled by school textbooks, all of the U.S. presidents were human too. While American history tends to mythologize our commanders-in-chief, especially the founding fathers, they were very real people with very real human weaknesses. Indeed, there are some fascinating facts about the U.S. presidents.

Some of the Presidents were eccentric, to say the least, like John Quincy Adams’ love of very public skinny-dipping every morning. Others had appetites that would be looked on with aspersion today, such as Glover Cleveland’s marrying of his adopted daughter.

Other Presidents are not remembered for their policy work at all, instead punctuating history with their bad luck, bad timing, or fateful choices. Regardless, many of the US Presidents lived interesting lives that produced interesting information for modern readers.

To compile a list of 15 fascinating facts about U.S. presidents, 24/7 Tempo consulted a range of entertainment and historical sources including the Smithsonian Magazine and History.com. Next, we selected Presidential facts that were the most interesting or unique. After that, we consulted various historical and journalistic sites like History-First and PBS to confirm aspects of the various facts about the US presidents. (For purported US history facts that are inaccurate, discover US history “facts” we now know are not true.)

Andrew Jackson

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One of the fascinating facts about U.S. presidents is Andrew Jackson’s foul-mouthed pet parrot. After he reportedly taught the bird to curse, it became quite a problem for the White House. So much so, that the bird had to be removed from his funeral because it wouldn’t stop swearing at guests in attendance.

Frankly, there are enough fascinating facts about Andrew Jackson to fill a book. Besides hosting an Inaugural party at the White House that almost burned the building down, Jackson had a penchant for dueling. He reportedly took part in over 100 duels to the death, usually in response to remarks about his wife. Though he miraculously survived all these duels, he did take a bullet to the chest during one in 1806. In an unrelated incident, Jackson took another bullet to the arm during a bar fight with a Senator in 1813.

William Henry Harrison

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Never one to back down from a challenge, President William Henry Harrison was known to take on any opponent. While campaigning for president, he flipped and reversed the criticism that he would rather “sit in his log cabin, drinking hard cider.” Instead, he made spiked lemonade and handed them out in bottles shaped like log cabins.

He also gave the longest inauguration speech in the history of the United States, speaking for nearly two hours. Though he set the record, this proved fatal, however, as it was a very cold, moist day. Not long after, he fell ill and died, only 33 days into his time in office. (For other senior commanders-in-chief, discover the oldest US presidents in history.)

John Quincy Adams

John+Quincy+Adams | US President John Quincy Adams, 1843
Source: cassowaryprods / Flickr

First known photograph of a US president, a daguerreotype of President John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) in March 1843, by Philip Haas. Adams noted in his diary about the process, ‘The operation is performed in half a minute but is yet altogether incomprehensible to me.’ Source: Smithsonian Institution, NPG.2017.110 #historiansunion #colorizersunion #colored #colorized #colourised #colorization #colourisation #america #president #uspresident #vintage #johnadams #johnquincyadams #potus

One of the few presidents to be the son of another president, John Quincy Adams experienced much of what Washington has to offer. Besides president, he also served as a diplomat, a Senator, and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. What’s less known about John Quincy Adams, however, is his love of skinny-dipping.

Indeed, Adams was known to strip naked and swim in the Potomac River every morning. One time, a reporter used this information to her advantage. She found him swimming in the river and sat on his clothes until he would grant her a special interview.

Zachary Taylor

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Another one of the fascinating facts about U.S. presidents is Zachary Taylor’s unappetizing and fateful meal. While celebrating the Fourth of July on the grounds of what would become the Washington Monument, Taylor marked the occasion with a meal. Combining cherries with a glass of iced milk, however, did not agree with him. Indeed, he died a few days later, most likely from bacteria infecting the cherries.

Franklin Pierce

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Another one of the fascinating facts about U.S. presidents is Franklin Pierce’s love of drinking. A largely forgettable president, Pierce was so disliked during his time in office that his own party refused to renominate him when it came time for reelection. In response to this betrayal, Pierce said, “There is nothing left to do but get drunk.”

Moreover, Pierce was one of the few presidents to wear handcuffs during his time in office. In 1853, he was arrested after running over an old woman while on horseback. Though he was quickly released due to insufficient evidence, whether booze played a part in the incident, is still unknown.

James Buchanan

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Another one of the fascinating facts about U.S. presidents concerns James Buchanan’s lifelong “bachelor” status. During and after his presidency, rumors abounded regarding his sexuality. Though he never married, Buchanan lived with Alabama Senator William Rufus King for over a decade. While it is not our place to out anyone, much less a dead president, evidence suggests he may have been our first gay president.

After King moved to France in 1844, however, Buchanan grew despondent. Regarding the split, he wrote, “I am now ‘solitary and alone,’ having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them.”

Andrew Johnson

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No matter how you slice it, President Andrew Johnson had a tough time in life. Besides being the first president to be impeached, Johnson also had a horrible childhood. When his father died, his mother shipped off Johnson and his brother to a tailor as indentured servants.

Two years later, the brothers escaped captivity. While the tailor put up a reward for their return, they were never captured. His time as a tailor’s slave had some benefit, however. It is reported that during his time as president, Johnson used his knowledge to handcraft all of his own suits.

Thomas Jefferson

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Though founding father and eventual president, Thomas Jefferson, played an integral role in the founding of the country as well as writing the Declaration of Independence, he was notoriously shy. Indeed, during his time as president, he only gave two public speeches. What’s more, he started the tradition of sending State of the Union addresses to Congress as written documents so a clerk could read them instead.

George Washington

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Another one of the fascinating facts about U.S. presidents is George Washington’s fake teeth. Though many people believe his dentures to be made of wood, this was not the case. Instead, his fake teeth were made of various animal bones including hippopotamus ivory, animal and human teeth, as well as gold and brass screws. Washington’s penchant for dark red wines stained the teeth a stranger color. This gave them the appearance of grainy wood.

Ulysses S. Grant

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Another one of the fascinating facts about U.S. presidents concerns Ulysses S. Grant. Though he was arguably despised by the public at the time and considered a drunk, his reputation has grown in the ensuing years. What many people don’t know, however, is that Grant was supposed to be sitting in the infamous theater box with Abraham Lincoln on the night of Lincoln’s assassination.

Grant changed plans at the last minute, however, possibly sparing his life in the process. Nevertheless, he lived with survivor’s guilt for the rest of his life. Moreover, he believed he could have stopped or thwarted the assassination if he had been there that fateful night.

Grover Cleveland

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Another one of the fascinating facts about U.S. presidents is Grover Cleveland’s questionable choice of romantic partners. Besides being the only president, so far, to hold the office for two non-consecutive terms, Cleveland turns heads for other reasons as well. When his longtime law partner died, Cleveland became legal guardian to his 11-year-old daughter.

Only a decade later, however, Cleveland married his adopted daughter. They even held the wedding in the White House. At the time of their marriage, his adopted daughter-turned-wife Frances Folsom was the youngest first lady ever at 21 years old. Remarkably, the American public seemed to have no objections to the union.

William McKinley

William McKinley
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A bit of a superstitious fellow, William McKinley believed red carnation flowers to be his personal good luck charm. As such, he wore them on his lapel everywhere he went. On September 6, 1901, McKinley met with supporters outside Buffalo’s Pan-American Exposition.

There, a little girl asked him if she could have the carnation pinned to his lapel. Though he was not one to part with his good luck charm, he acquiesced and gave it to the girl. As he continued greeting supporters, Leon Czolgosz shot him in the stomach. Though he survived the shooting, his condition quickly deteriorated, and he died a week later. Perhaps there was something to his good luck charm, after all.

Warren G. Harding

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Another one of the fascinating facts about U.S. presidents concerns President Warren G. Harding’s penchant for skirt-chasing. Firstly, a series of love letters were uncovered showing that Harding had an affair with his wife’s friend, Carrie Fulton Phillips. What’s more, Harding had a love child with a woman named Nan Britton. Though disputed during his life, DNA testing in 2005 proved Harding was unequivocally the father.

Jimmy Carter

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Another one of the fascinating facts about U.S. presidents is how outspoken Jimmy Carter could be given the opportunity. Though he’s remembered as a kind, mild-mannered president, he turned a lot of heads when he gave an interview to Playboy Magazine during his run for election. In this interview, he said, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do—and I have done it—and God forgives me for it.”

Though the remarks received serious public outcry, Carter refused to apologize. Perhaps, he was in the right not to capitulate, however. Ultimately, it didn’t affect his presidential run as he was elected a short while later in 1977.

Ronald Reagan

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According to numerous sources, including Chief of Staff Donald Regan, Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy consulted an astrologer for numerous enterprises. After Reagan survived an assassination attempt, his wife reached out to astrologer Joan Quigley and brought her into the White House. This did not sit well with the incoming Chief of Staff, however, as he and Nancy Reagan reportedly fought endlessly.

According to the Chief of Staff Regan, “Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco [Quigley] who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise.”

When news of this arrangement leaked, the Reagan family denied it. Later, however, Nancy Reagan would more or less admit to the planetary consultation. She said, “Nobody was hurt by it—except, possibly, me.” (If you’re interested in this historical period, discover 9 myths about Cold War America.)

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