The Weirdest Fact About Every American President

February 12, 2019 by Cheyenne Buckingham

Source: Alexander Gardner / Getty Images

With Presidents’ Day nearing, it’s important to take a moment and reflect on those who served as the chief executive of our country. And while you may be well-versed in textbook facts about each president, you may have never heard of some of their pet peeves, quirks, and pastimes.

For example, did you know Abraham Lincoln was a near-undefeated wrestler? And Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president, liked having his scalp massaged with petroleum jelly while he enjoyed breakfast in bed?

To identify the weirdest fact about every president, the team at 24/7 Wall St. researched a slew of sources, including the official website of the White house whitehouse.gov, biographies from biography.com, San Francisco-based public media outlet KQED, The History Channel’s website history.com, National Public Radio (NPR), the Smithsonian magazine, and an online library of facts called FactRetriever.

Click here to read a weird fact about every U.S. president.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

1. George Washington (1732-1799)
> Years served as president: 1789-1797
> Political party: None
> Weird fact: Washington’s teeth weren’t made of wood.

Contrary to popular belief, George Washington’s teeth weren’t wooden after all. Rather, his dentures comprised a peculiar combination of animal teeth, brass screws, lead, gold wire, hippopotamus ivory, and even bone.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

2. John Adams (1735-1826)
> Years served as president: 1797-1801
> Political party: Federalist
> Weird fact: Adams damaged Shakespeare’s chair.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were best buds until political rivalry ensued. During the early stages of their friendship, the two traveled to Shakespeare’s residence in England where they chipped off a piece of one of Shakespeare’s chairs as a souvenir.

Source: tonisvisuals / iStock

3. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
> Years served as president: 1801-1809
> Political party: Democratic-Republican
> Weird fact: Jefferson was passionate about meteorology.

Thomas Jefferson could have been a meteorologist had the gig as president fell through. He recorded the temperature in his personal meteorological journal twice a day, once in the early morning and once in the late afternoon. Jefferson not only observed temperature ranges and disparities, he also tracked precipitation patterns.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

4. James Madison (1751-1836)
> Years served as president: 1809-1817
> Political party: Democratic-Republican
> Weird fact: Madison had many financial troubles after his presidency.

Despite a successful presidency, Madison endured quite a few financial setbacks. Upon retirement, Madison took up wheat and tobacco farming in Montpelier, Virginia. However, poor weather conditions, an invasion of destructive bugs, and market prices slashed his profits. His stepson, who racked up a mountain of debt from gambling and alcohol expenses, further drained Madison’s financial resources.

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Source: 1111IESPDJ / iStock

5. James Monroe (1758-1831)
> Years served as president: 1817-1825
> Political party: Democratic-Republican
> Weird fact: Monroe traveled from Paris, France to Madrid, Spain by mule.

As special envoy to Spain, Monroe traveled there in 1805 in an attempt to persuade Spain to cede the territory of what is now present-day Florida to the United States. He made his journey from Paris to Madrid in a unconventional way — by mule. Unfortunately, not even his arrival by mule could win over the Spanish.

Source: Henry Guttmann / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

6. John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
> Years served as president: 1825-1829
> Political party: Democratic-Republican
> Weird fact: Adams skinny dipped in the Potomac River daily.

This early-19th century president didn’t mind going for a dip in the Potomac River buck naked. It was a common way to bathe in rivers during that era. Evidently, a female gossip columnist sat on his clothes during one of his morning dips, and she refused to give them to him until he agreed to an interview.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

7. Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)
> Years served as president: 1829-1837
> Political party: Democratic-Republican
> Weird fact: Jackson killed a man during a fight.

Andrew Jackson may just be the most violent presidents of all time. Born in 1767 in the backcountry of what would now be one of the Carolinas, Jackson turned out to be a very intelligent, yet terribly insecure man. He often participated in fights, and in one such instance, he killed a man in a duel for insulting his wife Rachel.

Source: National Archives / Newsmakers

8. Martin Van Buren (1782-1862)
> Years served as president: 1837-1841
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Martin Van Buren is accredited for the phrase OK.

Have you ever thought about the origin of some common-day idioms? The origin of “OK” derives from the reelection campaign for Martin Van Buren in 1840. Buren had adopted the nickname, Old Kinderhook simply because he was born in Kinderhook, New York. His supporters used to shorten the name to OK during rallies — and the rest is history.

Source: National Archive / Newsmakers

9. William Henry Harrison (1773-1841)
> Years served as president: 1841-1841
> Political party: Whig
> Weird fact: Harrison gave the longest inauguration speech.

William Henry Harrison gave the longest inauguration speech to date, estimated to be more than 8,000 words long. The speech lasted over 90 minutes nonstop. For reference, a typical inaugural speech has lasted anywhere between 30 minutes to one hour. Harrison delivered the speech in horrible weather conditions, which is believed to be the reason why he fell ill and died about a month after his inauguration.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

10. John Tyler (1790-1862)
> Years served as president: 1841-1845
> Political party: Whig
> Weird fact: Tyler, who was born in 1790, still has two living grandchildren.

Born nearly 230 years ago, the 10th president of the United States has two still living grandchildren as of January 2019. Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. and Harrison Ruffin Tyler were born in 1924 and 1928, respectively. They are the sons of Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr., one of President John Tyler’s 15 children.

Source: Kolidzei / iStock

11. James Polk (1795-1849)
> Years served as president: 1845-1849
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Polk banned fun activities from the White House.

James Polk and his wife did not go down in history for being the life of the party. In fact, they were quite the opposite. Together, the two banned alcohol, card playing, and dancing from the White House.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

12. Zachary Taylor (1784-1850)
> Years served as president: 1849-1850
> Political party: Whig
> Weird fact: Taylor, and 15 men, put a fire out caused by 600 Indians.

Taylor’s days in the earthly realm may have ended much earlier had the fire that a reported 600 Indians set off during the War of 1812 would have entrapped him. The fire happened in the middle of the night, when Taylor and 15 men were camping. Somehow, they were able to band together and extinguish the fire before the flames could get to them.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

13. Millard Fillmore (1800-1874)
> Years served as president: 1850-1853
> Political party: Whig
> Weird fact: Fillmore did not have a vice president during his term.

Millard Fillmore, who became president upon the death of Zachary Taylor, did not have a vice president. Fillmore was the first of four presidents to serve without a vice president. At the time, the Constitution did not include a provision for replacing vice presidents who had died or departed from duty. That would not happen until 1967, when the 25th Amendment was ratified that allowed a president to appoint a vice president, with the approval of Congress.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

14. Franklin Pierce (1804-1869)
> Years served as president: 1853-1857
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Pierce was arrested for running over a woman with his horse.

Franklin Pierce, the country’s 14th president, was arrested for running over a woman with his horse. He never received jail time, though, likely because of insufficient evidence. The case was dropped in 1853, his first year in office.

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Source: National Archives / Newsmakers / Getty Images

15. James Buchanan (1791-1868)
> Years served as president: 1857-1861
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Buchanan bought slaves to free them to save his reputation.

While it may sound heroic for Buchanan to have bought slaves just to set them free, it’s not entirely true. Buchanan feared that word of his sister Harriet and her husband owning slaves would get out and ruin his reputation of being neutral about the slavery issue. As a bachelor, he had no wife but a housekeeper who needed servants. Instead of freeing the slaves he bought, he kept them as servants of his household.

Source: Henry Guttmann / Getty Images

16. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
> Years served as president: 1861-1865
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Lincoln won all but one wrestling matches.

Abraham Lincoln is remembered fondly for myriad reasons, namely for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation that abolished slavery. What is less known about Lincoln, however, is his extraordinary strength and athleticism. Lincoln won all but one of his wrestling matches.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

17. Andrew Johnson (1808-1875)
> Years served as president: 1865-1869
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Johnson was an indentured servant for two years of childhood.

Needless to say, Andrew Johnson had a bit of a rough childhood growing up. The later impeached president and his brother were sent away by their mother as young children to be a tailor’s indentured servants. After two years, the boys ran away. From his experience working with the tailor, Johnson made all of his suits while president.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

18. Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
> Years served as president: 1869-1877
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Canaries froze to death at Grant’s inaugural ball.

Ulysses S. Grant’s inaugural ball in 1873 was to be spruced up with the addition of beautiful canaries. Unfortunately, due to the extremely cold temperatures the canaries froze to death.

Source: Derek Brumby / iStock

19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893)
> Years served as president: 1877-1881
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Hayes remains a hero in Paraguay.

While President Rutherford B. Hayes isn’t thought of as one of the more highly regarded presidents, he is praised by one particular country in South America. After the Triple Alliance War, Paraguay had lost a significant part of its territory to Argentina and Brazil. Hayes interceded in the dispute, and following negotiations, a large amount of territory was given to Paraguay.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

20. James Garfield (1831-1881)
> Years served as president: 1881
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Garfield could write in two different languages at one time.

James Garfield, among many things, was ambidextrous, but his capabilities went far beyond his ability to write with both his left and right hands. He developed the unique talent of simultaneously writing in Greek with one hand and in Latin with the other.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

21. Chester Arthur (1829-1886)
> Years served as president: 1881-1885
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Arthur sold historical artifacts to redecorate the White House.

Chester Arthur had ambitions to give the White House an entirely new look. In order to fund this endeavor, Arthur sold 24 wagons filled to the brim with antiques from past presidents. One of John Quincy Adams’ hats and a pair of Lincoln’s pants could be found in that pile of historical loot. And speaking of pants, Arthur just happened to own 80 different pairs.

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Source: Wikipedia

22. Grover Cleveland (1837-1908)
> Years served as president: 1885-1889 and 1893-1897
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Cleveland’s adopted daughter became his wife in later years.

Many may not know that Cleveland became the legal guardian of his former law partner’s 11-year-old daughter upon his death. After 10 years, he took her hand in marriage. She was the youngest First Lady in history at the age of 21. He was more than twice her age at 48.

Source: claudiodivizia / iStock

23. Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901)
> Years served as president: 1889-1893
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Harrison refused to touch light switches.

As the first president to have electricity in the White House, Harrison was a little spooked when it came to this new energy. He was so anxiety-ridden about the thought of being electrocuted that he opted to never make contact with light switches. More often than not, he went to bed with the lights on.

Source: National Archives / Newsmakers / Getty Images

24. Grover Cleveland (1837-1908)
> Years served as president: 1885-1889 and 1893-1897
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Cleveland was the only president to be a hangman.

Not only was Grover Cleveland the first president to serve two nonconsecutive terms, but also he was the first to have a gig as a hangman. At one point, he was the sheriff of Erie County, New York, where he had to drop the trap at a hanging. Not once, but two times.

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Source: marietjieopp / iStock

25. William McKinley (1843-1901)
> Years served as president: 1897-1901
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: McKinley removed good luck charm from lapel and was shot.

For William McKinley, losing his good luck charm was a death sentence. The 25th president believed that carnations brought good luck, so he sported them everywhere he went. On Sept. 6, 1901, he removed the carnation from his lapel to give to a little girl only to be shot shortly thereafter.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

26. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
> Years served as president: 1901-1909
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Every member in Roosevelt’s family owned stilts.

Theodore, or Teddy, Roosevelt had a secret pastime — walking on stilts. Apparently, each and every one of Roosevelt’s family members had their own individual pair. Even the First Lady had a set of her own.

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Source: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

27. William H. Taft (1857-1930)
> Years served as president: 1909-1913
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Taft lost 80 pounds after his time in office.

William H. Taft is well known as the heaviest president in history, with his peak weight clocking in at some 340 pounds. Whether the rumor of him getting stuck in a bathtub is true or not, something induced him to lose some weight. After his time as president, he lost 80 pounds.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

28. Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)
> Years served as president: 1913-1921
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Wilson painted his golf balls black during the winter.

Woodrow Wilson is often remembered as a staunch advocate for democracy and world peace as well as an academic. He had another passion that perhaps isn’t as well known — golfing. President Wilson loved to golf no matter the season. In the winter months, when layers of snow covered the ground, he painted his golf balls black so that he could easily retrieve them amid a blanket of white.

Source: Amazon.com

29. Warren Harding (1865-1923)
> Years served as president: 1921-1923
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Harding had a daughter out of one his many several affairs.

Warren Harding had several extramarital affairs. In one — at least to our knowledge — he impregnated a woman by the name of Nan Britton. Britton had written a book called “The President’s Daughter,” a novel about her daughter being Harding’s offspring. It wasn’t until 2005 that an official DNA test proved Harding was indeed the father.

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Source: Yoyochow23 / iStock

30. Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
> Years served as president: 1923-1929
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Coolidge enjoyed having petroleum jelly rubbed on his head.

We thought the fact that Calvin Coolidge had two pet raccoons by the names of Reuben and Rebecca was weird, but then we stumbled upon this gem. Evidently, Coolidge liked to have his scalp massaged with petroleum jelly — which is Vaseline — while he ate his breakfast in bed. Talk about a bizarre morning ritual.

Source: Fox Photos / Getty Images

31. Herbert Hoover (1874-1964)
> Years served as president: 1929-1933
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Hoover and his wife spoke Mandarin in the White House.

Long before he became the 31st president, Herbert Hoover lived in China with his wife, where the two learned one of China’s native languages. When Hoover wanted to have a private conversation with his wife, they would speak in Mandarin so no one could eavesdrop.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)
> Years served as president: 1933-1945
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Roosevelt was distantly related to his wife and 10 presidents.

Franklin D. Roosevelt married Anna Eleanor, his fifth cousin once removed and niece of another fifth cousin. Despite distant familial connections, the two wed in 1905, and Teddy Roosevelt was the man that gave Eleanor away. FDR claims to have other family tree ties with 10 other presidents as well.

Source: Keystone / Getty Images

33. Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)
> Years served as president: 1945-1953
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: The only president of the 20th century who didn’t go to college.

It’s likely to assume that the President of the United States would need to be well educated and have at least some college. But that wasn’t the case with Harry S. Truman, who grew up as a poor farm boy in Missouri. Truman is one of eight presidents to have never attended college, but he is the only one from the 20th century to lack at least some college-level schooling.

Source: Central Press / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

34. Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969)
> Years served as president: 1953-1961
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Eisenhower ridded the White House lawn of its squirrels.

Eisenhower was the first president to ride in a helicopter, but that is not nearly as whacky of a fact as the president trying to rid the White House lawn of its squirrel population. Eisenhower, like Wilson, was fond of golfing, and the squirrels that scurried about the grounds were guilty of digging up the putting green to bury nuts. Eisenhower was so distraught by the rodents that he ordered his valet to kill them off by shooting them. Fortunately, the Secret Service vetoed that idea and instead had groundskeepers trap the squirrels and release them into Rock Creek Park nearby.

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Source: National Archive / Newsmakers

35. John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)
> Years served as president: 1961-1963
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Kennedy got into Harvard despite bad recommendation letter.

To say Kennedy’s family was loaded is an understatement. JFK’s father, while generous enough to give him $1 million on his 21st birthday, was not as kind to him in his letter of recommendation to Harvard University. Apparently, he wrote that Jack lacked application and was careless. It didn’t seem to have a real impact on the university’s decision, however, because Kennedy was still accepted.

Source: Gene Forte / Central Press / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

36. Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973)
> Years served as president: 1963-1969
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Johnson’s life was saved by missing flight to the South Pacific.

Fate intervened on Lyndon Johnson’s behalf during World War II. He boarded a bomber for a mission in the South Pacific, but before the plane took off, he hopped off to use the restroom. When he returned, Johnson boarded another plane for the mission that took off but had to return to the base. The original plane Johnson was supposed to board crashed, killing everyone on board.

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Source: National Archive / Newsmakers

37. Richard Nixon (1913-1994)
> Years served as president: 1969-1974
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Nixon could play five musical instruments.

While Richard Nixon is widely associated with the Watergate scandal, what most may not know about him is his hidden musical talents. Nixon played the piano, clarinet, saxophone, violin, and accordion. He could play these instruments without learning to read music.

Source: Michigan University / Getty Images

38. Gerald Ford (1913-2006)
> Years served as president: 1974-1977
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Ford served, but was never elected, as both president and VP.

Gerald Ford was the first and only president so far to serve as both president and vice president without ever being elected to either office. In his earlier years, Ford was a football star at the University of Michigan, where he played center and linebacker. He actually turned down offers from two professional football teams.

Source: oorka / iStock

39. Jimmy Carter (1924-present)
> Years served as president: 1977-1981
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Carter is the first president to have witnessed a UFO.

Jimmy Carter is the only president thus far to report a UFO sighting. Carter claimed to have spotted the UFO in October 1969, but he did not file a report with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena until four years after.

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Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

40. Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)
> Years served as president: 1981-1989
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Reagan consulted with an astrologer.

Reagan and his wife were so fascinated by astrology that the president consulted with an astrologer by the name of Joan Quigley. When word got out that Reagan consulted with Quigley, headlines like “Astrologer Runs The White House” ran shortly after. Nancy Reagan confirmed that astrology was merely a factor in determining Reagan’s schedule, not for political decisions.

Source: U.S. Army / Texas A&M University via Getty Images

41. George H.W. Bush (1924-2018)
> Years served as president: 1989-1993
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Bush celebrated his 90th birthday by skydiving.

Though he was unable to use his legs, George H.W. Bush celebrated his ninth decade of life by making a tandem parachute jump out of an airplane, about 6,000 feet near his home in Kennebunkport, Maine. He also celebrated his 80th birthday in this fashion.

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Source: Steven Ferdman / Getty Images

42. William J. Clinton (1946-present)
> Years served as president: 1993-2001
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Clinton won two Grammys for “Best Spoken Word Album.”

Did you know that presidents have won Grammys? Bill Clinton won a Grammy in 2004 Best Spoken Word Album for Children, narrating the English version of Russian “Wolf Tracks,” and another in 2005 for Best Spoken Word Album for his audiobook, “My Life.”

Source: Darren McCollester / Newsmakers

43. George W. Bush (1946-present)
> Years served as president: 2001-2009
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Head cheerleader in high school.

George W. Bush is the only president to have been the head cheerleader in high school. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Bush hails from a politically involved family. His father was president, his brother Jeb was a governor, and his paternal grandfather Preston was a senator.

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images

44. Barack Obama (1961-present)
> Years served as president: 2009-2017
> Political party: Democratic
> Weird fact: Obama doesn’t like ice cream.

One of Barack Obama’s first jobs was scooping ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins store in his home state of Hawaii. The future president was concerned that all the ice cream he was eating was hurting his jump shot, and he thinks that is why he lost his taste for the treat. That didn’t stop a chain of ice cream shops on Martha’s Vineyard from naming a flavor after the 44th president – “Barack My World!” (coffee ice cream with macadamia nuts and caramel swirl).

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Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

45. Donald J. Trump (1946-present)
> Years served as president: 2017-present
> Political party: Republican
> Weird fact: Trump doesn’t drink alcohol.

The current president is one of the few commanders in chief to not drink alcohol. He chooses not to indulge in the beverage likely because his brother was an alcoholic and died of his addiction in 1982.