100 Surprising Facts About JFK

May 17, 2019 by John Harrington

John F. Kennedy was born 102 years ago in Brookline, Massachusetts, on May 29. He was the 35th president of the United States, the first Catholic to hold the office, and ranks as one of the wealthiest presidents.

24/7 Wall St. has compiled 100 facts about President Kennedy from a number of sources, including the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston University Libraries, media sources such as The Atlantic magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and Time magazine, and online resources like history.com.

A mystique about JFK emerged because of his heroism during World  War II, his health issues and, because his assassination was among the most famous in American history.

Historians have reassessed his time in office and taken a more critical view of his handling of crises such as the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, his decision to build up the U.S. military presence in South Vietnam, and the role he played in the civil rights movement.

Kennedy’s soaring oratory at his inauguration invigorated a nation, his inspirational speech in West Berlin lifted a demoralized people, and his civil rights address in June of 1963 ranks among the greatest speeches of the civil rights movement.  

Kennedy continues to infuse American politics with the legacy of his public service nearly 56 years after his death, and historians rank him among the best American presidents.

Click here to see 100 surprising facts about JFK

Source: Wikimedia Commons

1.
Kennedy’s approval rating peaked at over 80% during his presidency, and among Americans today he is the highest rated president in history, according to Gallup.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

2.
JFK was one of nine children.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

3.
He was named after his mother’s father, John Francis Fitzgerald, the mayor of Boston.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

4.
His great-grandparents came from Ireland to escape the potato famine.

Source: Pi.1415926535 / Wikimedia Commons

5.
The Brookline, MA home of JFK is a national historic site.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

6.
Kennedy was the first Catholic to become president.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

7.
With an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion, JFK would have been the second wealthiest president, but his premature death prevented him from inheriting much of his family’s fortune.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

8.
He suffered in childhood from whooping cough, measles, chicken pox and scarlet fever.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

9.
JFK did not like to wear hats, and for that he was blamed for the decline of the hat industry.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

10.
Kennedy’s father Joe made his fortune in real estate, liquor, the stock market, and the then-emerging motion picture industry.

Source: Stoughton/National Archives

11.
The Kennedy family had a summer home in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod in MA.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

12.
He attended Choate, a boarding school for boys, in CT.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

13.
“Ulysses’’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was one of Kennedy’s favorite poems.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

14.
JFK planned to attend Princeton University but was forced to withdraw because of illness.

Source: Joseph Williams / Wikimedia Commons

15.
He entered Harvard University in 1936, following his father and older brother Joe.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

16.
His father was the first head of the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as an  ambassador to United Kingdom.

Source: Florida Memory / Flickr

17.
Kennedy visited six European countries and Vatican City while he was president.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

18.
His older brother Joe harbored ambitions to become the first Catholic president of the United States.

Source: chensiyuan / Wikimedia Commons

19.
A back injury sustained while playing football in Harvard would cause him problems for the rest of his life.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

20.
He used a rocking chair while in office to help alleviate the constant back pain.

Source: The U.S. National Archives

21.
JFK’s favorite pet in the White House was a Welsh Terrier called “Jack’s dog.” Jackie gave the dog to JFK during the presidential campaign.

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Source: Pexels

22.
His interest in history and government was intensified by a trip to England in 1937.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

23.
His father was recalled as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1940 after he publicly expressed doubts that the British could defeat Germany.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

24.
He wrote his senior thesis on why Great Britain was unprepared for war titled “Why England Slept.’’

Source: Owen1985 / Wikimedia Commons

25.
He tried to join the U.S. Army in April 1941 but was rejected because of his back injury.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

26.
JFK joined the Navy after graduating from Harvard. He worked in the Navy’s intelligence branch.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

27.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he requested active service and was made a lieutenant and sent to the Pacific theater of war.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

28.
He was made commander of PT 109, a patrol torpedo boat that was later sliced in two near Solomon Islands by a Japanese destroyer.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

29.
Kennedy swam 3.5 miles to an island with a wounded sailor on his back after PT 109 was sunk.

Source: Pixabay

30.
When two islanders found the crew, Kennedy etched a hidden message in a coconut that the islanders, at great peril, got to an Australian coastwatcher.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

31.
Kennedy and his crew were marooned for seven days before they were rescued by two PT boats.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

32.
The coconut husk became a paperweight on his desk when he became president.

Source: Erik Charlton / Flickr

33.
The wreck of PT 109 was eventually discovered in a National Geographic expedition by noted explorer Robert Ballard in 2002.

Source: U.S. Navy

34.
JFK was awarded Navy and Marine Corps medal for courage when he returned from the Pacific.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

35.
A plane flown by JFK’s older brother Joe blew up during a dangerous mission in Europe in 1944, the first of many Kennedy clan tragedies.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

36.
Kennedy’s sister Kathleen, who had married into a British aristocratic family, was killed in a plane crash in 1948.

Source: Sharon Mollerus / Flickr

37.
JFK’s political career began when he ran for a congressional seat in 1946 and at age 29 won the first of three terms.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

38.
During his term as congressman, he opposed the Korean War and was against any U.S. fighting in Asia.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

39.
He became Massachusetts senator in 1952.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

40.
Kennedy donated his entire congressman’s salary, and later his president’s salary, to charity.

Source: Toni Frissell collection, U.S. Library of Congress

41.
He married Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953, and they would raise two children, John Jr. and Caroline. Patrick Bouvier Kennedy lived a few days after his birth in 1963. Another child was stillborn in 1956.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

42.
JFK allegedly had an affair with actress Marilyn Monroe.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

43.
One of his legs was shorter than the other, contributing to his chronic back pain.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

44.
His back problems became more serious in the 1950s, and he had several operations.

Source: U.S. Embassy New Delhi / Flickr

45.
Kennedy also suffered from Addison’s disease, a condition of the adrenal glands characterized by a deficiency of the hormones needed to regulate blood sugar, sodium, and potassium.

Source: Tom Margie / Flickr

46.
Kennedy wrote “Profiles in Courage,’’ which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957, though much of the book may have been ghostwritten by Theodore Sorensen.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

47.
Kennedy, who had serious health issues throughout his life, received the Catholic sacramental last rites on four different occasions before he was assassinated.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

48.
He was nominated for president in 1960, defeating, among others, Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson, each of whom would run for president in the 1960s.

Source: MattRocker / Wikimedia Commons

49.
Kennedy addressed voters’ concerns about his religion in a speech in Houston in September 1960, emphasizing his support for the separation of church and state.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

50.
During the West Virginia primary, the Kennedy campaign mailed 50,000 personally addressed letters signed by FDR Jr. to impress West Virginia families.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

51.
Kennedy faced Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the first televised presidential debate that probably swung the election in his favor. The first debate was viewed by 70 million people.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

52.
The JFK presidential campaign song “High Hopes’’ was sung by Frank Sinatra.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

53.
He was the youngest man elected president, at age 43.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

54.
He defeated Nixon in a tightly contested race, winning by fewer than 120,000 votes.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

55.
His inauguration speech sought a new activism among Americans and is among the most quoted inauguration speeches of any president.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

56.
He was the first president to dance with an African-American woman at the inaugural ball.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

57.
Alan Shepard became the first American in space during Kennedy’s first year as president.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

58.
Kennedy was so alarmed by the cost of the space program that by September 1963 he proposed that the United States and Soviet Union partner on a joint expedition to the moon.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

59.
His speech in 1962 on the steps of the Schöneberger City Hall in Berlin, which ended with the words “Ich bin ein Berliner,” would immortalize him.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

60.
His executive order in January 1962 allowed federal workers to collectively bargain for the first time.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

61.
Kennedy named his brother Robert as U.S. attorney general. President Johnson in 1967 signed into law a nepotism statute that prevents a president from naming a family member to the Cabinet.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

62.
He faced the Bay of Pigs crisis — a failed attempt by the CIA to remove Fidel Castro from power in Cuba within a few months of his presidency.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

63.
Kennedy smoked four to five cigars a day and preferred H. Upmann Petits.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

64.
The Cuban Missile crisis in October 1962, which lasted 13 days, brought the world to the brink of nuclear armageddon.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

65.
JFK  bought 1,200 hand-rolled Cuban cigars just before his administration imposed an embargo on the Caribbean island.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

66.
The Cuban Missile crisis led to the creation of the nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

67.
He sent federal marshals to protect rights of an African-American student seeking to attend the University of Mississippi.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

68.
His dinner for Nobel Prize winners in 1962 included Ralph Bunche, the widows of Ernest Hemingway and George Marshall, author Pearl Buck, and scientist Linus Pauling.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

69.
Kennedy proposed a plan to reduce personal and business taxes in 1962 that eventually passed in 1964. Many economists credit the cuts for propelling the American economy in the 1960s.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

70.
During the Kennedy administration, U.S. economic growth averaged 4.3% annually.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

71.
Kennedy enjoyed watching westerns as well as motion picture epics such as “Spartacus” and “The Longest Day.”

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

72.
Kennedy had a hand in the making of the film “Seven Days in May” about an attempted military coup d’etat in the U.S. Kennedy went to Hyannis Port and turned over the White House to the
filmmakers.

Source: Jon S / Flickr

73.
JFK read as many as six newspapers a day, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

74.
Kennedy’s favorite books included James Bond thrillers.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

75.
Kennedy increased America’s military involvement in Vietnam

Source: Pixabay

76.
There was at least one assassination attempt on Kennedy before Dallas.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

77.
Kennedy was on his way to the Dallas Trade Mart for a luncheon when he was shot.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

78.
Kennedy was killed in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, the fourth American president assassinated.

Source: Pixabay

79.
News of the assassination caused the New York Stock Exchange to halt trading.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

80.
Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for killing the president a day after the assassination.

 
Source: Wikimedia Commons

81.
The murder weapon was an Italian carbine rifle Oswald had bought for $19.95.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

82.
Dallas businessman Abraham Zapruder filmed the assassination on his 8 mm home movie camera and eventually sold the footage to Life magazine for $150,000.

Source: David Erickson / Flickr

83.
Oswald would be slain two days later by Jack Ruby as he was transferred to county jail from city jail.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

84.
The circumstances of the assassination spawned a cottage industry of conspiracy theories.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

85.
At the time, assassination of a president was not a federal offense; Oswald would have been tried in Texas.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

86.
Jackie Kennedy removed her wedding ring and put it on her husband’s finger to be buried with him. Later she had an aide retrieve it.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

87.
The pink suit Jackie Kennedy wore in Dallas was never cleaned and is in the National Archives.

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Source: Jim Bowen / Wikimedia Commons

88.
The Texas School Book Depository’s sixth floor, from which Oswald shot Kennedy, is now a museum dedicated to JFK’s assassination.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

89.
The lying-in-state of Kennedy’s body in the Capitol Rotunda was modeled on that of Abraham Lincoln funeral in 1865 at the insistence of Kennedy’s widow.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

90.
The caisson that bore Kennedy’s body also carried the remains of Franklin Roosevelt.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

91.
Delegates from 82 countries, including eight heads of state and 10 prime ministers, attended the funeral.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

92.
The first letters Lyndon Johnson wrote as president were to Caroline and John Jr. Kennedy.

Source: thesmuggler- Night of the Swallow

93.
Caroline Kennedy is now the United States ambassador to Japan.

Source: User Morn / Wikimedia Commons

94.
JFK is buried in Arlington National Cemetery along with his wife Jackie, his son Patrick who died in infancy, and the stillborn child. His brothers Joseph, Robert, and Edward are also buried
in Arlington.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

95.
Kennedy is the only president who was outlived by his grandmother, 98-year-old Mary Josephine Fitzgerald.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

96.
Kennedy’s mother Rose outlived three of her four sons as well as one daughter. She died in 1995 at the age of 104.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

97.
In an interview with writer Theodore White for Life Magazine a week after the assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy said, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot,” forging the myth in American culture.

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Source: Doug Letterman / Wikimedia Commons

98.
Idlewild Airport in New York City was renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport on Dec. 24, 1963.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

99.
A trove of about 2,800 classified files pertaining to the Kennedy assassination was released by the National Archives in October 2017. Among the revelations was that the KGB believed there was a conspiracy behind the assassination that was hatched by the American far right.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

100.
JFK created the Peace Corps by executive order.