Special Report

Each President’s Path to the Oval Office

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William H. Taft (1857-1930)
> Term: 1909-1913
> Party affiliation: Republican
> Notable occupation: Lawyer, secretary of war

William H. Taft came from a politically well-connected family from Ohio. Buoyed by his ambitious wife, Taft became solicitor general in 1890, and while in Washington, D.C. he became friends with Theodore Roosevelt. Later, Taft became governor general of the Philippines. He received kudos from the Filipino people for his even-handed administration of the islands and drafted a constitution modeled on the American constitution. After the Philippines experience, Taft became secretary of war under Roosevelt and helped oversee the building of the Panama Canal.

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Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)
> Term: 1913-1921
> Party affiliation: Democratic
> Notable occupation: College president, governor

Wilson’s path to the presidency was through academia as president of Princeton University where he reformed lecture methods. Wilson’s reputation as a reformer got the attention of the New Jersey Democratic Party, which convinced him to run for governor in 1910. Wilson bucked the party bosses and launched progressive measures such as compensation for families of workers killed or injured at work.

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Warren Harding (1865-1923)
> Term: 1921-1923
> Party affiliation: Republican
> Notable occupation: Newspaper publisher, senator

Warren Harding gained political influence in Ohio as a newspaper publisher. Republican political bosses supported Harding, who delivered the nominating address at the Republican National Convention for Taft in 1912. Two years later, Harding was elected to the Senate. He was pro-business, believed in higher tariffs and lower taxes, and was opposed to the United States joining the League of Nations.

Source: General Photographic Agency / Getty Images

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
> Term: 1923-1929
> Party affiliation: Republican
> Notable occupation: Governor

Taciturn Calvin Coolidge was another accidental president, assuming the presidency after the death of Harding. Coolidge gained national recognition as governor of Massachusetts for his handling of the Boston police strike in 1919. He vigorously put down the strike, believing public safety was at risk, and the country, fearful of radicalism, rallied behind him.

Source: General Photographic Agency / Getty Images

Herbert Hoover (1874-1964)
> Term: 1929-1933
> Party affiliation: Republican
> Notable occupation: Mining engineer, businessman

Herbert Hoover was raised a Quaker who believed in the power of the individual and the importance of charity. He first gained national prominence after he was asked by the U.S. Consul to help evacuate Americans from Europe during World War I. After the U.S. entered the war, President Wilson named Hoover to run the U.S. Food Administration. Once the war ended, Hoover headed the European Relief and Rehabilitation Administration that brought food and other supplies to the continent. He served in the Harding and Coolidge administrations, enhancing his reputation for efficiency and reform. In 1927, Hoover coordinated relief efforts for those displaced by the devastating Mississippi River floods.