Special Report

Each President’s Path to the Oval Office

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Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)
> Term: 1933-1945
> Party affiliation: Democratic
> Notable occupation: Governor

Franklin D. Roosevelt was trained as a lawyer, but his real love was politics. He wanted the opportunity to be a leader, and he greatly admired his relative, Theodore Roosevelt, the nation’s 26th president. FDR contracted polio in 1921, but the disease did not defeat him. He became governor of New York in 1928 and then was elected president for an unprecedented four terms.

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Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)
> Term: 1945-1953
> Party affiliation: Democratic
> Notable occupation: Farmer, businessman

Harry Truman, who grew up on a farm in Missouri, developed leadership skills while commanding soldiers in combat in World War I. He forged friendships with soldiers from the Kansas City area that would eventually create a political power base. Under the auspices of Kansas City Democratic Party boss Thomas J. Pendergast, Truman ran for political office and became district judge, modernizing roads in his district. He developed a reputation for honesty and began to win support from African-American and ethnic groups. He was elected senator in 1934 and became the vice presidential nominee in 1944.

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Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969)
> Term: 1953-1961
> Party affiliation: Republican
> Notable occupation: Soldier

Dwight Eisenhower led the western Allies to victory in World War II, displaying the leadership and management skills that would enable him to become the nation’s 34th president. He won in a landslide over Democrat Adlai Stevenson in 1952.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)
> Term: 1961-1963
> Party affiliation: Democratic
> Notable occupation: Senator, congressman

John F. Kennedy was not his father’s first choice to fulfill the Kennedy presidential ambitions. That was supposed to be older brother Joseph. But the elder son was killed during a bombing mission in World War II, so the task fell on JFK. Kennedy’s leadership skills were burnished during World War II, when, as a lieutenant, he helped save crew members of his patrol boat that had been cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy’s heroism and political connections helped launch his career, which began with him serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

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Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973)
> Term: 1963-1969
> Party affiliation: Democratic
> Notable occupation: Senator, congressman

Lyndon Johnson became president after the assassination of Kennedy. His path to the presidency began in the rough-and-tumble world of Texas politics, where he developed the persuasive skills that would define his career. Johnson served six terms in the House of Representative and was elected to the Senate in 1948, eventually becoming the Senate majority leader in 1954. He became Kennedy’s vice president to help gain Democratic support in the South.