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History Presidents

Presidential trivia pursuit

One of the chief pleasures of my presidential biography mission is the accumulation of historical trivia.

These factoids aren’t good for much except trivia nights and some Jeopardy! categories, but they fascinate me nevertheless—and illustrate that history is a lot richer than just a boring list of dates in a textbook.

A few tidbits I’ve gathered:

  • James Buchanan is the only bachelor president
  • Woodrow Wilson was the first president since John Adams to deliver his State of the Union address before Congress in person
  • Herbert Hoover was the first president to have a phone on his desk
  • Theodore Roosevelt chased down boat thieves for 36 hours straight in the Dakota Territory while also reading Anna Karenina
  • Andrew Jackson killed a man in a duel
  • The only two 20th century presidents not to golf while in office: Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter (heroes)
  • Per Thomas Jefferson’s utopian vision of self-government, the University of Virginia (which Jefferson founded) had no president until 1904
  • To avoid attending the Republican National Convention in summer 1928, Calvin Coolidge stayed in northern Wisconsin and fished on the Brule River; Herbert Hoover visited and they fished together
  • James Polk’s first client as a lawyer in 1820 was his father for public fighting; he secured his release for a $1 fine
  • George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention but, perhaps unsurprisingly, spoke only once
  • James Madison technically had two birthdates due to the change from Julian to Gregorian calendar systems
  • As an 8 year old, John Quincy Adams personally witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill
  • John Tyler was in 1844 the first president to decline to seek a second term
  • William McKinley and Rutherford B. Hayes served in the same Ohio regiment during the Civil War
  • Hayes’ wife Lucy hosted the first White House Easter Egg Roll in 1878 after Congress banned it at Capitol
  • Harry Truman was the first vice president to have Secret Service protection, and the first president to invite his successor (Eisenhower) to the White House post-election