30 Facts You Didn't Know About Past U.S. Presidents

By: James Sheldon
Mount Rushmore.
The past presidents all had their quirks. Burazin / Getty Images

Are you ready to have your mind blown? If you consider yourself a history buff, you might wanna pop some popcorn and cozy up to this rather fascinating look at some of the United States’ most popular historical figures—its past presidents. There are stories that are downright odd, somewhat surprising, and stories that are quite humorous. If you’re looking to really increase your trivia skills, here are 30 facts about former Presidents of the United States that you probably didn’t know.


30. FDR and His Three Full Terms

We’ll start with an easy one. If you’re an American, and were actually listening during your class entitled “American History,” this little fact was probably tough to miss. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the POTUS who ushered the United States out of the Great Depression and through the bulk of World War II, served three terms as President of the United States of America. If you didn’t realize that statement was true, simple math—or the obvious subtitle—would allow you to deduce: FDR was elected to a fourth term, and died only a few months later, in April of 1945. It was presumed he wanted to see the United States through the war. It would have been fascinating to see the decision he’d have made that was eventually left in the hands of Harry S. Truman. Would he have resorted to the atomic bomb?


29. Abraham Lincoln’s Greatest Fear

Abraham Lincoln is going to appear a couple times on this list. He’s somewhat important in the throes of United States history. During the Civil War, there were many things Abraham Lincoln suggested he feared. One of them was God, and judgement for potentially coming down on the wrong side of the slavery issue. Obviously, Abe got that one right, even though he’d been steeped in an odd, Southern theology about people of color. By the end of his life, he had changed his tune. Another thing Abe feared? The Confederate army. But more than anything, Abe Lincoln feared the power and international sway of the big bankers. “I have two great enemies, the Southern army in front of me and the bankers in the rear. And of the two, the bankers are my greatest foe.” If only we’d listened to that like we did the Emancipation Proclamation.


28. Washington Never Lived in Washington

George Washington is another important fella who will make more than one appearance on this list. This particular morsel from history has sneaked into more than a few trivia nights, and is a fun little “Did You Know?” When George Washington was El Presidente, the federal government of the United States operated in Philadelphia. George called Mt. Vernon, Virginia, home, and was the only president who didn’t live in the White House. He was involved in the process of choosing where the President’s home would eventually be. He chose the location in what would become Washington, D.C., and even approved the original White House plans, but he never lived in the village known as Washington—named in his honor. Sadly, the first president wasn’t able to see the White House completed, dying 11 months before they put on the finishing touches.


27. Thomas Jefferson and His Bible

There is no getting around the Judeo-Christian influence in the founding of the United States of America. This is another article for another time, and a different internet entity, but in simple speak, all the founding fathers were fans of the Bible. Some of them took it to spirit, while others took it to mind. One of the latter—and one of the reasons he was such a friendly rival to John Adams—was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a huge fan of the exceptionally progressive, archaic justice system offered in what is known as the Old Testament or Torah, and he loved the teachings of Jesus; however, he couldn’t get behind the possibility of the miraculous, so he removed those stories from its pages, and titled the book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. This is now known as the Jefferson/Jeffersonian Bible.


26. Andrew Jackson Once Hired Pirates

When Andrew Jackson arrived in New Orleans in 1814, he found that the city could be easily taken by British forces, due to poor defense and unpracticed soldiers. In an effort to solidify a defensive front, Jackson met with infamous French-American pirate and privateer, Jean Lafitte. Lafitte, his brother, and several men who once sailed with them, were regularly in hot water, and had no desire to serve “the man.” After some negotiating, Lafitte agreed to fight in what would become known as The Battle of New Orleans in exchange for a full pardon for himself and anyone he enlisted into the man’s military might. The pirates fought valiantly, in a battle beginning on December 28, and Jackson was keen to use the tactical advice of Lafitte during the conflict. The American forces were reliant on the skill set of the pirates, who were granted clemency on February 6, 1815.


25. John Tyler Had 15 Kids

Every president who comes along is inevitably referred to as the worst president to ever serve in the position. George W. Bush was the worst. Barack Obama is/was the worst. It takes someone knowing a little something about history to make these conversations more objective. When it came to the most disliked president in United States history, that award would probably go to President John Tyler. He was considered a treasonous president by many—serving as the 10th president of the United States—and just an odd duck by others. We suppose he had so many children—15 of them—so he might enjoy the love of a few. Here’s the twist on this morsel. President Tyler had his youngest son when he was 70, who had his youngest when he was 75, meaning two of John Tyler’s grandchildren are still living in 2016! Tyler was born in 1790!?


24. Ulysses S. Grant’s Accidental “S”

The man you appreciate on the $50 bill was a fierce military leader. He is known as Ulysses S. Grant, though his given name was Hiram Ulysses Grant. Congressman Thomas Hamer nominated him for West Point Military Academy as “Ulysses S. Grant from Ohio.” Once it was in writing, it was a done deal. This played nicely for Grant, whose initials became U.S. Grant because of the mistake. He was nicknamed “Sam,” by his peers, and referred to as Uncle Sam by many. The twist: Grant enjoyed the thought of a military career about as much as he did his arbitrary name change. He wasn’t into it. He loved working with horses and was an expert rider, but was thrust into infantry service after graduating at the Academy, and it was never thought he would attain the rank he eventually did: Commander in Chief.


23. Millard Fillmore Was “Hot For Teacher”

Millard Fillmore was a student at New Hope Academy, and while he was there a particular lady caught his eye, and he her’s. Before we make this sound creepier than it was, Millard was 19 years old and the oldest student at the school. His teacher, Miss Abigail Powers, was Millard’s instructor, and though she was his authority figure at the time, she was merely 20 years old. That said, there were lines that shouldn’t be crossed, so Abigail waited patiently for Millard to finish his studies before the two began a very long courtship. Atypical of the time period, the two embarked on a long courtship and were married at the ages of 26 and 27, respectively. The couple were married until Abigail’s death in 1853, shortly after leaving the White House to make way for Franklin Pierce.


22. James Buchanan’s Emancipation Program

James Buchanan was the chief executor in regards to American law and policy, but when it came to his moral and ethical law, he worked outside the system. Serving as the 15th POTUS, James Buchanan was obviously instrumental in breathing anti-slavery energy into the American air. Buchanan wasn’t in favor of slavery, but he bought and trafficked slaves. He would purchase slaves south of the Mason-Dixon line, then transport them north to Pennsylvania, where he would free them and integrate them into growing communities of freed people. This wasn’t quite the underground railroad, but if people were going to be considered property, then Buchanan found the loophole that functioned on a small scale. Of course, the fella who came into office after Buchanan took up the torch and carried it across the finish line.


21. Abe Lincoln: The Wrestler

Speaking of the fella who took up the torch…good ole Honest Abe. Abe Lincoln was a big guy within the world of politics. That’s not a figurative statement. He was a big man. He stood at 6’4″, placing him head and shoulders above most men of average height in the 19th century. Abe was also rumored to be strong as an ox, and a very capable wrestler. He mixed it up in amateur wrestling competitions for years, and it has been agreed upon that he participated in over 300 matches. He lost once. No, these wrestling matches didn’t occur once Abe was in office, rather during his youth, before anyone counted him as being a “big deal” in the world of politics. We’re not supposing that this was a Team Foxcatcher scenario. If only someone would honor this legacy in the world of WWE.

20. James Garfield Was a Genius

James Garfield had one of the cooler names of past U.S. Presidents, and unlike the cat who doth posses the same name, James Garfield was anything but lazy. He was a scholar who spoke multiple languages, was ambidextrous and capable of feats that would now win him big money at parties involving drugs and alcohol. “How much will you give me if I can write with both hands, at the same time, in two different languages?” Such is presidential lore. It is stated, and accepted as historical fact: James Garfield could pen letters or documents in two different languages, simultaneously. Just to see someone do this in real life…? Life-altering. Perhaps we’ve shut off those portions of the brain in the 21st century because our phones do similar things for us? Whatever the case, it’s not a surprise Garfield was elected POTUS with a skill set like that.

19. Chester A. Arthur Was a Pimp

Chester A. Arthur wasn’t really a pimp. He was only pimpin’ by 21st century standard. He was fly, fashionable and on the up-and-up. For all aspiring and future presidents of the United States of America, here’s a little something to consider. Chester A. Arthur owned 80 pair of pants during his presidency (1881-1885), and was dropping quotes like this: “I may be president of the United States, but my private life is nobody’s damned business.” How would that play in the 21st century? Chester A. Arthur was known for his style and was nicknamed “Elegant Arthur” by the public, thanks in part to the printed mass media at the time. After serving his single term as POTUS, he left the White House to receive four marriage proposals from random women. He passed on those. He was a widower, and remained single until he died a year later in 1886.

18. William McKinley’s Carnation

William McKinely is one of several POTUS who had an attempt on their life, or had their life taken by an assassin. Sadly, the popular president falls into the latter category. Unlike presidents such Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, who were killed by gunshots to the head, President McKinley was shot in the abdomen, and after several days, first marked by improvement, the president died of infection caused by his wounds. Here is the “No way!” aspect of McKinley’s assassination. As lore would have it, President McKinley always wore a red carnation when he was in public, and considered it a symbol of good will and good luck. On the day he was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, he had taken the carnation from his lapel and offered it to a young girl who was in the crowd. Then, he offered his speech. A short time later, he was shot twice.

17. Teddy Roosevelt Was Pure Badass

Keeping this story moving in chronological order, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt took the office of the presidency following the assassination of President William McKinley. Teddy Roosevelt was what we might call a man’s man. He was a big game hunter and a definitive badass. The irony of his politicizing…? He was known as a progressive. These terms meant different things in the early 20th century. Teddy served as POTUS from 1901-1909, and then decided to run for the presidency once again in 1912 for the Progressive Party. John Schrank, a local saloon keeper, took exception to his bid and shot Roosevelt while he was delivering a speech in Milwaukee. Teddy’s glasses case and speech manuscript slowed the slug. He immediately announced he had been shot, that he didn’t care, and spoke for another 90 minutes before being rushed to the hospital.

16. John Adams: Welcome to the White House

John Adams was instrumental to the structured pursuit of fairness and equality in the United States. Though he wasn’t killed in battle, he certainly gave his life to, and for, the cause. The miniseries starring Paul Giamatti is a fascinating view for those who love history. The two things for which John was most well known—outside his impressive writings and solid Federalist policy—were his rivalry with Thomas Jefferson and being the first resident of the White House. At the time it was known as the President’s Mansion, and it was completed in 1800. John Adams only lived there a short time, as he lost a hotly contested election the same year to his Vice President, Thomas Jefferson. He was so emotionally wounded by the defeat, coupled with the recent death of his son, Charles, he didn’t attend Jefferson’s inauguration.

15. Woodrow Wilson: My Man, One Hundred Grand

There are many thoughts as to how large Federal Reserve notes can be. We’ve all seen the $1,000,000 bill with the Statue of Liberty, which isn’t official, by the way, and never was. So, what was the largest note ever produced by the bank, who is responsible for manufacturing the legal tender for all debts payable in the United States of America? $100,000. Yes. There really were $100,000 bills, and the face on that note was none other than President Woodrow Wilson. What these used for, you ask? Internal finance exchange between the Federal Reserve banks located throughout the United States. You can see various locations of these banks listed on each bill. It’s also worth noting: people are under the impression these banks are government entities…they’re not.

14. Dwight D. Eisenhower: Fore!

Why do presidents enjoy golf so much? Well, because it is an enjoyable activity. Why else would they do it? Truth be told, there was one president who started the golfing trend among presidents, and it was former Five-Star General, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The man most commonly referred to as “Ike” was a well-respected military general before taking the office of the presidency in 1953. He served two terms, ushered in the mid-century modern era, and was succeeded by John F. Kennedy. He was also the first president to boldly declare his love of golf by having a putting green built on the White House lawn. If people think President Obama is playing golf all the time, and that he’s a terrible president because of it, they would have hated Dwight D. Eisenhower, military service and all. Ike also spent a lot of time painting, amassing over 250 paintings.

13. Slick Willy Is Wonderfully Symmetrical

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who was the hottest of them all? There were several presidents who women might have found more attractive than Bill Clinton, but few people are as symmetrically hot as our boy, Slick Willy. Yeah, that nickname is disrespectful, but c’mon…Bill lied to Congress and got away with it. Let’s consider the science of aesthetics. Women seriously find men of remarkable symmetry—speaking about faces—to be more attractive. Most male models have very symmetrical faces, and Bill Clinton falls into that category. He has the symmetry of a male model…and the nose of a gin-loving playboy. We kid. We kid. Listen, we love Bill. He was a wonderful ambassador for the United States, but he’ll forever—and deservedly—be razzed for getting it in on inside the Oval Office with Monica Lewinsky.

12. Lyndon Johnson Was the Original Donald Trump

Why do people argue about who the worst POTUS was? This answer is labeled in the file: OBVIOUS. There has never been a bigger jerk in office than Lyndon Johnson. Whatever darkness he endured in his life before becoming president, he decided to bring it along for his presidency. In our contemporary era of digging up everything a person ever did, we’ve been privy to some morsels about Jonson that are both timeless and incredibly confusing. Take the “custom pants order” phone call: What. The hell. Was that? At Goliath, we’ve got a little insight as to what exactly that was. Johnson needed all that room in the crotch because he had a huge…Johnson Jr. He even named his junk “Jumbo” and put it on display as often as possible.

11. Gerald Ford: The Hunk

No, not the Hulk. The hunk. Gerald Rudolf Ford was such a good looking guy in his youth that he made some coin as a male model. He was the stereotypical varsity jock. He played football, and not for just any team. He was the starting center for the University of Michigan Wolverines in the early 1930s. How good was he? He played both ways, also playing linebacker, and serving as the team’s long snapper. In 1932 and 1933, Michigan won the National Championship. Not too shabby for a future politician. Here’s a twist in the Gerald Ford story. He was given the name Leslie Lynch King Jr. at birth, and he only lived with his father for a short time. The man was abusive, and it led to the dissolve of his parents’ marriage. He grew up as Gerald Ford Jr., and legally took his stepfather’s name in 1935.

10. Barry O’Bomber

President Barack Obama loves basketball. This is no secret. He has put his skill set on display for several cameras since becoming a temporary resident of the White House. When people simply knew him as Barry, his peers allegedly nicknamed him Barry O’Bomber because of his stellar stroke. President Obama is a lefty, and there is something special about a left-hander letting the pumpkin fly. There have been some fascinating stories about Barack Obama’s basketball career, which equates to time as a high school varsity player. The nickname may have come later, when he was playing pick-up ball in college, but there was one thing most of his peers recall: Barry could let the bombs fly from long range, but he flew low to the ground. Not a jumper, Barry O’Bomber. More of a WWII era B-17 Flying Fortress.

9. George “Team” Bush

We’ll stick to the guys who loved their sports. There have been more than a few posts similar to this which have tried to shame Dubya. We’re not about that, because in trying to shame the man, we’d make fun of all male cheerleaders. If you didn’t know, George was a male cheerleader at Philips Academy before he attended Yale. He also continued to cheer while at Yale. In addition to cheering, George was also a varsity athlete and mixed it up on the rugby pitch while in the Ivy League. What does that tell us? George was a jock. He love sports so much that when he wasn’t playing, he was cheering. Perhaps he should have spent a little more time mastering the English language or hammering his communications courses? His word use, and logical reasoning skills, were lacking from 2000-2008.

8. George Washington Was Mr. Big Bucks

Welcome back to the list, and to the Top 10, Mr. President. George Washington was the first POTUS, and by all accounts he was also the wealthiest in presidential history. It’s estimated that his fortune would have equated to at least $500 million. That’s right. Half a billion dollars. No other president has boasted such wealth (accounting for inflation). George Washington accrued his wealth as a savvy land speculator. He amassed acreage in the thousands. At the time of his death, it was estimated that he owned 81 square miles of land in the eastern United States, stretching from New York and Pennsylvania in the north to Kentucky and Virginia in the south. Obviously, his 7,000-acre Mt. Vernon estate was the crown jewel of his land spec. Imagine if he’d been around for the Louisiana Purchase.

7. James Madison Was Petite

Do you think of someone like Seth Green as being presidential? Would you buy Seth as POTUS if he were to play one in a movie…that wasn’t a comedy? You’re pickin’ up what we’re laying down, yeah? James Madison was roughly the size of actor, writer and producer Seth Green. He was 5’4″ tall and weighed close to 100 lbs. Basically, if James Madison were to stand next to Abraham Lincoln, he would have looked like a kid brother. This isn’t a knock on folks who are vertically challenged, or intimately close with gravity, it’s simply a little historical fact that will come in handy on some trivia night. James Madison was the smallest president in U.S. history, and we’ll imagine that there’ll never be another who will rival this unique feat. Even Hillary Clinton (the likely next POTUS), stands at 5’7″.

6. James Buchanan as “The Bachelor”

Every man who has served as President of the United States of America had, at one time or another, a wife, except for James Buchanan. James Buchanan never married, and studying the words of historians who specialize in presidential history, there are many who would consider James Buchanan as the first gay president. It was long thought that James Buchanan had an intimate relationship with his political contemporary, William Rufus De Vane King. King served as the 13th Vice President of the United States, and Buchanan, the 15th president. If you’ll remember, this was the same fella who was buying slaves in the south, and freeing them in the north. He was as progressive as they came in the mid-19th century. There was no definitive proof to these suppositions, but documents from the time period would suggest Buchanan had no interest in women.

5. Andrew Johnson Was Hammered at His Inauguration

This story is a bit more complex than the traditional inauguration. President Johnson was sworn into the office of president shortly after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Johnson attempted to offer his care to the Lincoln family after the event, but he was chased from the room by an allegedly hysterical Mary Todd Lincoln. Johnson was so distraught, he returned to his room at the Kirkwood House, where he proceeded to drink whiskey. When he was summoned hours later for his inauguration it took presidential aides some time to wake him, then call for a doctor and barber to clean him up for the ceremony. Some reports suggest the event went smoothly, while others claim he railed on the confederacy with a venomous speech. We suppose there are elements of truth to both claims, depending on the audience member.

4. William “Fatty” Taft

The public and press were fascinated by the weight of William Taft. At 5’11” and 340 lbs., the 27th POTUS was not a small man. William Taft should have known that going into his White House bathtub, because he was so fat that he got stuck, slipping and sliding around on the porcelain, unable to get out. He had to call for help from the presidential staff to find some balance and get out of his tub. We have to be fair to the former president. This is one item on this list which is moot. There are some who believe this has to be a myth; however, two White House staffers—a maid and a butler—both made claims that it actually happened. Could this have been nothing more than legend, stemming from the fact that Taft did have a special, exceptionally large bathtub made for his presidency?

3. Calvin Coolidge Really Was Cool

Calvin Coolidge was a seriously cool customer. One of the most legendary stories about the 30th POTUS suggests that he was asleep in a hotel room one night, when he awakened to find a burglar in his room going through his personal effects. Cool Cal didn’t miss a beat, and he sparked a dialog with the young, desperate man. He asked why he was doing what he was doing, only to learn that the young man was broke and needed money to afford his college tuition. The President gave the man everything he had in his wallet and told the chap to consider it a loan. He then suggested the fella exit the room the same way he came in, or deal with the wrath of the Secret Service. Something tells us you wouldn’t be met with this type of reaction in 2016.

2. Ronald Reagan Did Stand-Up

Ronald Reagan wasn’t the most popular actor of all time, but he was a successful actor by the standard of occupational success. If less than one percent are able to make a living in the profession, then he was a wild success. Like most actors throughout history, it’s tough to transition life seasons, when the roles you’re playing dry up and you have to reinvent yourself. When Ron hit his lull in the 1950s, he decided to do a gig in Las Vegas as a stand-up comedian. His stint in Sin City lasted for two weeks, and that’s probably where he caught the bug of “If I can do that, I could be president!” It also offered him some testing ground to work on his timing in delivering jokes. He offered more than a few quips during his presidency.

1. John Hanson: The Forgotten President

Considering American history, and the history of the United States of America as a whole, there were more presidents than who have been listed as POTUS. The office of the president was founded in the Continental Congress in 1774, and John Hanson was the first president to serve a one-year term under the signed and ratified Articles of Confederation in 1781. The differences in the office of the President of the Continental Congress and the President of the United States of America were stark. Presidents of the Continental Congress functioned as presiding officers, while the POTUS served as the chief executive under the United States Constitution, and its system of checks and balances. That stated, the nation known as the USofA wouldn’t have made it further than being colonies loyal to the British crown had it not been for the revolutionaries who served as POTCC.