President’s Day: 46 Surprising Facts about 46 Presidents

Below are 46 strange and fascinating facts about all of America’s Presidents

Today is President’s Day! In addition to indicating a day off work or school for many, President’s Day is among the oldest federal holidays and it was the first to celebrate the life of an individual American. It was originally signed into law in 1879 in honor of George Washington’s birthday (February 22) but eventually moved to the third Monday of the month in a bid to create more three-day weekends for workers. Today, the holiday also recognizes the presidents past and present who have served since Washington.

From a 19th-century president who killed a man in a duel to a 20th-century leader who once worked as a lifeguard, learn surprising facts about each U.S. president. In some ways, all 46 U.S. presidents have been very much alike. Not lacking in ambition or charisma, each had a certain knack for self-promotion and networking.

At the same time, each commander in chief is unique. Read facts about every president in order of their service from a 19th-century hotshot with a taste for dueling to a 20th-century veteran who nearly died after being hit by anti-aircraft fire in World War II.

George Washington carved in stone at Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. George Washington (1789-1797): The first U.S. president and Revolutionary War hero was an enthusiastic dog breeder, particularly of hunting hounds to which he gave names like Sweet Lips and Drunkard.

2. John Adams (1797-1801): Adams and his wife, Abigail, exchanged more than 1,100 letters throughout their lengthy relationship.

3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809): Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, died on July 4, in 1826 within hours of John Adams. 

4. James Madison (1809-1817): Madison was the shortest president at 5 feet 4 inches and weighed barely over 100 pounds. James Madison and his wife, Dolley, helped popularize ice cream in America. Tastes in the treat, however, would be considered questionable today: chestnut, asparagus, and parmesan were all on the menu. Dolley’s favorite flavor was oyster.

5. James Monroe (1817-1825): Other than Washington, Monroe was the only president to ever run essentially unopposed, coasting to re-election in the 1820 race.

6. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829): Years after leaving the White House, Quincy Adams argued a famous Supreme Court case that freed the captive Africans who had rebelled aboard the Amistad slave ship. The election of 1824 saw four viable candidates, none of whom won an outright majority of electoral votes. Andrew Jackson nabbed 99, John Quincy Adams won 84, William H. Crawford earned 41, and Henry Clay claimed 37. Despite having neither the highest number of electoral or total popular votes, Adams was chosen as President by the U.S. House of Representatives.

7. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837): Jackson once killed a man in a duel. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841): Van Buren was the first president to be born an American. All previous presidents were originally British subjects, having been born prior to 1776. 

9. William Henry Harrison (1841): Harrison died just 31 days after his inauguration in 1841, the shortest presidency in United States history.

10. John Tyler (1841-1845): Tyler fathered 15 children, the most of any president.

11. James K. Polk (1845-1849): During his term, Polk secretly purchased a number of enslaved children for his Mississippi cotton plantation.

12. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850): Old Rough and Ready never voted in an election prior to being on the ballot himself. 

13. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853): Fillmore was the last Whig president; the party imploded soon after he left office. 

14. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857): The only president from New Hampshire also attended college in New England—Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. 

15. James Buchanan (1857-1861): In 1853, while serving as minister to Great Britain, Buchanan helped draft the 1854 Ostend Manifesto which advocated for an American invasion of Cuba.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865): Honest Abe, the tallest president at 6 feet 4 inches may have had Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes people to be very tall, thin, and long limbed. 

17. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869): Though one of the few presidents without a pet, Johnson apparently cared for a family of White House mice which he called the little fellows.

18. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877): Civil War General Grant was invited to join Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on the fateful evening of April 14, 1865 but was forced to decline after he and his wife made plans to visit their children in New Jersey. 

19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881): Hayes was the first president to have a telephone in the White House. 

20. James A. Garfield (1881): Garfield (who was the first known left-handed president) was elected to the U.S. Senate but never served as Ohio senator because he then won the Republican nomination for president. In 1880, Garfield attended the Republican National Convention with no intention of running for President. But when the convention stalled, a delegate nominated Garfield as a compromise candidate, and a stream of unexpected votes flooded in. “This honor comes to me unsought,” Garfield said. “I have never had the presidential fever, not even for a day … I have no feeling of elation given the position I am called upon to fill.”

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885): Arthur was named in honor of Chester Abell, the doctor who delivered him.

22. and 24. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897): No president except Cleveland has ever served non-consecutive terms: He defeated James G. Blaine in 1884, lost to Benjamin Harrison in 1888 (despite winning the popular vote), and then came back to defeat Harrison in 1892.

23. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893): Harrison was the first president to hire a female White House staffer. Under Harrison’s watch, electricity was installed at the White House in 1891. The newfangled invention utterly terrified him. Harrison and his wife, Caroline, refused to operate the light switches. He was so afraid of pressing the knobs that, sometimes, he’d sleep with the lights on.

25. William McKinley (1897-1901): McKinley’s likeness appears on the $500 bill which was discontinued in 1969. 

26. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909): Roosevelt was the youngest president, taking office at age 42.

27. William Howard Taft (1909-1913): Famous for his corpulence, Taft was the first president to hurl the ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game. 

28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921): In a 1914 proclamation, Wilson officially established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

29. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923): Prior to taking office, Harding wrote a series of lurid love letters to his mistress, the wife of one of his best friends. 

30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929): A quiet man, Coolidge purportedly replied, “You lose,” to a visitor who bet she could get at least three words out of him. 

31. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933): An Iowa native who spent part of his boyhood in Oregon, Hoover was the first president to hail from west of the Mississippi River. Despite humble origins, Hoover was a self-made multimillionaire. He was orphaned at the age of 9 and was raised by various relatives, eventually graduating from Stanford’s inaugural class with a degree in geology. Working for a British mine, he traveled the world looking for pricey mineral deposits and made millions doing 

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945): The longest-serving commander-in-chief claimed to be distantly related to 11 other presidents including his fifth cousin Theodore Roosevelt.

33. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953): The “S” in Harry S. Truman was just an initial; it didn’t stand for any name. (The “S” in Ulysses S. Grant didn’t stand for anything either.) 

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961): World War II hero Ike was the first president to ride in a helicopter. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

35. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963): After being injured and honorably discharged in World War II, Kennedy was briefly employed as a journalist during the waning weeks of the war. 

36. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969): Johnson’s first career was as a teacher. He worked at a school near the U.S.-Mexico border for four years before launching a career in politics.

37. Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974): Nixon became such a skillful poker player while stationed in the Solomon Islands during World War II that his winnings helped launch his political career upon his return to the U.S.

38: Gerald Ford (1974-1977): A star football player at the University of Michigan, Ford turned down offers from both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. 

39. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981): When his father died in 1953, Carter gave up his successful military career to move back to Georgia and work on their family’s peanut farm.

George Washington carved in stone at Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

40. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): Reagan worked as a lifeguard and sportscaster before becoming an actor and, later, a politician. 

41. George H. Bush (1989-1993): As a student at Yale, Bush was captain of the baseball team and a member of Skull and Bones, an elite secret student society.

42. Bill Clinton (1993-2001): Clinton played the saxophone and performed on the Arsenio Hall Show when he was a candidate for president. 

43. George W. Bush (2001-2009): Post-presidency, Bush took up oil painting, exhibiting his work at the Museum of the Southwest in Texas. 

44. Barack Obama (2009-2017): Prior to becoming the first African American president, Obama won two Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word Album.

45. Donald J. Trump (2017-2021): Before becoming president, Trump was a real estate developer, entrepreneur, and host of the NBC reality show, The Apprentice.

46: Joe Biden (2021-present): Biden overcame a debilitating childhood stutter after enduring bullying over the condition in grade school. 

Worth Pondering…

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.

—John F. Kennedy

Go Birdwatching for the Annual Great Backyard Bird Count: February 17-20, 2023

Every February people all over the world come together for the love of birds and participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count

It’s time to prepare for The Great Backyard Bird Count! As its name implies, this grand event grew from simpler beginnings that included feeder counts but over the past quarter century the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) has expanded into a worldwide birding celebration that takes place over four days in February each year.

Birdwatching at Whitewater Draw in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This year you can participate in the 26th annual GBBC anytime over President’s Day Weekend—birding as often and as long as you wish from February 17 to 20. It’s free, enjoyable, and easy for people from all walks of life to participate in identifying and counting birds to create a real time mid-winter snapshot of bird populations that provides valuable information for biologists, conservation leaders, and anyone interested in birds.

Birdwatching at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Read Next: What Is Birding?

Last year, birders from 192 countries reported approximately ¾ of the world’s bird species including 7,099 species of birds identified by 384,641 estimated global participants in 192 participating countries who submitted 359,479 eBird checklists and shared 141,990 photos.

Of course, everyone is invited to get involved ranging from first-timers to expert birders. You can provide information about the birds you see at your feeding station or yard and it’s a great opportunity to join together with others including members of your household or a birding club. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds Canada, and the National Audubon Society, along with the founding sponsor, Wild Birds Unlimited.

Great kiskadee at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in southern Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the Great Backyard Bird Count is a global four day event that is easy ands fun—you can participate for 15 minutes or as many hours and days you prefer. By birding during the GBBC you join the other birders worldwide with the common goal of documenting and better understanding winter bird populations, winter ranges, and changes over years.

>> Read Next: The Beginners Guide to Birding (and Bird Photography) on Your Next Outdoor Adventure

Great horned owl at Estero Llano Grande State Park in southern Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to participate

Participating is easy, fun to do alone or with others, and can be done anywhere you find birds.

Step 1: Decide where you will watch birds.

Step 2: Watch birds for 15 minutes or more at least once over the four days, February 17-20, 2023.

Step 3: Identify all the birds you see or hear within your planned time/location and use the best tool for sharing your bird sightings:

Cactus wren at Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are a beginning bird admirer and new to bird identification, use the Merlin Bird ID app to document the birds you see or hear

If you have participated in the count before and want to record numbers of birds, try the eBird Mobile app or enter your bird list on the eBird website (desktop/laptop)

If you already contribute to Merlin or eBird, continue what you are doing. All entries over the four-days count towards GBBC

>> Read Next: Birding in Arizona

Roseate spoonbills at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in central Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three ways to enter data: Options and step-by-step instructions

Merlin Bird ID

If you are NEW to bird watching and bird identification and have a smartphone, GBBC recommends you use the Merlin Bird ID app to enter your first bird. It is FREE and easy to use.

Using Merlin Bird ID: www.birdcount.org/merlin-bird-id-app

Merlin covers bird species from 7 continents and is available in 18 languages.

Ibis at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in southern Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

eBird Mobile

If you are already using eBird to track your birding activity or an experienced bird watcher, the FREE eBird Mobile app is a fast way to enter your bird lists right from the palm of your hand.

Using eBird Mobile: www.birdcount.org/ebird-mobile-app

Broad-tailed hummingbird at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desktop or laptop

If you prefer to enter your sightings on a computer, perhaps after making a list while on a hike or watching your feeders, the app will walk you through how.

Using eBird on a Computer: www.birdcount.org/ebird-on-computer

Black-necked stilt at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

FAQs

Why is the count in February?

Originally the Great Backyard Bird Count was held in the U.S. and Canada each February to create a snapshot of the distribution of birds just before spring migrations ramped up in March. Scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Birds Canada, and elsewhere can combine this information with data from surveys conducted at different times of the year. In 2013, the count went global, creating snapshots of birds wherever they are in February, regardless of seasons across the hemispheres.

Yellow-crowned night heron at Valley Nature Center in southern Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where should I count birds?

You can count birds anywhere in the world from any location. Count in your backyard, at a local park, or wildlife refuge or wherever you like to watch birds.

>> Read Next: Guess Who? 12 Texas Birds to Know

Mourning dove at Catalina State Park in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Can I include photos with my checklist/bird list?

Yes, both images and sound recordings can be included with your checklist. They will also be entered into the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Adding photos is especially helpful if you are reporting a rare or unusual species.

Worth Pondering…

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus