[Who was really the first president of the United States? Which president spoke English as a second language? Which president was a Quaker who donated his entire salary to charity? And many more interesting trivia topics…]
So far I have hardly written any history blog posts about lesser known facts about American history. I have found it challenging to write such posts because U S history is quite well known all around the world, and thus there aren’t too many lesser known topics to write about. I believe this is due to various factors including parts of U S history being taught in many school curriculums worldwide, and numerous Hollywood films which portray very interesting but not well known events in U S history.
Thus, I’ve decided to take a different approach here. Most people are familiar with US presidents, but there is some interesting presidential trivia that many are not familiar with. In this post, I’ll share 20 such facts:
- While we all know George Washington was the first US President, there are some people (descendants and a few historians) who claim that John Hanson was really the first president because he was the first president under the Articles of Confederation (this has led others to argue for other names including Peyton Randolph, first president of the Continental Congress, and John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress when independence was declared).
- Thee out of the first five US presidents died on July 4th, the same date as the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
- Two presidents have both had the middle initial ‘S’…without any meaning to the initial. These presidents are Ulysses S. Grant (someone had filled in ‘S’ on a form assuming he would use ‘Simpson’, his mother’s maiden name, but this was not the case – but the ‘S’ stayed…) and Harry S. Truman (both grandfathers had a name starting with ‘S’, so ‘S’ was used as his middle initial without a meaning)
- Thomas Jefferson was in debt, and to get out of debt he sold his book collection, which consisted of 6000 books, to the U. S. Congress. This became the start of the Library of Congress.
- Martin van Buren was the first president to be born as a citizen of the US (earlier presidents were born as British subjects).
- Thomas Jefferson wrote his own epitaph for his tombstone, where he listed his major accomplishments in his life. This list includes being the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statuette of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and that he was the founder of the University of Virginia. However, this list does not include being President of the United States.
- Andrew Jackson, the only president to have been a prisoner of war, was involved in various gun duals. In one such dual, he was shot in the chest first, but he actually remained standing and shot and killed his opponent. The bullet could not be removed, and stayed in his chest.
- When William Henry Harrison asked his future wife’s father if he could marry his daughter, her father refused.William and Anna then eloped and got married in secret.
- Many people believe that the popular ‘Baby Ruth’ candy bar was named after the famous baseball player Babe Ruth. It was actually named after Grover Cleveland’s daughter Ruth.
- Rather than fight in the Civil War, Grover Cleveland paid George Brinski, a Polish immigrant, $150 to fight in his place (hiring a substitute was not uncommon at that time, and was allowed by law).
- James Garfield could write with both hands. He knew Latin and Greek,and he would sometimes show off and write with both hands at the same time – each in a different language!
- There were three presidents in the year 1881: Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, and Chester Alan Arthur.
- Martin van Buren was the only president to speak English as a second language. He grew up in a Dutch-speaking community in Kinderhook, New York, and thus his native language was Dutch.
- Andrew Johnson was initially a tailor, and he made his own clothes. He even sewed some of his own clothes while president! When he was a tailor he would pay someone to read to him while he sewed, and after he was married, his wife would read to him.
- Dwight David Eisenhower was born as David Dwight Eisenhower. However, his mother soon reversed his first two names to avoid having two ‘David’s in the family (his father’s name was ‘David’)
- Ulysses Grant’s real name was Hiram Ulysses Grant, but he was embarrassed by the initials (H.U.G), so he ended up using Ulysses S. Grant for the rest of his life.
- Until age 22, Gerald Ford’s name was his birth name of Leslie Lynch King Jr.
- The capital of Liberia is called Monrovia after President James Monroe, who was a strong supporter of the establishment of the colony that became Monrovia.
- While many people know that Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday, it is not as well known that he did not make it a holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. In 1863 he made it a holiday on the last Thursday of November, and it remained this way until 1941, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed this to being the fourth Thursday in November.
- Herbert Hoover, the first Quaker president (Richard Nixon was the only other Quaker president), did not accept his salary as president. Instead he donated it to charity, making him one of two US Presidents to do so (the other being John Kennedy)