Last month, we inaugurated Joe Biden as our 46th President. While we know quite a bit about modern presidents (and maybe a bit about The Founding Fathers thanks to “Hamilton: An American Musical”), many of the unusual characteristics and idiosyncrasies of the men who’ve held the country’s highest office have gotten dusty with the passage of time.
Just in time for President’s Day, we’re wiping away that dust and bringing you some of the lesser-known facts about our commanders in chief. You’ll be a trivia champion in no time with these 45 weird facts about U.S. presidents.
Related: The worst financial advice from American presidents
1. George Washington
Everyone knows that George Washington had fake teeth, but many don’t know he grew Cannabis sativa. He wasn’t a weedologist, though. He grew hemp to make rope and canvas for his farm.
2. John Adams
John Adams and his fellow Founding Father Thomas Jefferson were our country’s first famous frenemies. What is particularly noteworthy of their relationship is that they died on the same day within hours of each other.
3. Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson is known for writing the famous words “All Men are Created Equal.” During one of the many social events of his time, he visited Shakespeare’s home and broke off a piece of Shakespeare’s chairs as a souvenir, a common thing to do at the time.
4. James Madison
James Madison is often remembered as the smallest President at just 5-feet-4-inches tall and weighing around 100 pounds. But a lesser-known fact about James Madison is that he once lost an election because he didn’t give alcohol to voters. This custom known as “swilling the planters with bumbo” meant providing free alcohol to voters on Election Day, which he felt violated his principles.
5. James Monroe
James Monroe is most known for his precedent-setting foreign policy philosophy, the Monroe Doctrine. But Monroe also chased his Secretary of Treasury around the White House with fire tongs. Apparently, the two men got in an argument, and Monroe grabbed the tongs in self-defense.
6. John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams is mostly known as the son of John Adams, but he was notorious in his day for skinny dipping in the Potomac River. He even had others join him and almost lost his clothing a time or two!
7. Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson is known as a rough-around-the-edges war hero and tough guy. But he also taught a pet parrot to swear. Even weirder, the parrot evidently had to be removed from Jackson’s funeral because it wouldn’t stop cursing.
8. Martin Van Buren
Aside from his mad scientist head of hair, Van Buren is known for being the first President born in the new nation, The United States of America. What’s not as well known is that his “OK” campaign slogan was inspired by one of his nicknames, “Old Kinderhook.”
9. William Henry Harrison
William H. Harrison is mostly known for dying just 33 days into his presidency. What most don’t know is that he fell ill soon after his inauguration speech. Not only was it the longest speech in history, but it occurred on a cold and wet day.
10. John Tyler
John Tyler is most known for being the first Vice President to ascend the Oval Office due to a sitting president’s death. But did you know that John Tyler has a living grandchild today? Harrison Ruffin Tyler was born in 1928 and is age 93 at the time of this writing. His father was Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of John Tyler’s later children, born in 1853.
11. James K. Polk
Despite being the first dark horse candidate to win the presidency, James K. Polk got a lot done during his presidency. During his one term, the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, was founded, the Washington Monument was erected, and the country’s first postage stamps were issued.
12. Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor is mostly known for being the second sitting president to die in office. Taylor is also known for refusing to be sworn in on Inauguration Day because it fell on a Sunday. He was officially sworn in the following day.
13. Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore ascended to the presidency upon the death of Taylor. Most don’t know that the Hawaiian Islands could have been part of Europe if it wasn’t for his quick diplomatic thinking. Mahalo, President Fillmore.
14. Franklin Pierce
Another largely forgotten president, Pierce was unpopular while in office and outcast by his party. While the public widely misunderstood his efforts, he attempted to make Cuba a part of the United States by purchasing it from Spain.
15. James Buchanan
Generally regarded as an unpopular president, Buchanan was the only president who never married. Buchanan lived with his longtime friend, Sen. William Rufus King (D., Alabama), for a period of time even though both men were independently wealthy.
This arrangement led to incessant gossip, with Andrew Jackson even referring to the pair as “Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy.” After his presidency, Buchanan lived the rest of his life as a single man in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
16. Abraham Lincoln
Honest Abe is one of the most well-known and revered presidents in American history. He was also a surprisingly good wrestler in his younger days. In fact, he was defeated only once out of roughly 300 matches and later given the honor of “Outstanding American” in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
17. Andrew Johnson
After the assassination of Lincoln, Andrew Johnson became president and then the first president to be impeached. Most don’t know that he was a tailor’s apprentice and applied what he learned to make his own suits while serving as president.
18. Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant is known as the General of the Union Army during the Civil War. Grant also had a penchant for driving fast. In fact, while serving as president, he was pulled over twice in the span of 24 hours for driving his horse and buggy too fast through the streets of Washington, D.C.
19. Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes is mostly known for winning one of the most contested elections by a single electoral college vote. But did you know that Hayes is the first American to own a Siamese cat? It was a gift to Hayes and his wife by the American consul in Bangkok in 1879.
20. James A. Garfield
Garfield was the second president to be assassinated, although he held on for 11 weeks after being shot. Garfield also was ambidextrous and multilingual, allowing him to write in Greek with one hand and Latin with the other at the same time.
21. Chester A. Arthur
Chester A. Arthur was a very fashionable president. “Elegant Arthur” was known for his impeccable attire. He wanted to redecorate The White House and raised the needed funds with a presidential yard sale. He sold 24 wagon loads of presidential items, including a pair of Lincoln’s pants and a hat belonging to John Quincy Adams.
22. Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland was elected to non-consecutive terms, so he counts as both the 22nd and 24th president. He was also the first sitting president to get married. But what may surprise you is that he married a woman 27 years younger for whom he was the legal guardian.
23. Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of President William H. Harrison. While Harrison was the first president to benefit from electricity in the White House, he was terrified of being electrocuted. He refused to touch the light switches, so he went to bed with the lights on.
24. William McKinley
William McKinley considered red carnations a good luck charm and always wore one in his jacket lapel. Many people don’t know that in 1901 he gave his flower to a little girl while greeting a line of people. A few moments later, he was shot and died eight days later.
25. Theodore Roosevelt
Many people know Roosevelt was a lifelong outdoor enthusiast. Thanks to his conservation efforts, our country has beautiful National Parks. But did you he also was shot while in office?
Roosevelt was actually shot in the chest during a speech. He declared to the crowd that he did “not care a rap about being shot” and finished his speech before seeking medical treatment. It was likely the manuscript in his chest pocket that saved his life.
26. William Howard Taft
William H. Taft was a large man who knew the value of self-care. A huge fan of baths, he commissioned a 7-foot tub weighing a ton (literally) to be built on the ship carrying him to Panama, so he’d never have to skip one while traveling.
27. Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson was able to finish his presidency despite post-stroke paralysis and vision loss, mostly thanks to his wife.
A portrait of Wilson graces a currency few of us have ever seen in real life: the $100,000 bill. These bills were created for trade between Federal Reserve banks, but wire transfers made them obsolete.
28. Warren G. Harding
Some know that Warren G. Harding fathered a child with another woman during one of his affairs. But did you know that he lost a set of White House china in a poker game? These antiques had been there since the presidency of Benjamin Harrison.
29. Calvin Coolidge
For a relatively obscure president, Calvin Coolidge has a lot of strange stories. He rode a mechanical horse referred to as “Thunderbolt” for exercise, had two pet raccoons and used to push all the buttons in the Oval Office and then hide so he could watch the staff run in. Coolidge’s morning ritual was rubbing Vaseline on his head because he felt it good for his health.
30. Herbert Hoover
President Herbert Hoover also had lots of unusual habits. His son had two pet alligators that often escaped their bathtub home, and Hoover and his wife often spoke in Mandarin when they wanted to have a private conversation. Hoover believed that the White House staff and the president should not see each other. This insistence led staff to hide in closets and behind bushes whenever he was near.
31. Franklin D. Roosevelt
FDR’s health battles and partial paralysis were not widely discussed or reported on at the time of his presidency, though are common knowledge today. What most still don’t know about him, though, is that he was terrified of the number 13. He even refused to participate in a dinner with 13 people or leave for a trip on the 13th day of the month.
32. Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman became president after the death of FDR and had the difficult task of leading the country through the end of World War II and the post-war era. But do you know what the “S” in his name stands for? No? That’s because it didn’t stand for anything at all. Truman’s parents couldn’t decide on a middle name, so after about a month, they decided on the letter “S” to honor his grandfathers, Solomon Young and Anderson Shipp Truman.
33. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower was a top general with nearly 35 years of military service. However, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s strangest battle was with the squirrels that roamed the White House grounds. An avid golfer, he became frustrated by the squirrels ruining the putting green and tried to order a squirrel assassination. The squirrels were trapped and released elsewhere, instead.
34. John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy is one of our most well-known American Presidents. He led the country through social movements, the launch of the space age, the Vietnam War, and the controversies surrounding his assassination have never fully gone away. What most people don’t know is that he was a huge James Bond fan. In fact, he had dinner with author Ian Fleming in 1960.
35. Lyndon B. Johnson
LBJ took over after the assassination of Kennedy and almost immediately began fighting The War on Poverty. What most people don’t know is that poverty was personal to him. As a boy, there was often no food in his house, and the family ate covered dishes brought to their home by neighbors.
36. Richard Nixon
Everyone remembers Richard Nixon for the Watergate Scandal and his resignation from office. A lesser-known fact about Nixon is that he was an avid bowler, and friends paid to have a one-lane alley built at the White House in 1973.
37. Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford is the only president never to be elected by the people. He became President after Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. Did you know that Ford worked as a fashion model while in college and was even on the cover of “Cosmopolitan” in 1942?
38. Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter is the oldest living president and still does charitable work at the age of 96 (at the time of this writing). Since leaving office, he’s won a Nobel Peace Prize, written books, and helped build over 4,000 homes for Habitat for Humanity. Did you hear the story of his UFO spotting while serving as the Governor of George, calling it “the darndest thing I’ve ever seen?”
39. Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan is famous for his ascension from actor to President of the United States. He was also well-known for his good looks, and was even given the “Most Nearly Perfect Male Figure Award.” Putting his assets to work, he even posed for an art class while at the University of California.
40. George H.W. Bush
George H.W. Bush inspired a Japanese slang word while in office. He accidentally vomited on the Prime Minister of Japan at a state dinner in Tokyo. The term Bushuru, meaning “to pull a Bush,” was born as slang for throwing up.
41. Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton Monica Lewinsky affair scandal is widely known, but did you know Bill Clinton is a two-time Grammy-winning artist. He won Best Spoken Word Album for Children in 2004 and best Spoken Word Album in 2005 for his autobiography.
42. George W. Bush
George W. Bush, son of George H.W. Bush, was known for his verbal gaffes while serving as president. In fact, he too, had a word coined after his vernacular foibles: “Bushisms.” But “Cheer” fans, did you also know that Dubya was captain of the cheerleading team at his high school?
43. Barack Obama
Barack Obama made history as the first president of color in the United States. But unlike his Vice President, Joe Biden, Barack doesn’t like ice cream. At all. After working at a Baskin-Robbins as a teen, he no longer eats the sweet treat.
44. Donald Trump
Donald Trump is well known as a former real estate mogul turned reality star turned President of the United States. But did you know that “SPY” magazine once sent 13 cent checks to a group of the wealthiest people to see who would cash them? The only people who did were an arms dealer and Trump.
45. Joe Biden
Most know that former Vice President Biden survived a family tragedy and overcame a stutter as a kid. But did you know he still uses a wedding gift from 1967? His father gave him a 1967 Corvette Stingray, and he still drives it today.
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore