Grover Cleveland (1885-89; 1893-97) First president to have hanged a man. From 1871 to 1873, Cleveland was sheriff of Erie County, New York. When two men were sentenced to death, he put the hoods over their heads, tightened the noose, and sprung the trap door himself. He explained later that he couldn’t ask his deputies to do it just because he didn’t want to. The experience affected him so deeply that he didn’t run for reelection.
James Garfield (1881) First president who could write in two languages at once. Garfield was ambidextrous; he could write in Greek with one hand while writing in Latin with the other.
William Howard Taft (1909-1913) First president entrapped by a White House plumbing fixture. Taft weighed in at between 300 and 350 pounds while he was president. He was so big that one morning he got stuck in the White House tub, and had to call his aides to help him get out. Taft subsequently ordered a tub large enough to hold four average-sized men. He never got stuck again.
First president to throw out the first pitch of the baseball season. Taft was our fattest president. His handlers feared his girth might make him seem weak when he ran for office again. So, in 1910, one of them suggested to the president that he begin playing a sport to prove that he still had his youthful vigor. When Taft vetoed the idea, his aide suggested that he at least make a ceremonial appearance at a sporting event, say, to throw out the first ball of the baseball season. Taft agreed, and on April 14, 1910, he waddled out to the pitcher’s mound at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., and pitched a ball to home plate. (It went wild)
Continuing the tradition started by Taft, subsequent presidents’ pitches were just as wild. By 1929, rather than actually pitch the ball, most presidents just threw it onto the field from their seat in the stands.
James Madison (1809-1817) First president to weigh less than his IQ. Madison, the unofficial “Father of the U.S. Constitution,” was only five feet, four inches tall and never weighed more than 98 pounds as president. One historian has called him “a dried-up, wizened little man”—and observed that when he went walking with his friend Thomas Jefferson, the two looked “as if they were on their way to a father-and-son banquet.”
First commander in chief to actually command a military unit while in office. When the British attacked Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812, President Madison personally took charge of an artillery battery. But that didn’t last long; when the Americans started to lose, Madison fled the city.
John Tyler (1841-1845) First president to elope while in office. On June 26, 1844, the 54-year-old Tyler sneaked off to New York City with 24-year-old Julia Gardiner to tie the knot. They decided on a secret wedding because supporters were worried about the public’s reaction to their 30-year age difference. It didn’t matter, the press found out about it almost at once. Ironically, Julia turned out to be just about the most popular part of Tyler’s presidency. (They had seven kids – the last one when Tyler was 70.)
Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) First president to have an asteroid named after him. No, it’s not an honor of his presidency. In 1920, Austrian astronomer Johann Palisa discovered an asteroid and named it Hooveria, to honor Hoover’s humanitarian work as chairman of the Interallied Food Council, which was helping to feed starving people in post-WWI Europe. Said Palisa: “It is a pity we have only a middle-magnitude asteroid to give to this great man. He is worthy of at least a planet.”
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) First president to see a UFO. One evening in 1969, Carter and a few companions saw a “bluish. . .then reddish” saucer-shaped object moving across the sky. “It seemed to move toward us from a distance,” Carter later told UFO researchers, “then it stopped and moved partially away. It returned and departed. It came close. . .maybe three hundred to one thousand yards away. . .moved away, came close, and then moved away.” He added: “I don’t laugh at people anymore when they say they’ve seen UFOs.
Harry S. Truman First president to buzz the White House in an airplane. On May 19, 1946, President Truman climbed aboard his presidential aircraft, the Sacred Cow, for a flight to Independence, Missouri. Shortly after takeoff, he asked his pilot to fly the plane into restricted airspace above the White House, where First Lady Bess Truman, daughter Margaret, and several other guests were waiting on the roof.
As the Sacred Cow approached the executive mansion, Truman asked Myers to dive bomb the White House. “I’ve always wanted to try something like that,” the president explained. The pilot sent the Sacred Cow into a dive, taking it from 3,000 feet to 500 feet in a matter of seconds. “At 500 feet, I had the Cow leveled and we roared over the White House roof. Everyone there was frozen with fear. We climbed to 3,000 feet again, swooped, circled, and fell into another dive. But this time Margaret and her mother were jumping and waving. We shot past them, at a little over 500 feet and roared back upstairs once more.” From there the plane proceeded directly to Independence, where the president visited his mother.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison The only presidents to be arrested together. One afternoon in the spring of 1791, future presidents Jefferson and Madison were riding a carriage through the Virginia countryside when a rural sheriff pulled them over and arrested them on the spot. Their crime: riding in a carriage on Sunday.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) First and last (that we know of) president to wear another president’s body part during his inauguration. The night before he was sworn into office in 1901, was given an unusual gift – a ring containing strands of hair that had been cut from President Abraham Lincoln’s head the night he was assassinated. Roosevelt wore the ring to his inauguration the next day.
First president to coin an advertising slogan. While he was visiting Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville, Tennessee, roosevelt was offered a cup of the coffee sold at the nearby Maxwell House hotel. When someone asked if he’d like another cup, Roosevelt replied: “Will I have another cup? Delighted! It’s good to the last drop!” His words were eventually used by Maxwell House in thier ad campaigns.
Teddy was also the first president to be blinded while in office. He liked to box, and during one White House bout was hit so hard he became permanently blind in one eye.
Warren G. Harding First president to bet (and lose) White House china in poker games. Harding was an enthusiastic poker player; unfortunately, he wasn’t very good at it and was often short of cash. End result: when he was low on cash during poker games with his buddies, he used individual pieces of fine White House china for poker chips. it is not know how many pieces of the china were lost in this way.
First president to pardon a dog. One morning Harding read a newspaper article about a Pennsylvania dog that had been ordered destroyed because it had been brought into the country illegally. Harding, who loved animals, wrote a letter to the governor of Pennsylvania. The governor saw to it that the dog’s life was spared.
Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) First president with a fear of electricity. President Harrison knew two things about electricity: The White House had just been wired for it, and it could kill people (the electric chair was becoming a common form of execution). That was all he needed to know. He didn’t want anything more to do with it. Throughout his entire term, he and his wife refused to turn the lights on and off themselves. they either had the servants do it or left the lights off or on at night.
Andrew Jackson (1828-1837) First president to be born in more than one place. The following places claim themselves as Andrew Jackson’s birthplace: Union County, North Carolina; Berkeley County, West Virginia; Augusta County, West Virginia; York County, Pennsylvania; as well as England, Ireland, and the Atlantic Ocean (he may have been born at sea). His “official” birthplace: Waxhaw, South Carolina.
John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) First president interviewed in the nude. President Adams loved to skinny-dip. In hot weather he’d sneak out for a swim in the Potomac. One morning Anne Royall – a reporter who had been trying to interview him for months – sneaked up while he was swimming, sat on his clothes, and refused to leave until he granted her an interview. He did.
Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) First president to forget about his wife. In his autobiography, Van Buren did not mention his wife, Hannah, once.
David Rice Atchison (1849-1849) First president to serve for one day. Zachary Taylor was so religious that he refused to take the oath of office on Sunday. So Atchison, President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate, stood in for him until he could be sworn in the next day.