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Top 10 weird facts about US Presidents


1. Thomas Jefferson, office furniture pioneer

Thomas Jefferson (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the USA, and many would say the greatest. He was the main author of the Declaration of Independence, he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase which secured much of the territory that makes up the modern USA, and he sent Lewis & Clark to explore the west. But possibly the greatest of all his achievements was that he invented the world's first swivel chair.

9 more to go....

2. The long and the short of it

Thomas Jefferson (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
America likes its presidents tall. In the modern era, since the end of World War II, the taller of the two main presidential candidates has had an overhwleming advantage in elections. In fact, only 25% of presidential elections since then have gone to the shorter of the two candidates, with Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush (twice) being the only presidents to have overcome taller rivals. And post-1900, nobody 5ft 9in or under has ever been elected president (5ft 7in William McKinley, elected in 1900, was the last reasonably small chap to make it to the White House.)
This is possibly a bad omen for the 6ft 1in Barack Obama. While he easily defeated the 5ft 9in John McCain (above) in 2008, this year he's up against the marginally taller Mitt Romney, who's 6ft 2in.


3. Grover Cleveland gets married

Thomas Jefferson (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the USA, holds the distinction of being the only president to return for a second term after previously being defeated. The Democrat won his first election in 1884, lost (narrowly, and possibly due to voting fraud) in 1888, but then came back again to win a second term in 1892.
But Cleveland is interesting for another reason: he's the only president to date who had a wedding while in the White House. And his marriage was... unusual, to say the least. Cleveland was 49 years old when he got married 21-year-old Frances Folsom. She was the daughter of a close friend of his - and more to the point, after his friend died, he had become her legal guardian. Then married her. Oh, and he liked to call her 'Frank'.
It's probably fair to say that if this happened today, the press might make it more of a thing.




4. James Garfield: massive show-off

Thomas Jefferson (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The USA has had plenty of clever presidents, but some of them were a bit more keen than others to demonstrate their intellect. 20th President James Garfield (seen above riding an eagle) liked to show off at parties with a trick in which he would write in Latin with one hand, while at the same time writing in Ancient Greek with the other hand.



5. William Henry Harrison: barely there

Thomas Jefferson (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Most presidents serve for four or eight years. But in 1841, 9th President William Henry Harrison was in office for only a month, the shortest presidential term ever. His time as president was cut short by the fact that he inconveniently died of pneumonia a mere 30 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes after being sworn in. Gutting.



6. Rubbish nicknames

Thomas Jefferson (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Lots of presidents have been given nicknames. Many of them have been terrible, or just weird. Grover Cleveland was called 'Uncle Jumbo'. John Tyler got stuck with the disparaging 'His Accidency'. Zachary Taylor was lumbered with the nickname 'Old Rough And Ready'. Andrew Jackson was called 'Old Hickory'. Ulysses S. Grant (above) was known as 'Unconditional Surrender Grant'. Rutherford B. Hayes got named 'Rutherfraud'.
Chester A. Arthur, on the other hand, was known as the 'Dude President', which probably wins.




7. William Howard Taft: a big unit

Thomas Jefferson (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Who was the heaviest American president ever? That would be 27th President William Howard Taft , who weighed over 300lb (136kg). He was so fat that he he would sometimes get stuck in the White House bath, and needed his aides to help him out. (He eventually had a larger bath installed.)



8. Presidental pets

Thomas Jefferson (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Most presidents throughout history have kept animals - with cats, dogs and horses being the most popular. However, some presidents have had slightly more varied animal tastes. For example, both John Quincy Adams and Herbert Hoover kept pet alligators. The two largest presidential menageries probably belonged to Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt. Among Coolidge's miniature zoo were two lion cubs called Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau, a wallaby, a bear, an antelope, a pygmy hippopotamus and two raccoons called Rebecca and Horace (Rebecca is pictured above, with Coolidge's wife Grace). Theodore Roosevelt, meanwhile, had a large number of dogs, a pig, five guinea pigs, a macaw, a garter snake called Emily Spinach and a badger called Josiah who used to bite people.
Josiah doesn't hold the record for the most badly behaved presidential pet, though. That honour goes to Andrew Jackson's parrot, called Poll, who had to be ejected from Jackson's funeral service because she wouldn’t stop swearing.




9. Andrew Johnson, booze monkey

Thomas Jefferson (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Before he served as the 17th President, Andrew Johnson was Abraham Lincoln's vice-president. However, his vice-presidential inauguration in 1865 didn't go terribly smoothly, largely due to the fact that Johnson was completely off his face. Johnson had been necking whiskey all day - supposedly in an attempt to fight off typhoid fever. By the time the inauguration ceremony came round, he was so drunk he slurred his way through the oaths and was forced to give up his efforts to swear in new senators. We're not sure how the 'but I was trying to medicate myself for typhoid fever' excuse would go down in our workplace. Not well, we suspect...



10. 'Smurfette is on the move'

Thomas Jefferson (© Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Secret Service's codenames for the president are an endless source of amusement - Ronald Reagan's codename was 'Rawhide', George H. W. Bush's was 'Timberwolf', Bill Clinton's was 'Eagle', George W. Bush's was 'Trailblazer' and Barack Obama's is 'Renegade'.
It's not just the president who gets a codename, though - so does the vice-president, and their family members. This doesn't always work out well for them: Al Gore's daughter Karenna complained that the Secret Service made her choose her own codename without getting much time to think it over. Karenna soon discovered the down side of deciding to be called 'Smurfette' wherever she went.




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