45 Secret Quirks of all 45 U.S. Presidents
Even presidents have their secrets.
More than meets the eye
Presidents of the United States of America are some of the most visible public figures in the world, but that doesn’t mean we know everything about them. Whether it’s playing multiple musical instruments, to gracing the cover of Cosmopolitan, to trying to get a stuffed possum to take off, there’s plenty still to learn about these leaders of the free world. See if you can correctly answer these 12 presidential trivia questions everyone gets wrong.
George Washington’s dentures were made of something much worse than wood
Though it’s a commonly held belief that George Washington’s false teeth were made from wood, that’s not the case—and far less disturbing than the truth. His dentures were actually made from a combination of animal bone, some of his original pulled teeth, and human teeth he purchased from some of the enslaved people who worked for him. Though this sounds too horrific to be true, the sales receipts from the purchase of the teeth still exist. Also, given that Washington had dental problems his entire life, he ended up having multiple sets of false teeth—not a single wooden set. Here are 11 other surprising facts about George Washington that you didn’t learn in school.
John Adams once shared a bed with Benjamin Franklin
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The second president of the United States was a pretty interesting guy who lived to be 90. And during his long life, he had plenty of adventures and experiences—including bunking with fellow founding father Benjamin Franklin. As both men were headed from Philadelphia to Staten Island for a meeting, they ended up traveling through New Brunswick, New Jersey. That must have been a popular spot, because there was only one bed available that night. “The chamber was little larger than the bed, without a chimney and with only one small window,” Adams wrote. These presidential “facts” simply aren’t true.
Thomas Jefferson loved mastodons
Like many kids, Thomas Jefferson went through a phase where he wanted to be a paleontologist and study ancient life forms. Except he didn’t really outgrow it. More than anything else, he was fascinated with mastodons, a type of prehistoric elephant. Even after he moved into the White House, Jefferson spent time with mastodon bones, spreading them out across the floor. Part of his interest stemmed from the fact that he believed that mastodons still existed in the American West. In fact, it’s one of the primary reasons he sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their expedition to get a better grasp on the undiscovered West.
James Madison was a pocket-sized president
We tend to think of presidents are figures that loom large—literally and figuratively. But that wasn’t the case with James Madison, who was only 5’4″ tall and rarely weighed more than 100 pounds. It didn’t help matters that his voice was especially weak, which made it difficult for people to hear him when he spoke or made speeches. Though he was known for his intellect, his stature and demeanor didn’t go unnoticed: the wife of a Virginia politician once labeled him “the most unsociable creature in existence.” That’s not a kind description of the man considered the “Father of the Constitution.“
James Monroe’s fashion was outdated
To those of us living in 2020, the clothing worn by America’s earliest presidents looked pretty similar: dark pants, high white socks, black buckled shoes, topped off with powdered wigs. But in reality, fashion is constantly changing—even back then. That’s what made James Monroe’s clothing choices stand out: he was the last president to stick with the fashion of the Revolutionary War period, earning him the nickname “The Last Cocked Hat.” One man who visited the White House in 1825 had this to say of Monroe’s appearance: “He is tall and well-formed. His dress plain and in the old style, small clothes, silk hose, knee-buckles, and pumps fastened with buckles. His manner was quiet and dignified.”
John Quincy Adams enjoyed early-morning skinny dipping
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America’s sixth president was a second-generation Commander-in-Chief and a pretty serious guy. But when it came to getting some exercise and fresh air in the mornings, he had a slightly unorthodox method: skinny-dipping in the Potomac River at 5 a.m. Writing in his diary in 1818 (seven years before he would assume the office of president), Adams detailed his morning routine: “I rise usually between four and five—walk two miles, bathe in Potowmack river, and walk home, which occupies two hours—read or write, or more frequently idly waste the time till eight or nine when we breakfast—read or write till twelve or one, when I go to the office; now usually in the carriage—at the office till five then home till dinner. After dinner read newspapers till dark; soon after which I retire to bed.”
The face on the $20 bill didn’t believe in paper currency
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Andrew Jackson had a lot of strong opinions—including some that resulted in duels. But one of his more unusual stances was on paper money: namely, that it shouldn’t exist. These feelings stem from a time when he took a financial hit because of devalued paper notes and therefore believed that paper currency should not be insured by state and/or national banks. Instead, he preferred that only gold and silver be used as currency. Not only did Jackson’s wish fail to come true, but he also ended up on the $20 bill, as well as previous iterations of the $5, $10, $50 and $10,000 bills, as well as the Confederate $1,000 bill. See if you can match the president to the U.S. currency.
Martin Van Buren was the first president born in the United States
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Born in Kinderhook, New York in 1782, Martin Van Buren was the first president technically born in the United States of America (in other words, after the Revolutionary War). But despite holding this place in history, he was also the only president whose first language was not English—it was Dutch. This was the case because the village of Kinderhook was relatively isolated and had a large Dutch-speaking population, which included Van Buren’s parents. As a result, the eighth president didn’t learn how to speak English until he attended school in the late 1780s. Find out more presidential firsts you didn’t learn about in school.
William Henry Harrison’s feud with Native Americans ended in a natural phenomenon
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Before he was the ninth president, William Henry Harrison was the governor of the Indiana Territory. But this area was much larger than present-day Indiana: it encompassed the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and eastern Minnesota, from 1801 to 1812. While attempting to annex land belonging to Native Americans, Harrison was in a feud with Shawnee leaders Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, a self-proclaimed prophet. Part of this involved Harrison writing Tenskwatawa a letter taunting him and his alleged prophetic abilities, requesting that he “cause the sun to stand still-the moon to alter its course-the rivers to cease to flow-or the dead to rise from their graves.” As it turns out, this did happen when there was a solar eclipse in the summer of 1806.