45 Secret Quirks of all 45 U.S. Presidents
Even presidents have their secrets.
John Tyler was quite virile
The tenth president, John Tyler, had more children than any other president: a total of 15 with two different wives. His first eight children were born to his first wife, Letitia, who fell ill and died in the White House in 1842. Their names were Mary, Robert, Anne, John, Letitia, Elizabeth Alice, and Tazewell. Tyler then had seven additional children with his second wife, Julia: David, John, Julia, Lachlan, Lyon, Robert, and Pearl. Believe it or not, two of his grandchildren are still living (or at least they were as recently as 2018).
The grave of James Polk keeps moving
National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images
When James K. Polk died of what was likely cholera right after leaving office in 1849, he was buried in a city cemetery near the outskirts of Nashville, as was customary when someone perished from an infectious disease. Then, a few months later he was re-interred near his Nashville mansion, Polk Place. But alas, that was not to be his final resting place. In 1893, Polk’s tomb was moved yet again to the state Capitol grounds. Though he has been there for more than a century, legislators in Tennessee are deciding whether to move him for the fourth time to his old family home in Columbia, Tennessee.
Zachary Taylor may not have been poisoned after all
Twelfth president Zachary Taylor spent a lot of years in the military, serving from 1808 to 1848. He participated in several armed conflicts, including the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole War, and the Mexican War. But despite surviving many wars, Taylor only lasted 16 months in office. Though some initially believed that he was poisoned because of his anti-slavery stance, we now know that was not the case. More than 140 years after his death, Taylor’s body was exhumed and scientists conducted tests to determine his actual cause of death. As it turns out, he had not been poisoned. Instead, he died as a suspected result of cholera that it is thought he contracted through bacteria from eating cherries and drinking milk on a hot summer day. Why exactly he died is one of 15 presidential mysteries that have never been solved.
Millard Fillmore had advanced views on health
After taking a temperance pledge in his 20s, Millard Fillmore tended to stay away from alcohol and tobacco out of concern for his health: a viewpoint that was relatively rare at the time. “It’s been reported that he was especially vigilant about the presentation of physical health, leading him to take great care to maintain a healthy lifestyle regimen,” Henna Hundal, the host of a nationally syndicated radio program that focuses on presidents and the 2020 election tells Reader’s Digest. His position, however, was limited to himself: Fillmore was also known for offering guests a drink from a large collection of spirits.
Franklin Pierce was arrested in office
When we think of presidents that have been in trouble for possible crimes while in office, Franklin Pierce may not immediately come to mind. But that was the case when he was arrested for running over an old woman with his horse. However, in 1853, the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict him and the charges were dropped. In addition, during Pierce’s presidential campaign, the Democratic party had one of the best campaign slogans in U.S. history: “We Polked you in 1844; we shall Pierce you in 1852.” These are 12 more of the most artful presidential campaign posters of all time.
James Buchanan was a lifelong bachelor…sort of
The 15th president, James Buchanan, was the only president to remain a bachelor his whole life, meaning that he never got married. He was once engaged to a woman named Ann Coleman, but she broke off the engagement and then died a few days later. Some presidential scholars also hypothesize that Buchanan may have had at least one romantic relationship with a man. Despite both being independently wealthy, Buchanan and Alabama Senator William Rufus King shared a single room at a Washington, D.C. boarding house for more than 10 years. This did not go unnoticed: Andrew Jackson referred to them as “Miss Nancy and Miss Fancy,” and one newspaper described the relationship as a “conspicuous intimacy.” Here are 15 other famous people who chose to stay single.
Abraham Lincoln established the Secret Service a few hours before he died
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images
In an unfortunate case of terrible timing, Abraham Lincoln signed legislation creating the U.S. Secret Service on April 14, 1865. Then, a few hours later, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln during a play at Ford’s Theater. But even if the Secret Service did exist that night, it would not have come to Lincoln’s rescue: the original purpose of the organization was to prevent and stop counterfeiting money. It was only in 1901, after two other presidents had been assassinated—James A. Garfield in 1881 and William McKinley in 1901—that the Secret Service was tasked with protecting the life of the person who held the highest office in the land. Find out 11 of the cleverest Secret Service code names for U.S. presidents.
Andrew Johnson adopted a family of mice
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images
Though it sounds more like something out of a Disney movie than the actual life of a president, Andrew Johnson cared for a family of mice that lived in his White House bedroom. After Johnson’s 1868 impeachment, he wasn’t the most popular guy in Washington, D.C. Fortunately for him, mice don’t care about your political career, so he befriended a few, leaving out water and flour for them next to his fireplace. He affectionately referred to them as his “little fellows.” Learn about more of the most famous White House pets.
Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t his real name
Though you likely know the 18th president as Ulysses S. Grant, in reality, that wasn’t his real name. For starters, his first name was Hiram—not Ulysses. There was a mix-up on his application to West Point, and Grant decided to stick with that version of his name. On top of that, his middle initial “S” doesn’t stand for anything—just like fellow president, Harry S. Truman. As the final commander of the Union Army during the Civil War, Grant found his first initials—”U.S.” appropriate for his position. His soldiers nicknamed him “Uncle Sam” thanks to these initials. See if you can guess the middle name of every U.S. president.
Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife owned the first Siamese cat in the United States
Upon hearing that Lucy, the wife of 19th president Rutherford B. Hayes, was a fan of cats, David B. Sickels, the American counsel in Bangkok, sent the first couple a Siamese cat—which happened to be the first feline of that variety in United States history. In a letter in 1878, Sickels wrote: “This pussy goes to Hong Kong whence she will be transshipped by the Occidental & Oriental line, in charge of the purser, to San Francisco and then sent by express to Washington.” The cat arrived in 1879, and Rutherford and Lucy named it Siam. Find out about 12 more of the strangest gifts ever given to U.S. presidents.