22 Surprising Presidential Firsts You Never Knew About
George Washington may get a lot of fanfare for being the first commander-in-chief, but there are plenty of other presidential milestones that you may not have read about in history books
John Adams: First president to live in the White House
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The second president, John Adams, and his wife, Abigail, moved into the White House on November 1, 1800, with only a few months remaining in his presidential term. Construction had begun on the presidential abode in 1792, and George Washington helped oversee construction, but he never lived there. Check out these 8 presidential “facts” you probably learned that are actually totally false.
Thomas Jefferson: First president to shake hands with White House guests
Before Thomas Jefferson’s term, White House guests did not exchange handshakes with the president. The third president was the first to shake hands with male White House guests, a custom he introduced on July 4, 1801. George Washington, who apparently had something against physical contact, used to exchange bows with guests. And if you think that’s stuffy, learn what the title of “Mr. President” was originally supposed to be.
Martin Van Buren: First president born a U.S. citizen
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Martin Van Buren, the eighth president, who was born in 1782, was the first man born a U.S. citizen to hold the office. Every president before that was born before 1776, and therefore as a colonial subject of Great Britain.
William Henry Harrison: First president to be photographed while in office
Martin Van Buren’s successor became the first president to have his photo taken during his term. After his inaugural address when he took office in March 1841, William Henry Harrison posed for a photo, which was taken with the daguerreotype technology of the day. Unfortunately, though, the photo has been lost, and only a copy remains (it’s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). The oldest surviving photo of a sitting president is of the 11th president, James K. Polk. John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, was also photographed, but it wasn’t until after his term ended.
James K. Polk: First president elected when younger than 50
It wasn’t until the 11th president that a man younger than 50 was elected to the office. James K. Polk was 49 when he won the presidential election of 1844. Unfortunately for him, though, Polk would also be the first president to die before reaching age 60. He would die of cholera only three months after leaving office. Get a look at these before-and-after photos of how presidents have aged while in office.
Franklin Pierce: First president to seek reelection and not be nominated
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Someone had to be that guy. The 14th president’s term ended in 1857, and members of his own party, the Democrats, were not happy with him. After a period of relative calm in pre–Civil War America, Pierce’s hands-off attitude toward whether or not to expand slavery, and the violence that resulted from his Kansas-Nebraska Act, exacerbated social tensions. He sought reelection in 1856, but the Democrats nominated James Buchanan instead.
Abraham Lincoln: First president born outside the original 13 colonies
When Abraham Lincoln was born in February 1809, America had 17 states, but every president before him had been born in one of the 13 original colonies. Lincoln, the 16th president, was born in Kentucky (in a log cabin, no less), which had joined the Union in 1792. Learn which state has produced the largest number of presidents (yes, it is one of the original 13).
Rutherford B. Hayes: First president to host an Easter Egg Roll
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In 1876, thousands of children gathered on Capitol Hill on Easter Monday to roll eggs down the hill, as they had for a few years previously. But then-President Ulysses S. Grant was not a fan of the tradition, even signing a Turf Protection Law that prevented all manner of frolicking on the Capitol grounds. His successor, though, chose to embrace the tradition. Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife, Lucy, invited children to the White House in April 1878 for the first-ever Easter festivities.
James A. Garfield: First left-handed president
James Garfield, the 20th president, was the first lefty to hold the office. But clearly, having that distinction wasn’t enough for him. According to History.com, he was also ambidextrous. Not only could he write with both hands, but he could also do it at the same time. And his contemporaries claimed that he could write in two different languages—Latin and Greek, both of which he was fluent in—simultaneously. Now, that’s a president who’s a genius! Check out the presidents with the highest IQ scores.
Grover Cleveland: First president to get married at the White House
Not only was the 22nd president the first (and only) to marry during his presidential term, but he also got married at the White House. On June 2, 1886, Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom, the daughter of his former law partner, in the White House’s Blue Room.