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
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
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
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
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.
Benjamin Harrison: First president to attend a Major League Baseball game
On June 6, 1892, America’s 23rd president became the first to witness its “pastime.” Benjamin Harrison attended a Washington Senators game at Boundary Field, only a short distance from the White House. The Senators lost to the Cincinnati Reds, 4 to 7.
Theodore Roosevelt: First president to officially call it “the White House”
That’s right—the big white house where the president lives wasn’t officially called “the White House” until the 20th century! Before Teddy Roosevelt issued an executive order giving it that name, “the white house” was just one of many names used for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was also known as “the President’s Palace” and “the Executive Mansion.” Read about some more words and phrases you never knew were coined by presidents.
William Howard Taft: First president to own a car
A year after the introduction of the Model T Ford in 1908, Congress authorized $12,000 so that the 27th president, William Howard Taft, could have two motor cars at the White House. Though the president was on board with the new car craze, many members of the populace still saw cars as just a fad (and a dangerous one at that), and Congress’s decision wasn’t a popular one.
Woodrow Wilson: First president to visit Europe during his term
On December 4, 1918, Woodrow Wilson began a nine-day journey across the Atlantic, by ship, so that he could visit France. He attended a peace conference in Paris, helping to negotiate the end of World War I. During the conference, he butted heads with British and French leaders, who wanted to punish Germany more severely, and in 1920 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
Calvin Coolidge: First president born on the Fourth of July
Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872. He would be sworn in as the 30th president 51 years later. He remains the only president to have been born on Independence Day. Multiple presidents, however, have died on the Fourth of July—three of the first five, in fact. Two of those—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—died on the same day, in the same year. Learn more about the rather spooky coincidence of July 4th presidential deaths.
Herbert Hoover: First president with a phone in his office
The first telephone in the White House dates all the way back to Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president, who installed one in the White House’s “telegraph room” in 1877. Herbert Hoover, however, was the first president to have one installed in the Oval Office, which he did in March 1929. Hoover had already been using a phone just outside the office, so it did make sense to take that next step.
Harry S. Truman: First president to have a Secret Service code name
Harry Truman, also known as “General,” was the first president to get a nickname from the Secret Service. Though he did serve as a captain in World War I, the 33rd president was never actually a general. Whether that makes it a better or worse code name is up to you. Check out the most clever Secret Service code names for U.S. presidents.
John F. Kennedy: First president to use the Situation Room
The Situation Room came to be after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Wary that he could no longer trust everything that he heard from the national defense departments, John F. Kennedy requested a room where he and his staff could have serious national security conversations. It was JFK’s national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, who installed the room, which replaced a bowling alley that had been a gift for Harry Truman. Trying times.
Lyndon B. Johnson: First president sworn in by a woman
Sarah T. Hughes became the first woman to serve as a federal district judge in Texas when John F. Kennedy appointed her in 1961. Unfortunately, her other major historical milestone came about because of the shocking assassination of that same president in November 1963. Barefoot Sanders, a Texas attorney, called Hughes to tell her that then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson had requested that she administer the Oath of Office, and she headed to Dallas to board Air Force One and do just that. Tired of hearing about what a bunch of men were first at? Check out these inspiring stories of women making history.
Richard M. Nixon: First president to visit all 50 states
Resigning wasn’t the only thing Richard M. Nixon was first at! The 37th president would be the first one to visit all 50 states before leaving office. Nixon visited his 50th state, Delaware, in 1971 for a meeting with Republican fundraisers. Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama would follow his example (visiting every state, that is). Check out the presidential trivia questions most people get wrong.
Gerald Ford: First president who wasn’t elected POTUS or vice president
Until the 38th president took office, every single president had either been elected president, vice president, or both. But a double dose of resignations in the 1970s changed all that. After Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s vice president, resigned in 1973, Gerald Ford (then a House of Representatives leader) accepted the congressional nomination to assume the vice presidency. He reportedly told his wife, Betty, that being vice president would “be a nice conclusion” to his career. Little did he know that Nixon would shortly resign as well, making Ford commander-in-chief.
Barack Obama: First president to publish an academic paper during his term
In July 2016, Barack Obama published an academic paper called “United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps,” which outlined his hopes for the future of American health care. Though the paper wasn’t peer-reviewed, it did go through a rigorous fact-checking process before its publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Next, check out some more amazing facts you never knew about U.S. presidents.