12 Fascinating Facts About Modern U.S. Presidents

Updated on September 2, 2019
Lissa Clason profile image

Melissa loves learning about history, and also enjoys learning about the people making history today. She is always reading something new.

The history of the American presidency now reaches back 230 years. In that time, 44 men have assumed the title of President of the United States of America, and all the responsibilities that the title includes.

After World War 2, the United States had cemented its status as a world power. The presidents of this era were more visible to their constituents, being heard on the radio, seen on tv, and eventually viewed through the internet. They shaped the America we see now, desegregating our schools and offices, creating our highways, and providing aid to other countries. They fought against communism and worked toward democracy, although scandals and wars ruined some in the public eye.

Each American president is known for the major historical events that they participated in, but they are quite interesting as people too. Here are 12 fun facts about modern American presidents.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Once Banished Squirrels From the White House Grounds

President Eisenhower was a huge fan of golf, so he was ecstatic when the American Public Golf Association installed an outdoor putting green right outside the Oval Office in the spring of 1954. However, Eisenhower's joy was dampened when squirrels infested the putting green and tore it up to bury acorns and walnuts. Eisenhower told his valet, Seargent John Moaney, to shoot any squirrels he saw on the putting green. Instead of shooting the squirrels, the Secret Service avoided guns and had groundskeepers create a catch-and-release program.

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JFK's PT Boat Was Sunk During World War 2

John F. Kennedy falsified his physical results to get into the navy (he had lower back issues) by having a family doctor lie on his certificate of good health, but he ended up becoming a war hero. JFK's PT boat was sunk near the Solomon Islands by Japanese sailors, and he heroically rescued his crew. They swam 3 and a half miles to a nearby island; the crew was stranded for a week until two boats passed the island and rescued them.

Lyndon B. Johnson's Wife and Two Daughters Shared His Initials

From 1963 to 1969, Lyndon Baines Johnson was not the only LBJ in the White House. Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson received her nickname as a child from her nursemaid, who said she was "purty as a ladybird". The nickname replaced her first name for her whole life; her family called her Lady and her husband knew her as Bird. She even used the name on her marriage license.

Their daughters were named Lynda Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson. Lynda Bird was their first surviving child after three miscarriages, so she was named after both of her parents. Luci's name was originally spelled Lucy, but she changed it in her teen years to rebel against her parents.

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Richard Nixon Could Play 5 Musical Instruments

Nixon was raised around music as a Quaker, using music in worship and having fun with his family. In the seventh grade Nixon was sent 200 miles away from home to study piano under his musician aunt. He learned over the years to play the piano, saxophone, accordion, clarinet, and the violin.

After losing to JFK in the 1960 election, he appeared on Tonight With Jack Paar in 1963 performing his own piano composition.

Gerald Ford Once Got Locked Out of the White House at 3 AM

The Ford family didn't have a dog upon moving to the White House, but David Kennerly, the White House photographer, helped them find a dog breeder in Minneapolis. When asked about the potential owners, he answered that he was helping a "middle-aged couple that lived in a big white house with a big yard". After some back-and-forth, an agreement was reached, and the golden retriever puppy, Liberty, was flown to Washington. Liberty quickly became a much-loved national figure, with children writing letters to her and receiving "paw-tographs" back.

One night, around 3 AM, nature called for Liberty. Normally, her trainer would take her out, but he was out of town, so she woke up the president. Ford took her out onto the South Lawn in his robe and slippers. After she was done, they went to the elevator to get back upstairs, but it did not operate at night. When they tried the stairs, President Ford realized that the door was a one-way door for security purposes: you can go out, but nobody else can get in. The president and his dog ended up sitting in the stairwell for a while until Secret Service realized what had happened and started up the elevator.

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Jimmy Carter Once Reported a UFO Sighting to the Federal Government

In October 1969, Jimmy Carter claimed to have seen something extraordinary. He was waiting outside for a Lion's Club meeting with about 10-12 other members in Leary, Georgia at about 7:30 PM when they all saw a UFO. The "darndest thing he'd ever seen" was about the size of the moon and very bright with changing colors; it "hovered about 30 degrees above the horizon and moved in toward the earth and away before disappearing into the distance". Four years later in 1973, Carter filed a report on the UFO with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP).

Carter vowed to a reporter that he would never make fun of anyone who claimed to have seen a UFO ever again. He also promised in his presidential campaign in 1976 that he would make the government release all of their information on UFOs to the public, but backed off after winning, realizing that the release of that information may pose a threat to national security.

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Ronald Reagan Tuned Out His Wife During Dinner by Switching Off His Hearing Aids

Before he was a president, Ronald Reagan was an actor. Reagan's Hollywood career was not without hazards; in 1951 his chimpanzee costar nearly strangled him with his own tie, and back in the 1930s a gun being fired next to his ear during filming gave him permanent hearing loss. Reagan was the first president to wear hearing aids while in office, destigmatizing them for the public.

President Reagan grew to enjoy a quiet environment while eating, and would secretly shut off his hearing aids during dinner with his wife Nancy. His aide, Dennis LeBlanc, was in on it. Reagan would nudge LeBlanc with his foot once the hearing aids were off, and if Nancy asked her husband a question, LeBlanc would nudge Reagan to turn them back on. Reagan would then say "Darn it, Nancy, what did you say? These hearing aids aren't working right."

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George H. W. Bush Set Fashion Trends With His Colorful Sock Collection

George H. W. Bush took on many titles during his long life: naval aviator, US ambassador to the United Nations, Director of Central Intelligence, and President of the United States of America. However, Bush described himself as "a self-proclaimed sock man".

Bush wore many patterned socks to public events and became something of a style icon among sock fans. Socks with his own face on them adorned his feet at an NFL game, and western cactus-themed socks were worn to lunch with Bill Clinton. He put on Superman socks for his 89th birthday party, and honored his late wife's campaign for literacy with book-themed socks at her funeral. His brightly colored socks were always visible due to the fact that he was in a wheelchair because of a form of Parkinson's disease. He considered them a way to make the best of his situation and find the joy in life.

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Bill Clinton Was the First President to Win a Grammy

Our 42nd president, Bill Clinton, was the first president to win a Grammy. Clinton won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in 2004, for his narration on Wolf Tracks, an album which retold the story of Peter and the Wolf over an orchestral soundtrack. Proceeds from his narration were donated to the International AIDS Trust.

Clinton also won the Best Spoken Word Album award the following year, for the audiobook of his autobiography, My Life. Bill Clinton actually wanted to become a professional saxophonist back in high school, so who knows whether he might have won in another category if he went down that path?

After Leaving the White House, George W. Bush Has Become a Painter

Many presidents often take up new hobbies after they leave the White House. George W. Bush's new hobby is painting. Bush was inspired by Winston Churchill, who also painted extensively after the end of his run as Prime Minister, and hired an art teacher to help him discover his "inner Rembrandt". The former president's new hobby helps him relax and keeps him active; he hoped that it would inspire others to try new things.

Bush intended to keep his hobby a secret, but a Romanian hacker named Marcel Lazar had other plans. He hacked the email account of Dorothy Bush Koch, Bush's sister, in 2013 and posted some of Bush's paintings online. At first, Bush was uncomfortable with having his work in the public eye, but he slowly became more comfortable, painting world leaders he had met as president and honoring military vets by painting their portraits. His brother, Jeb Bush, commented to the press that his brother's painting hobby was "really weird", but "He's gotten pretty good at it". Below is Bush's self portrait.

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Barack Obama Carries Around Lucky Charms That Remind Him of the People He's Met

Whenever Barack Obama felt tired or discouraged during his presidency, he was able to pull out trinkets that reminded him of people he'd met, to remember that those people had given him the privilege to work on issues that could affect them.

Among his collection are interesting souvenirs such as a tiny Buddha statue given to him by a monk, a silver poker chip that used to belong to a mustached biker from Iowa, an Ethiopian Coptic cross, and a figurine of Hanuman, a Hindu monkey god. As a reminder of his father, who died in a car crash when he was 20, he kept a wooden hand holding an egg on his desk, a Kenyan symbol which reminds people of the fragility of life.

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Donald Trump Tweeted Over 17,000 Times During the First 2.5 Years of His Presidency

Donald Trump is a huge fan of Twitter, often tweeting several times a day on topics such as important upcoming elections, natural disasters and national tragedies, and occasionally the latest happenings in reality television. The opinionated president tweeted over 17,000 times during the first 2.5 years of his presidency!

Some have criticized the president's tweets; misspellings like "hamberders" and "covfefe" have made their way onto Urban Dictionary, and in a January 2019 poll by UMass Lowell, 68% of respondents aged 18-37 said Trump tweets too much. However, Trump has 63.8 million followers on Twitter tuning in to read his latest tweets as of September 2019, and his tweets are considered official statements from the president.

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Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Melissa Clason

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      • Kathleen Cochran profile image

        Kathleen Cochran 

        2 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

        An interesting article. They are rare any more. Thanks!

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        You have gathered together an interesting collection of facts about these more recent presidents. Most of them were new to me.

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