Theodore Roosevelt is one of the most recognizable people that have ever served as President. He was the 26th President of the United States and his trademark mustache and glasses help to tell his cowboy story. Roosevelt might have been born into a wealthy family, but as a child he suffered greatly from asthma. This was why he embraced such a strenuous life and ultimately why he decided to enter into politics.
One thing that most people don’t realize is that he wasn’t actually elected to his first term in office. Roosevelt was sworn in after the assassination of William McKinley. His message of speaking softly and carrying a big stick resounded with many people around the world.
1. He Had One Really Bad Day
February 14, 1884 was an extremely bad day for Theodore Roosevelt. His mother had been suffering from typhoid fever and she passed away in the morning. Later that day, Roosevelt’s wife, suffering from Bright’s disease and post-birth complications from their first child, passed away as well. Somehow Roosevelt summoned the courage to write in his diary that night and his words said it all. “The light has gone out of my life.”
2. Roosevelt Was a Cop
About a decade after this very bad day, Roosevelt was appointed as the police commissioner for New York City. At the time, the NYPD was considered one of the most corrupt police departments in the entire world. Once he was appointed, you could often find him walking the streets at midnight, making sure his officers were doing their jobs.
During his reforms, Roosevelt decided that it was important to make sure that all of the laws were being enforced in the city. One of those laws was quite unpopular because it made it illegal to sell alcohol in a saloon on a Sunday. Enforcing this law meant that Roosevelt was a very unpopular man to say the least. He received not one, but two letter bombs in the mail for his efforts.
3. He Loved to Get Naked
While serving as President, Roosevelt would find the confines of the White House to be a bit stuffy. He would often escape so that he could take a long, quiet walk along the Potomic River. Sometimes he would take out his yacht onto the river to lead hiking expeditions. You could find him scaling cliffs and shooting stumps with his revolver that he’d carry around.
During the summer months, it wasn’t uncommon for Roosevelt to get hot and sweaty on these outdoor adventures. Rather than take a bath back at the White House, you could find him skinny-dipping in the Potomic River to cool off.
4. He Made a Lot of American Firsts
Roosevelt did or accomplished a number of things that were firsts for the American Presidential office. Most notably, he was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Although he was known for his efforts during the Spanish-American War and often talked about thumping people with his big stick, Roosevelt was also instrumental in the treaty that stopped the Russo-Japanese War. The Treaty of Portsmouth earned him the prize, which Roosevelt would use to start a trust fund that would promote industrial peace.
Roosevelt was also the first President who would leave the country while still in office. In November of 1906, he got on board the USS Louisiana so that he could study the work being done on the Panama Canal. One could hardly blame him – it was one of the biggest projects that he’d been campaigning about and the canal would change the course of shipping traffic.
5. Boxing Was a Big Love
Roosevelt took up boxing as he took up most everything in life – to counter his asthma. He loved the sport and wasn’t afraid to throw a punch or two for fun with someone. He was on the intramural team at Harvard and fought for their lightweight championship at one point. Even while serving as President, he was known to put on the gloves and spar with professional boxers and anyone else willing to go a round or two.
That tradition continued until one fateful day when he was sparring with a young artillery officer. A rogue punch managed to get Roosevelt right in the left eye and it broke a blood vessel. The result was almost complete blindness in that eye, so that was also the day that he decided boxing was a sport for younger men with better eyesight.
6. He’d Be a Democrat Today
Roosevelt was nominated as a Republican Vice President, but he was most definitely a progressive. While in office, he attempted to steer the GOP toward a policy of regulation businesses in the country with an emphasis on trust binding, or to allow every business a fair chance of success without a monopoly.
Conservation was also a big point of emphasis for Roosevelt. He helped to expand many of the national forests and national parks that existed while trying to help get a square deal for the average American. For several years, his progressive nature put him at odds with the conservative leadership of the Republican party, but by the 1920 election cycle, it looked like he would become President once again. The health issues he faced from his expeditions into the Amazon took a toll, however, and he passed away in 1919.
Despite the divides that he created, Roosevelt is considered one of the greatest Presidents the country has ever had. He’s one of the four Presidents that are memorialized on Mount Rushmore.
7. Writing Was Another Love
Although Roosevelt is mostly known for his work as an outdoorsman and an adventurist, he was also a very prolific author. Over the course of his life, he wrote 38 books in total, with his most popular books being the four volume series called The Winning of the West. He wrote his first book at the age of 23, which was called The Naval War of 1812.
Roosevelt had always had a love for the the sea and the Navy in general. He made the Navy a point of emphasis while in office, which gave the US Navy the nickname the “Great White Fleet.” Roosevelt didn’t fight any wars as President, but part of that came from the world tour that he sent the Navy on to show how much the US had expanded their forces.
8. The Neutrality of World War I Ate At Him
Even though he was nearly 60 by the time World War I rolled around, that didn’t stop him from following his passions. Roosevelt desperately wanted the United States to get into the war and the neutrality policies ate at him. His concern was that American allies wouldn’t respect the neutral stance after the war and that if the US didn’t get involved, they wouldn’t have the chance to help shape the world afterward.
So much was his passion for getting involved in this war that at 58, he volunteered to go to the front lines. Woodrow Wilson was President at the time and when war broke out, Roosevelt campaigned to be sent to France with 200,000 men. Rallies of support happened across the country, but it was his son who got called into action instead of him. Roosevelt’s son Quentin trained to be a pilot and in action over France in 1918, his plane was shot down and he was killed in action.
Roosevelt was left heartbroken once more. It may have been, in fact, one of the reasons behind the collapse of his health just one year later.
9. He Hated Doctors
While attending Harvard, a doctor there, Dr. Dudley Sargent, told Roosevelt that he needed to cut back on all of his physical activities. Roosevelt was told that he had a weak heart and that if he chose an active life instead of a sedentary one, his choices would likely have fatal consequences.
Roosevelt’s response to the news was predictable. “Doctor,” he said, “I’m going to do all of the things you tell me not to do.” He didn’t want to live a sedentary life because it would make him miserable. Just to prove the doctor wrong, Roosevelt would then take two guides with him and scale the Matterhorn. He actually climbed this trademark Swiss Alp during his honeymoon.
10. Many Would Call Him a Racist Today
Roosevelt attempted to straddle the issues of race and immigration, but it was clear that he had an internal bias for those who were different. He once said that 90% of the best Indians would be dead Indians. “The most vicious cowboy has more morals than the average Indian.”
He also called the presence of black men in the United States a “terrible problem.” To Roosevelt’s credit, he also stated that the only moral course of action to take was to treat a man as a man based on his merit and not on his skin color.
As for immigration, Roosevelt was very much for legal immigration and very much against those who would try to sneak into the country. His desire was to see America succeed was based on the grounds that anyone coming here would pledge their allegiance to the US flag and not even have a secondary flag. There wouldn’t be any German or Irish. There would only be Americans.