Some might debate the origin of Presidents Day, but the way we understand it the occasion is a birthday celebration in honor of Washington and Lincoln — two of America’s most notables — but time, history and people have made the holiday more inclusive. Now, Presidents Day honors all U.S. commanders-in-chief whose collective tenures stretch from April 30, 1789 (Washington’s first day in office), to Feb. 17, 2014, which is early in President Barack Obama’s second term.
To each of these distinguished 44 — deceased and living — may we be among the masses to offer, “Happy Birthday, gentlemen!”
Among the most grateful today are local, state and federal government workers, Postal Service associates, bankers, lots of teachers and school administrators, and others whose employee handbooks observe Presidents Day as a 24-hour hiatus away from the office. For the remainder, well ... Memorial Day is less than 3 1/2 months away!
Granted, it’s a lighthearted approach to a day intended to honor American patriots who have stood by their country in the worst and the best of times. So far, it’s an all-male club, but if American history has taught us anything, it is the propensity for our grand nation to evolve.
Let none forget our current leader is the first African-American president of the United States. Such change took 220 years, but change came.
Because we live in a society of firsts — and the Oval Office is no exception — Presidents Day is an appropriate time to offer such factual, and sometimes entertaining, tidbits about the U.S. presidency. We will take no credit for these points of trivia. Their author — at least, for the information gathered in our research — is National Geographic News.
Try these on for size:
1. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), customarily took an early morning swim — in the nude — in the Potomac River.
2. George Washington (1789-1797), Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and John Adams (1797-1801) were all avid collectors and players of marbles.
3. James Madison (1809-1817), was the smallest U.S. president. He stood only 5-foot-4 and weighed less than 100 pounds.
4. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) was the tallest. He stood 6-4.
5. William Howard Taft (1909-1913) was the heaviest. Reportedly, he sometimes tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds. It is said he once became stuck in the White House bathtub, so he ordered a new one installed — a much larger one.
6. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) was the oldest president. He took office at the age of 69.
7. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) was the youngest elected president. He reached the White House at 43. The youngest president to ever serve was Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) who was elected vice president on a ticket with President William McKinley; however, in September 1901 a deranged anarchist shot McKinley twice in Buffalo, N.Y., and Roosevelt assumed the office at 42.
8. George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote — but won the Electoral College — to Al Gore in 2000, was not the first to ascend to America’s highest office without the backing of the majority of the voters. Others sharing this distinction are John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison.
9. Franklin Roosevelt made the first presidential flight in 1943.
10. Richard Nixon was the first president to visit all 50 states.
11. Bill Clinton set a record for the most presidential trips abroad with 133.
12. And for anyone who thought they knew but didn’t, William Howard Taft — obviously in between baths — started the tradition of the Presidential First Pitch to launch a baseball season. The opening-day game came on April 4, 1910, and featured the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Athletics.
Happy Birthday, Mr. President(s)!
(Editor’s Note: Reprinted from the Feb. 18, 2013, edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.)