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28 Facts About Theodore Roosevelt

November 2, 2019


Did you know that a 6-year-old Theodore Roosevelt
locked his future wife in a back room during the funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln?
Hi, I’m Erin McCarthy, editor-in-chief of MentalFloss.Com. In 1865, TR and his brother,
Elliot, watched Lincoln’s funeral procession from the window of their grandfather’s house
on Union Square—there’s a photo of the procession where you can spot the young Roosevelts.
One person you won’t see, however, is Edith Kermit Carow, who became TR’s second wife
in 1886, two years after the death of his first wife, Alice. She wouldn’t stop crying,
so TR locked her out. As a certified Ted-Head—which is what we
call TR superfans around here—I cannot wait to share many more facts about Theodore Roosevelt
with you today. Let’s get started! One of Roosevelt’s childhood hobbies was taxidermy.
He especially loved stuffing birds. In his family’s New York City home, he compiled
his taxidermy and other specimens into what he called the Roosevelt Museum of Natural
History, which some historians say grew to be 1000 items. When his family visited Europe,
Egypt, and the Holy Land in the 1872, a young Roosevelt used the opportunity to hunt birds.
One of the key components of taxidermy was arsenic, and when he attempted to buy a pound
of the stuff in England, he wrote in his diary that, quote, “I was informed that I must
bring a witness to prove I was not going to commit murder, suicide, or any such dreadful
thing, before I could have it!” Another of Roosevelt’s hobbies was boxing,
which he took up when he was a teenager. According to a popular early-20th century story, when Roosevelt served on the New York Assembly some corrupt figures
hired an ex-boxer named ‘Stubby’ to rough him up a bit. But Roosevelt successfully dodged
the initial punch and 30 seconds later Stubby was on the floor. According to one version
of the story, Stubby’s friends then moved in, but Roosevelt took them all down as well.
Supposedly Roosevelt then walked over to the men who sent Stubby and thanked them, proclaiming
“he hadn’t enjoyed himself so much for a year.” Is this story true? Maybe not,
but it pretty well incapsulates how Roosevelt was viewed as being larger-than-life even in his
own time. Roosevelt had many jobs. Alongside assemblyman,
he was a deputy sheriff, governor, police commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy,
and author of more than 30 books. He was also a war hero having commanded a volunteer cavalry
nicknamed the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. Lawyer could have been added to that list,
but Roosevelt dropped out of Columbia Law School in 1881 so he could join the New York
State Assembly. In 2008, Columbia awarded him a posthumous degree along with his fifth cousin
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who left the school in 1907. We’ll get to him in a minute… Another job TR held: cattle rancher. During
the late 1800s, he owned two ranches, which he sold after they became financially unsustainable.
In 1884, his first wife, Alice, and his mother Mittie died on the same day, and later that
year, he relocated to the Dakota Territories to grieve. He’d already owned one ranch
and bought the second after their deaths for its remote location. It wasn’t all calm on the ranch. In 1886,
thieves took Roosevelt’s boat. So Roosevelt, deputy sheriff at the time, had his ranch
hands build another boat and followed the thieves down the Little Missouri River. They
carried with them important supplies like flour, coffee, bacon … and a copy of Anna
Karenina. One of these things is not like the others, but TR really loved to read. Anyway, it was spring, but the water was still
icy, which made for a difficult journey on the river. So once they caught the thieves,
Roosevelt walked them to Dickinson, North Dakota, so they could face justice. For over
a week they trudged through the difficult terrain—which was more than enough time for Roosevelt
to finish Anna Karenina. After that, he borrowed a dime novel from one of the thieves and read
through it super quickly. While he was president, Roosevelt knew how
to carry out a good publicity stunt. In 1905, he rode in the USS Plunger, an early submarine.
The New York Times shamed this supposedly risky behavior and described the sub as “some
new-fangled, submersible, collapsible or other dangerous device.” A few years later, Roosevelt
insisted that military officers should be able to ride 90 miles on horseback within
three days. To prove it was a reasonable order, he rode it himself in a single day. One of TR’s most news-worthy decisions was
inviting civil rights leader Booker T. Washington to dinner in 1901. TR was the first president
to have dinner with a black man at the White House. Roosevelt’s two youngest kids had
just made it down to D.C., and he wanted to have dinner with them, but he also had a late-night
meeting with Washington on his schedule—so he chose to make the dinner a working one, and sent an invitation
to Washington. Author Deborah Davis, who wrote an entire book about this meal, notes that
Roosevelt quickly wondered if that was a good idea but then felt so badly about hesitating
that he had to do it. Many Americans were outraged. As Davis explained to NPR in 2012,
meeting with an African-American man in the White House wasn’t that unusual at the time.
But having dinner was a completely different thing. As she put it, quote, “‘Dining’ was really a code word for social equality. And the feeling was, certainly in the South,
that if you invited a man to sit at your table, you were actually inviting him to woo your
daughter.” Theodore Roosevelt hated his presidential
portrait so much that he burned it. The piece was painted by French portraitist Théobald
Chartran, who had also created paintings of some of Roosevelt’s family that were universally
acclaimed. But TR felt that his own made him look like a “mewing cat,” which became
the family’s nickname for the painting. Roosevelt much preferred his next portrait,
done by John Singer Sargent, and according to Archibald Butt, Chartran’s was relegated
to the darkest spot they could find, before it was “condemned to be burnt.” In 1905, while he was president, TR walked
his niece Eleanor down the aisle when she married Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Now if you’re
doing the mental math, like…how was TR the uncle of Eleanor but she was marrying a guy
who also had the name Roosevelt…well the couple were fifth cousins once removed. (So TR and
FDR were fifth cousins too!) TR supposedly proclaimed “there’s nothing like keeping
the name in the family.” When Roosevelt became president in 1901, he
was 42 years old, which makes him the youngest United States president ever. But that wasn’t
his only superlative. He was the first sitting president to leave the U.S. (he went
to Panama) and the first to take a trip in a submarine. He was the first former president
to take a spin in an airplane, and he was the first American to receive the Nobel Peace
Prize, which he won chiefly for helping to negotiate the end of the Russo-Japanese War. President Roosevelt had a well-known passion
for conservation. He helped create the modern U.S. Forest Service, the Wildlife Refuge system,
five national parks, and 51 federal bird reserves. At the 1908 Conference of Governors, Roosevelt
gave a speech titled “Conservation as a National Duty.” He announced, “The time
has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal,
the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils shall have been still further
impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields
and obstructing navigation.” His love for rivers was no surprise. Roosevelt
famously skinny-dipped in the Potomac, sometimes with other politicians. Roosevelt recalled
that after these swimming trips they had to, quote, “arrange that our return to Washington
should be when it was dark, so that our appearance might scandalize no one.” Although it’s
unclear if he was naked or not at the time. Speaking of Roosevelt’s love for the water,
he met Houdini on a boat, the SS Imperator, in 1914. In a magic trick, Houdini revealed
where Roosevelt had been the previous Christmas. Roosevelt was in awe and asked Houdini if
he really knew the dark arts. In reality, Houdini had done some research beforehand. The Roosevelts kept many unusual pets, including
snakes, flying squirrels, a pig, and a one-legged rooster. They also had guinea pigs, which Roosevelt
once watched over as president in October 1902. In a letter he wrote, quote, “At this
moment, my small daughter being out, I am acting as nurse to two wee guinea pigs, which
she feels would not be safe save in the room with me—and if I can prevent it I do not
intend to have wanton suffering inflicted on any creature.” There was also Algonquin,
the calico pony, who was once spotted riding the White House elevator to visit Archie.
And there was Jonathan Edwards the bear, named partly because his children “detected Calvinistic
traits in the bear’s character,” as Roosevelt put it. Yet Roosevelt was also a product of his time,
a time in which observing dead animals was the preferred way for naturalists to learn
about them. After his presidency, TR visited Africa with his son Kermit and between the
two of them, they killed 512 animals: lions, zebras, monkeys, hippopotamuses, crocodiles,
and more, along with a bunch of birds they didn’t record. But as many know, in 1902, TR refused to shoot
a black bear that had been tied to a tree because he considered it unsportsmanlike.
This led to a toymaker in New York naming his stuffed bear the “Teddy.” (Though
Roosevelt never liked being called Teddy, some claim because it was his first wife’s
nickname for him.) In reality, Roosevelt did refuse to shoot the bear but commanded his
hunting partner to “put it out of its misery,” the Washington Post reported at the time. Around the same time, the citizens of Indianola,
Mississippi, voted for the resignation of their postmaster Minnie Cox. She was the first
African American female postmaster and her race was the exact reason that white residents
in Indianola were unfairly forcing her out. She tried to keep working, but there were
threats on her life and local officials wouldn’t protect her, so she resigned. Roosevelt learned
of the situation and refused to accept the resignation. He even suspended mail service
in the city until 1904. Minnie Cox continued to get paid, though she did move away for
a time. Roosevelt always spoke his mind. After his
presidency, he endorsed a candidate for governor of New York. While doing so, he implicated
two local political bosses in the state’s “crooked” politics. One, William Barnes,
sued Roosevelt for libel in a high profile court case. Roosevelt spent 38 ½ hours
giving testimony. After he won, he shook each juror’s hand. Another man who collected his fair share of
Roosevelt insults was William Howard Taft, whom TR called a “puzzle wit,” a “fathead,”
“a flubdub with a streak of the second-rate and the common in him,” and someone who
had “brains less than a guinea pig.” This is especially harsh considering the two men
had once been close. Taft was Roosevelt’s secretary of war and Roosevelt even groomed
Taft to be his successor to the presidency. But they had a falling out, and Roosevelt
ended up running against Taft in 1912 — Roosevelt as a Progressive and Taft as a Republican,
Roosevelt’s former party. The tense feud lasted years, but in 1918 Taft approached
Roosevelt in a hotel dining room and they shook hands and ate together. Nearby diners
applauded. Yay for friendship! Taft’s successor, President Woodrow Wilson,
didn’t escape Roosevelt’s wrath, either. Roosevelt wanted the United States to join
World War I much sooner than it did, so he once called Wilson “the shifty, adroit,
and selfish logothete in the White House.” After the U.S. did join, Roosevelt visited
the White House to convince Wilson that there should be volunteer divisions like the Rough
Riders, and he wanted to lead one. Ultimately that didn’t happen, so of course Roosevelt
had an insult for that. He called Wilson “an utterly selfish, utterly treacherous, utterly
insincere hypocrite.” Going back to Roosevelt’s campaign for president
as a third-party Progressive: he was giving up to twenty speeches a day during this time.
When he was on his way to give one of those speeches in Milwaukee, a man attempted to
assassinate Roosevelt. The bullet hit him in the chest after traveling through a copy
of his fifty-page-long speech and steel glasses case. Roosevelt said to the crowd, “Friends,
I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand
that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” He went
on to deliver the entire speech, talking for around 90 minutes. He was then hospitalized.
The bullet could not be removed, but Roosevelt healed. Shoutout to Kevin D for knowing this truly epic quote! Finally, Roosevelt implemented a new system
of spelling in the United States government documents. The system had been created by
the Simplified Spelling Board, financed by Andrew Carnegie and supported by Mark Twain
and Melvil Dewey among others. Simplification mostly involved dropping letters. “Fixed”
would be F-I-X-T. “Although” was A-L-T-H-O. “Thorough” became T-H-O-R-O. In 1906,
Roosevelt issued an executive order that Executive Branch documents had to use this new streamlined
spelling. But officials were frustrated and confused and the press thought the whole thing
was hilarious. That same year, Congress made it clear that they’d much prefer the regular
dictionary spellings, thank you very much. Our next episode is all about fossils! Leave your
favorite fossil fact in the comments for a chance to be featured in that episode. That
will go up on November 13. And if you want to learn a whole lot more about The Colonel—which
was Roosevelt’s preferred nickname—check out iHeartRadio and Mental Floss’s new podcast,
History Vs., which looks at how your favorite historical figures faced off against their
greatest foes. Our first season focuses on Roosevelt, and it’s available now wherever
you get your podcasts. We’ll pop a link in the video description so you can subscribe.
We’ll see you next time! It’d be better if I had the glasses and the mustache. And he goes…. “Bully!”

45 Comments

  • Reply KingXDragoon October 30, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    "WHATS UP, B*TCHES!"
    -ERB

  • Reply E. Regular October 30, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    Theodore Roosevelt: Easily one of the greatest presidents of all time

  • Reply NUMBUR 129 October 30, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Your mom

  • Reply Sean Baugh October 30, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    #1 Fact About Theodore Roosevelt :
    He was infamously known for unleashing bass heavy flatulence and large loose bowel movements. He was know to the Cherokee as "Tatanka U-ka" or Running Buffalo Butt
    The More You Know🌈🌟"
    "NUFF SAID"

  • Reply SlackerKite October 30, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    This is definitely an epic mental floss episode.

    I'll get my coat sorry

  • Reply ibesweetp2 October 30, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    Disliked and unsubscribed. Don't make positive videos about people who said 9/10 native Americans should be killed and the last 10th should not be trusted.

  • Reply J J October 30, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    WHAT'S UP BITCHEEEEEEES

  • Reply Deformed Baby October 30, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    Theodoore Roosevelt hunted with a suppressor, repeal the NFA.

  • Reply Meliodas October 30, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    Bruh I’m not even subscribed how is this in my subscriptions

  • Reply Mental Floss October 30, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    We hope you enjoy this special episode of The List Show, released early to celebrate Mental Floss's new podcast, History Vs.! Our next episode will be released on normal schedule on November 20th. Make sure to subscribe to History Vs. here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/history-vs/id1481374913

  • Reply Bob De Viking King October 30, 2019 at 8:13 pm

    Our best president

  • Reply tisFrancesfault October 30, 2019 at 8:20 pm

    Roosevelt didn't sound what you'd think he would sound like either.

  • Reply mysticmusical October 30, 2019 at 9:09 pm

    I'm surprised you didn't mention that he continued boxing even through his presidency and was blinded in one eye before he stopped. Perhaps he was a pirate too? 🤣🤣

  • Reply chaosXpert October 30, 2019 at 9:11 pm

    Best President ever!

  • Reply chaosXpert October 30, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Teddy Roosevelt changed much of the rules of American Football that made it distinct from Rugby. Many people were dying and getting hurt playing American football. So much so, that it was almost banned across the country. So Roosevelt met with all the colleges and had them change the rules to include things like pads and the forward pass

  • Reply PsilentGuy October 30, 2019 at 9:55 pm

    anyone else notice the thing in her teeth? For a channel with "floss" in its name I'm disappointed

  • Reply Texas862 October 30, 2019 at 10:00 pm

    Great episode & presentation. well done. !!

  • Reply Shane Wright October 30, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    I would like to see a time-travelling fistfight between TR and Andrew Jackson to determine the most badass US President of all time.

  • Reply kyrudo October 30, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    I was kinda hoping this would be hosted by the guy who does Teddy in Epic Rap Battles of History

  • Reply Mr. Mash October 30, 2019 at 11:41 pm

    The most interesting fact I know about fossils is there is a high concentration of fossils preserved by opal in N.S.W., Australia. Some of them are really interesting to look at because they have the property of pure opal with their translucence appearance.

  • Reply Robert Neal October 30, 2019 at 11:46 pm

    At the 6:25 mark you say "conservation", but the caption incorrectly reads "conversation".

  • Reply The Finktron October 30, 2019 at 11:55 pm

    A different story about Teddy is told in a biography of Houdini. It stated that after dinner, Houdini placed one plate of food scraps upside down on another, then flipped them over and removed the top plate, revealing the top secret planned itinerary for the President’s voyage. I wonder which account is true.

  • Reply Noy Telinú October 31, 2019 at 12:09 am

    Sea Fossils on mountains helped prove tectonic activity was a thing

  • Reply Hawkster52 October 31, 2019 at 12:10 am

    The world could use a leader like TR again. Someone well read, prided himself on his intelligence and physical abilities, who did what he felt was right regardless of the consequences because he was guided by his strong moral compass that wanted to leave the world a better place then he found it. He looked at the plights of his age and sought to fix them. He saw towards the future and acted to do what he could at the time for those to come. TR wasn't perfect, no one is, but my god what a man he was.

  • Reply verdatum October 31, 2019 at 12:16 am

    More like the old format. I like it!

  • Reply LegoCookieDoggie October 31, 2019 at 12:42 am

    When republicans actually cared about the environment RIP

  • Reply LegoCookieDoggie October 31, 2019 at 12:51 am

    Alfred the aetiocetid is a fossilized whale with both teeth and baleen indicating that dolphins (toothed whales) and baleen whales might be sister taxa!

  • Reply Nicole Hubbard October 31, 2019 at 1:30 am

    I didnt realize that I was a Ted head until now. My life has been changed for the better.

  • Reply magister343 October 31, 2019 at 2:15 am

    Theodore Roosevelt was a horrible person. Why don't you do videos or good people from that era, like Henry George (who incidentally trounced Roosevelt while running as a 3rd party candidate for mayor of NYC).

  • Reply TheHPExperiment October 31, 2019 at 2:39 am

    Who else thought this was an ERB update video based on the thumbnail?

  • Reply Sean Martinez October 31, 2019 at 3:15 am

    Going to a Theodore Roosevelt High School, this is really basic information that took no more than 20 minutes to gather from other documentaries.

    Nothing new, and other sites and videos cover all of the areas they gloss over.

  • Reply John Smith October 31, 2019 at 3:57 am

    Erin McHottie ❤️

  • Reply Robert Schalk October 31, 2019 at 7:03 am

    8:20 did she say kermit?

  • Reply Juwoki October 31, 2019 at 8:01 am

    One more fact about Roosevelt:
    He is spinning in his grave since the inauguration of our current "president"!!!

  • Reply Lantern of Diogenes October 31, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Would have been better if you addressed the bad things about him as well, like genocide, wanting to start an American empireal war and how he treated his daughter like dirt.

  • Reply Delivery McGee October 31, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    Anybody remember the "Chuck Norris facts" meme from a few years ago? Chuck''s just an actor who's really good at martial arts, TR was actually the ultimate badass. He resigned from his appointed post of Secretary of the Navy to lead the Rough Riders, ferChrissakes. And re the conservationist/avid hunter dichotomy: hunters are the best conservationists, because they want to make sure there are plenty of their preferred critters to shoot forever. (Like Ducks Unlimited, preserving wetlands so there will always be ducks for them to shoot) I've been to the AMNH, and rather a lot of the more impressive mounted specimens have his name as the collector. I wouldn't be surprised if he secretly had a time machine and also shot the T. rex they have, to be honest, he was that hardcore.

  • Reply Kenni Is Bored. October 31, 2019 at 4:36 pm

    A video about Theodore AND Hot Ones with Nick Offerman??? What a great day

  • Reply Mynard Pontillo October 31, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    Famous paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh first discovered a Triceratops fossil in 1887 but he mistakenly identified it as a bison fossil. In 1889, Marsh realized his mistake and finally named this dinosaur. Triceratops is believed to have lived in herds much like modern buffalo, had three distinctive horns. These horns provided a natural defense against the attacks of other dinosaurs, but the Triceratops was an herbivore, feeding on plants and shrubs with its sharp beak.

  • Reply Monish Kumar October 31, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    Splendid, I Liked it a lot, See this New Album 'Monish Jasbird – Death Blow', channel link www.youtube.com/channel/UCv_x5rlxirO-WKjLIyk6okQ?sub_confirmation=1 , you can try 🙂

  • Reply Amtra1778 October 31, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    A fossil doesn't necessarily have to contain a petrified animal, insect, skeleton or plant; it could simply be a preserved imprint!

  • Reply stonem83 November 1, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    TR is the closest thing we'll ever have to having Batman as President

  • Reply stonem83 November 1, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    TR also stated that Army Officers should be able to walk 50 miles in 3 days. The generals said that wasn't possible so TR did it himself to prove that it was. JFK later took up this challenge and stated that all Americans should be able to do this feat.

  • Reply Jenny Rankin, Ph.D. November 1, 2019 at 6:53 pm

    A super-recent fossil discovery reveals a new human species! Details are here in Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/philippine-fossils-add-surprising-new-species-to-human-family-tree/ (I'm Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin and I LOVE Mental Floss!)

  • Reply Ricco November 1, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    fun fact: Theodore Roosevelt was a fan of American Football!

  • Reply _ Sprolioli November 2, 2019 at 4:38 am

    Montana holds one of the largest concentration of fossilized nests with eggs, known as, "egg mountain".
    Also Montana was one of the first fossil finds of an entire t-rex.

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