The United States has had 45 different Presidents up to and including Joe Biden, who is the 46th President. How can he be 46 if there were 45? Because Grover Cleveland was elected to two non-consecutive runs and is considered both the 22nd and the 24th President. That was a first! But it was far from the only Presidential first that is noteworthy. Let’s take a look at some other things pioneered by various Commanders-in-Chief.
10. William McKinley Was the First President to Ride in an Automobile
These days you can see photos online of Presidents driving around in semi-trucks, falling off Segways or flying around in helicopters. But the Office of the President is an old one and dates back to a time when, if the President needed to get to the White House in a hurry, he needed a fast horse. One President had to be the first to ever actually ride inside an automobile and that was William McKinley.
The 25th President, McKinley was born in 1843 and was elected to office in 1897. Automobiles were extremely new at this time and, in fact, the first patent for a vehicle powered by a gasoline engine dates back to 1886.
The concept obviously caught on and it was in 1899 that McKinley would go for a ride in a Stanley Steamer, driven by Freelan Stanley, one of the creators of the vehicle. McKinley apparently didn’t enjoy the ride at all, said it felt like it was going to explode at any moment, and figured Stanley was a bit misguided if he thought they’d ever replace horses.
9. Jimmy Carter Was the First President Born in a Hospital
In 2017, under 2% of all US births took place outside of hospitals. It’s just common practice for most people to go to a hospital to have a baby nowadays. Not so in the past, of course, and not every US President was born in the hospital. More surprising is that most US Presidents weren’t and the first President who was born in a hospital is still alive.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th President, was born in 1924, in Plains, Georgia. His mother was a nurse and his family was somewhat prosperous but, despite being born in a hospital, his family home had no electricity and no indoor plumbing. The hospital where he was born is still around but, perhaps not surprisingly, it has undergone a name change and today it bears his mother’s name – the Lillian G. Carter Nursing Center.
8. Teddy Roosevelt Was the First President to Ride in an Airplane
McKinley may have been the first President to master motorized travel by land, but the skies belonged to the 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt. Always known as something of an adventurer and an outdoorsman, Roosevelt had the opportunity to take to the air back in 1910 at a time when an airplane was mostly just wings and an engine and had few other amenities like walls or a windshield.
Roosevelt described his flight as “the bulliest experience” he ever had, which seems to mean he felt it was excellent and exciting. The plane, a Wright model A-B, managed to travel about three miles in three minutes which may not seem all that fast by today’s standards but if you’ve never flown anywhere ever than 60 miles per hour is probably the most amazing thing you’ve ever experienced.
While Roosevelt seemed to love the flight, the pilot Arch Hoxsey pointed out that Roosevelt literally leaned over to wave at the crowd which was probably more risky than it needed to be.
7. Benjamin Harrison Was the First to Install Electricity in the White House
By 1925 only half of the homes in the United States had electricity. Acceptance and implementation was a slow process, and that was at every level. In Washington, 23rd President Benjamin Harrison would be the first to leap into the future by bringing electricity to the White House in 1891. But he never used it.
Like so many others, Harrison was mistrustful of the power flowing through the wires in his walls. It’s said his fear of electrocution ensured that, while the White House was wired and good to go, he never touched a light switch during his time there. The Chief Usher at the White House once said that he had to turn the lights on for the President at night and when he came back to work the following morning he’d have to turn them all off again.
6. Martin Van Buren Was the First President Born an American
It’s somewhat ironic that Martin Van Buren was the first President born an American citizen and also the only President who didn’t speak English as a first language, a pair of curious firsts for the 8th President of the United States. Van Buren spoke Dutch growing up as his family was of Dutch ancestry and didn’t learn English until later.
Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, New York in 1782. Before him, all the previous Presidents had not been American citizens at birth. That’s not to say they were born in England or anything of that nature, they just didn’t technically qualify as American citizens at the time of their birth. For instance, George Washington was born at Popes Creek in what was then the British colony of Virginia. The previous Presidents all had to become American citizens later in life.
5. Andrew Jackson Was the First President to Kill a Man in Anger
Most Presidents have had some kind of military experience in the past. Of the 45 men who have served, 29 have a military background. Because of that, a number of US Presidents have also killed people before in combat situations. It’s not hard to imagine that General George Washington took the life of more than one enemy on the battlefield. And Grover Cleveland, while not a military man, worked in law enforcement and personally hanged men in that capacity.
Of all the Presidents who have personally taken lives, and there are a few, it’s Andrew Jackson who stands out as the first and only to do so out of any official capacity whatsoever. He didn’t kill enemy combatants; he didn’t execute criminals. The man just killed someone in a duel.
Jackson, the 7th President, had a reputation as a hothead. He was known to be violent and combative and had already amassed a history of dueling when he squared off with Charles Dickinson in 1806.
The two men had a history of animosity already but things got worse when Dickinson accused Jackson of cheating him on a bet and then calling him a coward. The icing on the cake was him accusing Jackson’s wife of being a bigamist which wasn’t actually incorrect since she was not aware that her first husband had not finalized their divorce. Oops
Dickinson hated Jackson so much he actually published his insults in a newspaper and that was more than the future President could handle. The two met and Dickinson shot Jackson square in the chest. Jackson, for his part, covered the wound and fired his own gun which failed. Then, in a breach of dueling rules, he re-cocked and fired again, killing the man. His own wound was obviously not enough to kill him.
4. John Quincy Adams Was the First President Ever Photographed
Photography dates back to 1826 in France. The first photo with a person in it was taken by Louis Daguerre in 1838. And the first American President to have his photo taken was John Quincy Adams back in 1843.
Word is that Adams thought the photos were hideous but one still managed to survive the experience and ended up in an antique shop in the 1970s. Someone bought it for 50 cents. It went on to sit at the National Portrait Gallery as the first photo of a President ever. Until someone found an earlier one.
Turns out Adams was a bit of a photo fanatic and while that one in the gallery was taken in August 1843, he’d sat for another photo earlier in the year as well. That one went on to sell at auction for over $360,000.
3. John F. Kennedy Was the First President to Pardon a Turkey
Every November when Thanksgiving rolls around you can count on seeing a somewhat official ceremony on TV in which the President of the United States grants clemency to the condemned by pardoning the official Thanksgiving turkey.
For a time there have been a few stories about where and when this tradition started. It’s been said that Abraham Lincoln was once convinced by his son Tad to spare a turkey that he’d grown fond of but even if that tale is true, it was more of a one off than a tradition of pardoning a turkey. It was also claimed that President Truman came up with the turkey pardon ritual and his own Presidential Library had to release a statement saying that there were no documents to support the idea.
It seems like the first President to ever officially pardon a turkey and start the annual tradition was John F. Kennedy. It had become a tradition to gift the sitting President with a turkey every Thanksgiving season and in 1963 the Washington Post used the term “pardon” when it detailed Kennedy saying “let’s keep him going” in reference to the turkey that Kennedy apparently felt sorry for.
2. Dwight D. Eisenhower Was the First President of All 50 States
When someone is the President of the United States, that means they are the leader of all of those united states and any school kid in America should be able to tell you that there are 50 in total. That said, it wasn’t until 1959 when 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office when anyone was actually President of all 50 states.
Arizona had become the 48th state way back in 1912 and that was where the states remained for 47 years. Hawaii and Alaska were not states, they were territories and didn’t count towards the total. But in 1959, Alaska officially became America’s 49th state in January and then Hawaii joined in August of that same year.
The US has remained a country of 50 states ever since, nearly half a century at this point, but Eisenhower had the distinction of being the first President to claim he was the President of all 50.
1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt Was The First and Only President to Be Elected More Than Twice
A President can only serve two terms in office which is expressly stated in the 22nd Amendment. It begins with the line “No person shall be elected to the Office of the President more than twice.” So that’s pretty clear. It’s also why Franklin Delano Roosevelt qualifies as not just the first but the only President who can lay claim to winning more than twice.
It was 1940 when FDR was elected to his third term in office. Prior to FDR there was no formal rule about serving long term in the office. In fact, there seemed to be an informal understanding that two was enough thanks to George Washington voluntarily passing on the idea of a third term. But as many people have learned throughout history, just because one person chooses to act a certain way, if it’s not a specific rule then someone else will act however they want.
When FDR was elected for a fourth term in 1945, it was pretty clear to some people that something needed to be done. The 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951, thus ensuring that no future president had the chance of coming dangerously close to emulating what America once considered to be tyranny by allowing one person to continuously rule.