10 Facts You Didn’t Know About US Presidents

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on February 17, 2013. Enjoy!

Yes, that story most American children learn about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and not being able to lie to his father is a myth!

In honor of President’s Day, here are some facts about those who have held the highest elected U.S. office. Some show they were just like us — many presidents have had pets — and not like us — some presidents kept wildlife as “pets.”

These surprising facts also reveal how much has changed since George Washington became our first president in 1789: Washington, for instance, was not born an American and did not have a college degree.

1. The eighth president, Martin van Buren, was the first to be born a U.S. citizen.

2. Presidents like pets. Many have had dogs; Andrew Jackson had a parrot who cursed. John F. Kennedy and his family had a varied menagerie as did Theodore Roosevelt.

3. Earlier presidents certainly were not worrying about keeping what we would consider exotic — and, now, endangered — species as “pets.” Thomas Jefferson had two bear cubs, and Martin Van Buren owned two tiger cubs.

4. Ten presidents — including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Harry S. Truman — did not have a college degree.

5. Eight early U.S. presidents — including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – owned slaves while serving in our country’s highest office.

6. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” movie depicts the 16th president heroically working to have the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed. But the historical record reveals that Lincoln wasn’t exactly the “most compassionate” of presidents. He gave the order for the largest mass execution on U.S. soil: On December 26, 1862, 38 alleged Native American raiders were hung by Lincoln’s order in Mankato, Minnesota.

7. Only one president, James Buchanan, never married. He is described as nearly inseparable from Alabama senator William T. King, who was known as “his wife.”

8. Andrew Johnson was not only the first president to be impeached, but he was also the only tailor to become president — and sew his own suits.

9. Attempts to alleviate the suffering of the 20th president, James A. Garfield, after he was shot on July 2, 1881 led to Navy engineers creating what may have been the first air conditioner. Garfield was struck by two bullets, and his condition rapidly declined due to infection. Six tons of ice and an air blower were part of a device to give him relief in the White House from summer heat. Garfield died 80 days after he was shot — and the invention that brought relief to a mortally injured president is now one that needs regulating, due to its contributions to climate change.

10. So far, not a single woman has been elected as U.S. president. But women have been elected as president in Argentina, Finland, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Liberia, Malawi, Malta, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Korea and Sri Lanka– the U.S. clearly needs to do some catching up here.

Related Care2 Stories

South Korea’s First Female President: The Next Margaret Thatcher?

5 Classic Books About the Civil Rights Movement

Is There a Right Way to Sing “The Star-Spangled Banner”?

Photo Credit: James N. Mattis/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thank you.

heather g
heather g12 months ago


Fred Campbell
Fred Campbell12 months ago

Interesting facts and opinions.

Georgina M
Georgina Elizab M12 months ago


Paulo R
Paulo R12 months ago


Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E12 months ago

brian f
BOT from the local troll farm Blame, blame, blame but NEVER a concrete plan or solution.
He voted FOR the Democrats but has to put down anyone who disagrees with HIM !! SUCH a joke !!

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell12 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell12 months ago

Thanks for sharing

berny p
berny p12 months ago

As far as we know....never a mental case in the white house...up to now!

Marija M
Marija M12 months ago