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True Stories About the Presidents of the United States

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

You've been hearing a lot about the life of our next president, Barack Obama, who will be No. 44 after he takes the oath next Tuesday. Here are some things you might not know about some of the men who came before him as president of the United States.

-- Valerie Strauss

1. George Washington (1789-1797) did not do many things people said he did. He did not wear a wig, though many men did in those days. He had false teeth, but they were not wooden. They were made of lead, wire, bone, ivory and both human and animal teeth. You can see them and many more of his possessions at Mount Vernon.

3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) composed the words he wanted written on his tombstone. He said he wanted to be remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence and an important Virginia statute about religious freedom, and as the founder of the University of Virginia. But he didn't mention he had been president.

Jefferson and John Adams (1797-1801), the second president , had a complicated history. They were friends, then enemies and then friends again. They both died on July 4, 1826. Adams's family reported that his last words were "Thomas Jefferson survives"; he didn't know Jefferson had died hours earlier.

4. James Madison (1809-1817) was the main author of the Constitution. He was also the shortest president, at 5 feet 4 inches tall. And he weighed the least, just 100 pounds.

6. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) liked to swim without any clothes on at 5 a.m. in the Potomac River. Once someone stole his clothes, and he asked a passing boy to retrieve a new set from the White House.

7. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) was the first president to ride on a train. He had a fierce temper and was involved in several duels, including one in which he killed a man who had insulted Jackson's wife.

22 and 24. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897) is the only person to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents because he won two terms that weren't back-to-back.

27. William H. Taft (1909-1913) was the largest president ever, weighing more than 300 pounds. After getting stuck in a White House bathtub, he had a special one installed that was 7 feet long and 41 inches wide.

28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) was believed to have dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it difficult to read and write, but became president of Princeton University and the United States.

30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) was given a raccoon for Thanksgiving dinner but turned the animal into a pet and named her Rebecca. Coolidge used to put Rebecca on a leash and take her for a walk.

40. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) was a movie actor before becoming a politician. In one of his movies, "Bedtime for Bonzo," his co-star was a chimpanzee.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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