15 Presidential Facts You Never Knew
Policy + Politics

15 Presidential Facts You Never Knew

Some in the press are starting to question why Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor and a top contender for the GOP nomination to the presidency in 2016, never graduated from college. 

Walker spent four years at Marquette University, where he was active in college politics but was a so-so student. He left in the spring of his senior year without graduating. Some thought perhaps there was a family illness or financial troubles at home. Walker has said he got a job and always meant to go back for his degree, but didn’t. 

Related: Wisconsin’s Scott Walker Could Be a Contender 

The fact of his non-graduation from college hasn’t bothered most Wisconsin voters, who elected him three times in four years to his state’s highest office. Still, as Walker gets more national attention in the run-up to the 2016 election, he may need to address the issue. Though not every U.S. president had a college degree – think George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman – most presidents did, and many have held advanced degrees. 

Nevertheless, plenty of American presidents have endured inconvenient truths or awkward realities. Here are some little-known facts about a few of our commanders in chief this Presidents’ Day: 

George Washington inherited 10 slaves at the age of 11 when his father died. He privately opposed slavery, publicly didn’t challenge it, and was the only prominent Founding Father to free his slaves in his will.   

Thomas Jefferson spent most of his time reviewing his finances and debts, as he lay ill in bed in the final days of his life. 

Martin Van Buren learned English as a second language (his first language was Dutch). 

James K. Polk was the youngest former president to die in retirement, at age 53. 

Related: How Barack Obama Amazed His Law School Professor

James Buchanan was the only lifelong bachelor among the presidents. He also had an eye defect that caused him to cock his head slightly to the left – leading people to think he was unusually courteous. 

Abraham Lincoln, who loved gadgets, was known to test-fire muskets and rifles on the grassy areas around the White House (known now as the Ellipse and the National Mall). 

Ulysses S. Grant smoked 20 cigars a day. 

Warren G. Harding’s wife, Florence Kling DeWolfe, kept a little red book of people who offended her. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt was related to 11 other former presidents, either by blood or marriage (John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, FDR’s fifth cousin). 

Harry Truman received the first Medicare card ever issued at age 81 on July 30, 1965. Truman had called for a national health insurance program in 1945 – and 20 years later, Lyndon B. Johnson personally handed him the card. 

Related: Which Former President Cost the U.S. the Most?

Dwight Eisenhower was a skilled chef known for his vegetable soup, steaks and cornmeal pancakes.   

Lyndon B. Johnson rejected the official portrait painted of him in 1967, calling it “the ugliest thing I ever saw.” That painting now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, a gift of the artist, Peter Hurd. (LBJ was OK with the replacement portrait by a different artist.) 

Throughout Ronald Reagan’s film career, his mother answered most of his fan mail

George W. Bush, during his time in the White House, read 14 Lincoln biographies. In the last three years of his presidency he read 186 books

Barack Obama dislikes ice cream, possibly because he worked in an ice cream shop as a teenager. He instead prefers shaved ice.   

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: