Previous: The Real Origins of 20 Scary Stories
Next: Everything You Need To Know About Weddings



View count:70,476
Last sync:2024-05-22 23:15
Theodore Roosevelt once gave a 90-minute speech after being shot. And yes, Teddy Roosevelt lent his name to the Teddy Bear. In this episode of The List Show, TedHead Erin (@erincmccarthy) shares 28 stories about her favorite American president, whose preferred nickname wasn't Teddy, but Colonel.

Theodore Roosevelt was a boxer, a hunter, a conservationist, a rough rider, and one of history’s most creative insulters. Get ready to learn all about the life of one of America’s most interesting historical figures, Theodore Roosevelt.

In case you forgot, The List Show is a trivia-tastic, fact-filled show for curious people. Subscribe here for new List Show episodes the first and third Wednesday of each month:

To hear all about the incredible life of Theodore Roosevelt, listen and subscribe to Mental Floss’s new podcast, History Vs.:

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 encapsulates 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, 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 toy-maker 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!"