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I Cannot Tell a Lie — George Washington Did Own a Whiskey Distillery!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
February 16, 2018

This month’s column is full of fun — fun-filled facts and other oddities about our 44 U.S. Presidents. After all, February 19 is Presidents Day. What better time to discover some of the seemingly weird and sometimes even lurid details about those who have occupied the highest office in the land? They were and are people just like us — subject to having foibles and idiosyncrasies just like everyone. The first fact on the list is that although President Trump is #45, there have been only 44 separate U.S. Presidents. Grover Cleveland served twice, separated in between by the term of President Benjamin Harrison — hence the apparent numbering disparity.

Here are presidential tidbits gleaned from various sources:

  • Washington, Jackson, Van Buren, Taylor, Fillmore, Lincoln, A. Johnson, Cleveland and Truman did not attend college. Harry Truman is the only twentieth-century president without a college degree.
  • No president has ever been an only child.
  • William McKinley, Grover Cleveland and James Madison are on the $500, $1000 and $5000 bill, respectively. The bills are still used as legal tender but are no longer being printed.
  • George Washington was the only president to be unanimously elected. He also refused to accept his presidential salary, which was $25,000 a year. He never lived in the White House. The capital was actually located in Philadelphia and other cities when Washington was president. George was the only president who didn’t represent a political party. He also has the distinction of having made the shortest inauguration speech on record — 133 words and less than two minutes long.
  • John Adams’ campaign propaganda against Jefferson said that if Jefferson was elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.” They later resolved their differences and wrote many letters to each other.
  • On his epitaph, which he composed, Thomas Jefferson mentions that he was the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and that he was the father of the University of Virginia. He neglected to mention he had been the President of the United States.
  • James Madison was the shortest president of the United States, standing at only 5’4”. He never weighed more than 100 pounds. At 325 pounds, William Howard Taft, who was dubbed “Big Bill,” was the largest president in American history and often got stuck in the White House bathtub. His advisors had to sometimes pull him out.
  • James Monroe once chased his Secretary of State from the White House with a pair of fire tongs.
  • The first attempt to assassinate a president was on Andrew Jackson by Richard Lawrence, a house painter. Both of his guns misfired, however — an event that statisticians say could occur only once in 125,000 times. Andrew Jackson then chased Lawrence with his walking stick.
  • Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be photographed at his inauguration. In the photo, he is standing near John Wilkes Booth, his future assassin. He was the first president to be born outside the original 13 States. He was the first president to have a beard, at the request from a little girl named Gracie Bedell. At 6” 4” in height, he was our tallest president.
  • James Garfield didn’t die from the gunshot wounds from his assassin’s gun; he died of blood poisoning after doctors and experts (including Alexander Graham Bell) tried to remove the bullet from his back with their dirty fingers and instruments, causing him to linger in pain for 80 days before dying. His assassin, Charles Guiteau, later claimed that he didn’t kill the president, the doctors had.
  • The “S” in Harry S Truman doesn’t stand for anything; therefore, there is no period after his middle initial.
  • James Earl “Jimmy” Carter was the first president to be born in a hospital. He is also the first known president to go on record as seeing a UFO.
  • George Herbert Walker Bush is the only President with four names.
  • Barack Obama worked in a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop as a teenager and now apparently can’t stand ice cream.
  • Donald Trump and Ringo Starr starred in the same “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” episode.


The lesser-known facts about our presidents show that they were regular people, complete with their own strengths and weaknesses. Over time, we seem to have elevated our perception of the person who holds the office as some type of super-person who must emanate from the world of politics. Such ideas are not in keeping with the ideals that we hold dear as a nation — accomplishment, achievement, initiative and a certain “anyone can do anything through hard work” perspective.

Presidents have come from all walks of life and it’s important that they continue to do so. George Washington was a farmer, Ronald Reagan an actor and Donald Trump a businessman. The office carries with it a great deal of responsibility and opportunity to render service to the nation. That is the important characteristic that we wish to see in each president – the willingness and demonstrated ability to put nation first at any cost.

Author: Bob Brescia serves as the Executive Director of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute, Odessa, TX. His latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. He also serves as Chairman of the Board at Basin PBS – West Texas public television. Please contact him at [email protected] or Twitter: @Robert_Brescia.

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