Oct. 27 is Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt's birthday, and if anyone deserves a moment of salute, it's this famous naturalist, explorer and politician.
In Teddy's honor, here are 10 fascinating facts about the indefatigable 26th president of the United States:
1. He went skinny dipping in the Potomac River. According to the History Channel, Roosevelt kept up his outdoors-loving lifestyle even as president, sailing his yacht and going hiking in Rock Creek Park, which can be sweaty work. He didn't let his high office stop him from one of the most refreshing experiences known to humankind — a post-workout swim in flagrante delicto. "After strenuous walks along the Potomac, the president on occasion would shed all his clothes and take a plunge in the river to cool off."
2. He drank tremendous amounts of coffee. His eldest son said that his father drank coffee from a mug "the size of a bathtub." According to The Boston Globe, "He was also known for putting as many as seven lumps of sugar into his coffee, and some estimates suggest that he drank a gallon of coffee per day. Legend has it that, during a visit to Nashville, he was served Maxwell House coffee and said it was, 'Good to the last drop.' The phrase became the company’s catchphrase."
3. He thought about you and me. Known as an incredible conservationist, it's often said that T.R. was shocked and saddened about the near hunting-to-death of the American bison in just 20 years. But it's not just bison (or bears, or any other animal) Roosevelt had in mind when he set aside more than 230 million acres as national parks (land equivalent to the entire Eastern seaboard, from Maine to Florida, including 150 national forests). Roosevelt was really thinking about the people of the future — that's us! Personally, I spent this past weekend visiting Muir Woods, just outside San Francisco, which Teddy designated a national monument in 1908.
He said, in a May 1908 speech detailed on the Theodore Roosevelt Association's site:
“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources and we have just reason to be proud of our growth. But 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 have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation. These questions do not relate only to the next century or to the next generation. It is time for us now as a nation to exercise the same reasonable foresight in dealing with our great natural resources that would be shown by any prudent man in conserving and widely using the property which contains the assurance of well-being for himself and his children.”
4. He was a born-and-raised New Yorker, from Manhattan. Even though he later became well-known for being a buckskin-wearing cowboy who grudgingly earned the respect of the Dakota ranch men he worked around, he grew up on East 20th Street (in what's now known as Gramercy), the second child of a wealthy family.
5. His mother and first wife died on the same day — Valentine's Day, 1884. Roosevelt's first wife, Alice, died two days after giving birth to their daughter. Roosevelt's mother died the same day, in the same house, of typhoid fever. He wrote a large "X" in his datebook and noted: "The light has gone out of my life." He was destroyed and left New York for the West, where he became a hard-riding cowboy for several years before returning to politics.
6. He was a sickly child but ignored doctors' advice. Roosevelt suffered from severe asthma for most of his childhood, was considered sickly and advised by doctors to adopt a sedentary lifestyle. He wouldn't have it. The History Channel quotes him as saying: “Doctor, I’m going to do all the things you tell me not to do. If I’ve got to live the sort of life you have described, I don’t care how short it is.” He lived to age 60 and fit in at least two lifetimes into those years.
7. He wrote 35 books and 150,000 letters. Well, he may have dictated his letters, but that number is still impressive. He also wrote on a variety of subjects, from an autobiography, to books on history (his "Naval War of 1812" is still considered a key text on the conflict), nature, ranching and hunting ("Hunting Trips of a Ranchman," "Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail" and "The Wilderness Hunter"), a guide book about New York, a biography of Oliver Cromwell and two memoirs.
8. He read a book before breakfast each day. He also read two or three books each evening. And yes, he read novels, and even poetry. Of course, he was a speed reader extraordinaire. Roosevelt has many great quotes about books, and snobbery, and reading, and how they are intertwined (check them out over at BookRiot, where I pulled this one, my favorite): “Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover’s besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls ‘the mad pride of intellectuality,’ taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books.”
9. He multitasked on his honeymoons. On his first honeymoon, he scaled the Matterhorn. On his second, he summited Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, which led to his induction to the Royal Society of London. Talk about a bucket list!
10. He once stayed awake for more than 40 hours by reading Tolstoy while he had to watch over outlaws who had stolen his riverboat. Yup. When he read through the Tolstoy (as mentioned,he read quickly), he read the thieves' own copy of a dime store Western.
Teddy Roosevelt was a one-of-a-kind human being who got the most out of his life — and managed to make the U.S. a stronger and better country with his efforts.
In fact, it's fair to say that we wouldn't be living in the America of today without the influential Roosevelt clan, which has been front and center lately as Ken Burns explores each of their lives in the new PBS series, "The Roosevelts." (I'm on episode 3 and it's pretty much blowing my mind. As a science major in college, the last time I learned about this stuff was my AP American history class in high school, which is longer ago than I'd like to admit!)