The Surprising Backstories Behind 10 U.S. Presidents

Dated: March 1 2024

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Presidents of the United States are often expected to be larger-than-life — sort of superhuman — personalities, leading the nation with gravity and responsibility. However, just like anyone, they have normal lives, peculiar interests, and sometimes even intriguing personal backstories.

From unconventional hobbies to surprising personal struggles, here are 10 U.S. Presidents with untold tales that might just reshape the way you perceive these historical figures.

1Wrestling Prowess

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. President, wasn't just known for his eloquent speeches and great leadership during the Civil War. Surprisingly, "Honest Abe" was also a very skilled wrestler in his younger days. With over 300 matches under his belt, Lincoln only ever lost one, earning him a reputation as a formidable opponent in the ring.

2The White House Zookeeper

While Calvin Coolidge may be mostly remembered for his quiet demeanor, his private life revealed a different side. Coolidge had a penchant for unusual pets, and during his stay at the White House, he turned it into a mini zoo. Besides many other more conventional pets, he owned two raccoons, a donkey, a bobcat, several lion cubs, a Pygmy hippopotamus, a wallaby, a duiker, an antelope, a black bear, and 13 Pekin ducks. Quite the exotic collection!

3An Extraterrestrial Encounter

In 1969, years before becoming the 39th President, Jimmy Carter reported a UFO sighting in Georgia. He described seeing a bright light in the night sky that changed colors before disappearing. A few years later, Carter even filed an official report with the International UFO Bureau, making him the only U.S. President to document a personal encounter with unidentified flying objects.

4Distillery Side Hustle

Known as the "Father of His Country", George Washington had a side hustle that might surprise many. In 1799, he became one of the largest whiskey producers in the United States, operating a distillery on his Mount Vernon estate. Washington's distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799 alone. Despite this, Washington was a strong proponent of moderation, knowing well the dangers of drinking alcohol in excess.

5The Boxing Champion

Beyond his many political achievements, Teddy Roosevelt was an avid boxer throughout his life. He kept a boxing gym in the White House and sparred with various aides and diplomats.

While he embraced vigorous physical activities as a means of fighting various health issues, he was occasionally injured. He reportedly lost sight in one eye due to a detached retina from a particularly intense boxing match with a military aide, proving that he truly embodied his maxim: Speak softly and carry a big stick.

6A Skinny-Dipping Habit

John Quincy Adams, the 6th President, had an unconventional daily routine. He was known for skinny-dipping in the cold waters of the Potomac River every morning, believing it invigorated both his body and mind. At the time, it wasn’t odd to bathe naked in a river, but his doctor wasn’t fully convinced of the health benefits of his peculiar practice. However, Adams staunchly defended his right to do so, and sometimes even invited family members or political acquaintances to join him in the Potomac.

7A Short Modeling Stint

Before entering politics, Gerald Ford left his mark in the fashion industry. In his late twenties, he worked as a model, even appearing on the cover of Cosmopolitan in 1942. Ford's modeling career was short-lived, as a few years later he would start campaigning in local Republican politics, but it adds an unexpected layer to the image of the 38th President.

8The Gifted Musician

Often remembered for his shortcomings — like the Watergate scandal — Richard Nixon had a hidden musical talent: playing the piano. Reportedly, he was an accomplished pianist, even performing with the likes of Pearl Bailey and Jack Benny. Behind his political mask, he was an intelligent and sensitive man, and while his musical abilities were overshadowed by his political career, it shows that there’s always more to a person than meets the eye.

9Presidential Polyglot

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd U.S. President and one of the most influential political figures in the history of our country, was known for being proficient in several languages, including French, Italian, Spanish, and German. He was interested in linguistics and studied ancient languages like Latin, Greek, and even Old English. Documents found posthumously in his library suggest that he was also interested in Arabic, Irish, and Welsh, but it is unknown how proficient he was in those languages.

10A Committed Life-saver

Before Ronald Reagan entered politics, he worked as a lifeguard, saving 77 lives during his seven summers on duty. He even saved a little girl from drowning while serving as Governor of California! Reagan's transition from lifeguard to Hollywood actor eventually paved the way for his political career, proving that even the most unexpected career paths can lead to the highest office.

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Allyn Maycumber

An accomplished veteran of the Orlando real estate market, Allyn Maycumber brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to his partnership with ERA Grizzard Real Estate. Buying and selling real estate i....

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