You might know him as the man who “Walked softly and carried a big stick”, but the once shy and sickly Roosevelt – he wasn’t supposed to live into his teens – lived a life to rival the boundless pursuits and accomplishments of founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson. Want to learn more about the remarkable 26th President? Read on.
- He was blind in one eye
An avid boxer during his Harvard days, even while in office he enjoyed rousing bouts with visitors and friends. A solid punch by a young army officer burst blood vessels in his left eye that left him nearly blind. After that he said that boxing was for “Younger, better sighted men.”
- His brother was an alcoholic
Teddy and his older brother Elliot were fast friends all their lives, but after they lost their mother – and Teddy his wife – Teddy went west to heal. While he was away Elliot married the love of his life, only for them to become separated due to his drinking problem. Some time after his return, Teddy was forced to institutionalize his brother, where he died. The loving brother then adopted his two nieces, whose mother had previously died. The name of one of those nieces? Eleanor.
- He and his second wife were childhood playmates
Edith Kermit Carrow and Theodore were friends since they were little, and it was assumed that he would marry her when they came of age. However, a few years before she assumed they would be married (according to her diary) Roosevelt fell for a lovely woman he met while at college, an Alice Hathaway Lee, whom he married soon after meeting. Edith was heartbroken. Alice died after only four years of marriage the day after their daughter, her namesake was born. A bordering suicidal and grieving Teddy left for the Wild West and three years later married Edith in secret, wanting to avoid his families (especially his big sister’s) opinion on the matter.
- He first gained publicity as a historian
Roosevelt’s first book was published at the ripe old age of 23. It was entitled The Naval History of the War of 1812, and earned him prestige as a historian. He would go on to write multiple volumes on military and American history including a four-volume account “The Winning of the West.” A true bibliophile, he wrote over 38 books during the course of his lifetime including an autobiography.
- He wasn’t supposed to live into adulthood
A severe asthmatic, his father often had to drive around the neighborhood with the future president standing through the sunroof so he could breathe. Doctors warned his family to neither expect him to live long nor to be able to accomplish much in what they assumed to be his short life span. Roosevelt replied that he would “..do everything [doctor] you tell me not to do.” By staying active and constantly strengthening himself through various exercises he grew out of his asthma and became a boxing champion in college, not to mention an avid hunter and climbing the Matterhorn while on his honeymoon. So much for doctor’s orders!
- He was homeschooled
Due to his chronically sickly state as a child, he could not attend school, and so was tutored and taught by his mother, father, and a hired tutor for much of his childhood. Once he was done with his studies, he would disappear into the woods to collect and catalog specimens of every kind of creepy crawly which he would keep in his room. Once graduating from boarding school (for high school) he went to Harvard, where he graduated with honors after studying everything from zoology to German. So much for the unsocialized homeschooler myth!
- He helped furnish the Smithsonian
After leaving the Presidency, he and his wife went on a months long African safari trip, where Roosevelt went hunting. He donated many of his prizes to the Smithsonian upon his return, and many are still in the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D. C.
- Upton SInclair’s The Jungle made him create some of America’s first food safety laws
Upton Sinclair’s eponymous expose of the meatpacking industry’s inhumane treatment of its workers was read by the President with utter horror. He immediately ordered an investigation of the meatpacking industry and within months Congress had passed The Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act at Roosevelt’s urging. Sinclair was actually rather disappointed in the result, as his goal had been to improve the worker’s lot, not so much meat quality, and reportedly quipped “I aimed for the public’s heart and by accident hit them in the stomach.”
- He had the first black man to dinner in the White House
Booker T. Washington, a former slave and founder of Tuskegee University, was good friends with Theodore Roosevelt and was invited to dinner. While other African-American confidants had been invited to the White House, but none of them had been invited to a meal – it was 1901 and segregation was a law on the books. The South replied by refusing that the meal had ever happened, but Roosevelt cared little what everybody thought.
- He wanted to keep America a world power
Roosevelt was always looking ahead to see how his actions could benefit future generations as well as the present, often in areas where other countries had failed or many Americans saw absolutely no point or reason. Although France had lost thousands of lives to malaria and yellow fever in the Central American country of Panama attempting to build a canal that would allow for faster and easier passage from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans, Roosevelt believed that the project could be completed. He sent doctors to the area to kill any places mosquitoes might breed, then brought in the best engineers and finished construction in nine years with minimal casualties. Roosevelt also prized nature, and set aside massive tracts of land to be preserved as National Parks and places of interest, including the Grand Canyon.