10 Presidential Firsts (or Onlys)

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A Brief History

On May 22, 1849, future president of the United States Abraham Lincoln was granted a patent for a device to raise boats over obstacles in a river.  He is the first and only president to have been awarded a patent.  Here we list 10 unique and interesting things done or about a president for the first or only time so far.  What firsts would you like to see from a president?

Digging Deeper

10. None.

Presidents have served in the Army, Navy and Air Force (George W. Bush, Air National Guard), but so far we have had none that was a veteran of the Marine Corps!  Obviously, this caliber of man (or woman) is exactly what our country needs.  Ponder on that one while you read the next 9 on the list.  Note: We did not have a Navy veteran president until Kennedy in 1961 (followed by Nixon, Carter and George H.W. Bush).

9.  Barack Obama, 2009.

First president with a parent born in a foreign country (Kenya).  First president with a mother named Stanley, too! His parents were both openly atheistic, probably another first.  And do not forget, Obama is the first president born in Hawaii.  Obama is also the first bi-racial US president.

8.  Andrew Johnson, 1868.

First president to be impeached.  He was not convicted, nor was the only other president to be impeached, Bill Clinton in 1998.  Johnson was a Democrat chosen by the Republican Lincoln as his vice president as a show of unity to the country, but when Lincoln died the Republicans in the administration and Congress could not wait to try to get rid of Johnson.

7.  William Henry Harrison, 1841.

Our ninth president died on his 32nd day in office, making him the first president to die in office and the president with the shortest term.  He was also the first of 8 presidents from Ohio.  His vice president, John Tyler, became the first vice president to ascend to the presidency upon the death of a president.

6.  John Quincy Adams, 1825.

When John Q. was inaugurated he became the first son of a former president to also hold the office.  This distinction was matched when George W. Bush took office in 2001.

5.  Abraham Lincoln, 1861.

Our first atheist president.  We know this fact because Lincoln composed a letter explaining his atheism but was heatedly talked out of publishing it by advisers.

4.  Travel Firsts.

James Monroe was the first to ride on a steam boat, Andrew Jackson was the first to ride on a railroad train, and then there is Teddy Roosevelt.  Old Rough and Ready was the first to dive in a submarine (Truman was first in a modern sub, Eisenhower was first in an atomic powered sub), the first to ride in an automobile and the first to fly in an airplane (although FDR was the first to fly while still in office). TR was also the first president to travel outside of the US on official business, and Woodrow Wilson was the first to cross the Atlantic while in office.  Franklin Roosevelt was also the first president to visit the Panama Canal while in office, the first to ride on a diesel powered train, and the first to travel outside of the US during wartime.  Nixon was the first to visit China while in office and Ford was the first to visit Japan while in office.  Johnson was the first to ride to his inauguration in an armored automobile.

3.  James Buchanan, 1857.

The first lifelong bachelor president, he never married.  Many scholars believe he may have also been our first gay president.  His niece, Harriet Lane, served as First Lady during his term.  His nickname, Doughface, may be a clue as to why he never married!

2.  Bill Clinton, 1993.

Clinton is the first and only president to have been a Rhodes Scholar, perhaps the highest award a college student can receive upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree.  Clinton was also referred to as the “first black president” prior to the election of Barack Obama due to his political policies that closely mirrored the African-American political agenda.

1.  Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932-1945.

FDR was the first and only president elected to more than 2 terms, having been elected 4 times.  He served just over 12 years before dying just as his fourth term began.  Law now prohibits presidents from serving more than 2 terms.  He was also the first crippled president that could not walk without assistance, due to the effects of polio.  He usually went about in a wheel chair when out of public sight.

Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Lederer, Richard.  Presidential Trivia Revised and Updated: The Feats, Fates, Families, Foibles, and Firsts of Our American Presidents.  Gibbs Smith, 2009.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.