A Brief History
On November 9, 2016, Donald John Trump, New York real estate mogul and television star, was verified as the winner of the 2016 US Presidential election. We have previously acknowledged “10 Presidential Firsts” and “10 Presidential Firsts That Have Yet to Happen” and today we continue this theme by naming 7 instances when we last had a President that had some particular distinction or another, not necessarily the first or the only President ever to lay claim to that accomplishment or trait or distinction.
Last non-college graduate.
The last time we had a President without being able to boast of a college degree was Harry S Truman (1945-1953). Truman also has the distinction of having a middle name that is merely the letter “S,” with no period after it and standing for no particular name. Apparently his parents thought he should have a middle initial but did not go a step further and give him a middle name!
Last combat veteran.
While 24 of our Commanders in Chief have prior service in our military in combat, another 12 of our top executives have had no military experience at all. Our last President to have served in actual combat was George HW Bush, a Navy pilot that flew in combat during World War II and was almost killed in 1944 when his TBM Avenger torpedo bomber was shot down by the Japanese, forcing him to parachute into the ocean. The future President was rescued by an American submarine, the USS Finback, but his radio man and his rear gunner were killed. Bush was commissioned as an ensign Naval Aviator before he even turned 19 years old! Democratic candidates for the 2020 Presidential election include Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard, both veterans of the War on Terror.
(Bizarre note: President Trump has previously stated in an interview with Howard Stern that “It’s amazing, I can’t even believe it. I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world, it is a dangerous world out there. It’s like Vietnam, sort of. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave solider.” He was talking about dating and having sex! He also referred to women’s vaginas as “potential landmines.” Yeah, for real…)
James Buchannan remains distinct as our only President to have never married and serving his entire term (1857-1861) as a bachelor. He was not, however, our last President to take office as a bachelor, as that distinction belongs to Grover Cleveland (2 terms, 1885-1889 and 1893-1897) who was elected as a bachelor and got married while President in 1886. In fact, the Cleveland wedding took place in the White House, the only one of the 18 weddings that have taken place in the White House that included a serving President as a main party to the wedding. Cleveland also has the distinction of being the only US President to serve non-consecutive terms. Trivia: Grover Cleveland’s real first name was Stephen. For that matter, Woodrow Wilson’s real first name was Thomas. (Did you know these trivial facts?)
Last to sport a mustache or beard.
While beards and mustaches have made a fashion comeback in recent years, we have to go all the way back to William Howard Taft (1909-1913) to find a President that wore facial hair, in this case, a mustache. Ah, but there is a bit of a fly in this particular ointment! During a vacation in November of 1948, President Harry S Truman grew a bit of a mustache and a goatee, though he shaved before returning to the White House. This author was unable to find a photo of Truman with the alleged facial hair, so you decide if you want to count Taft or Truman as the last President with facial hair. (Sideburns not included.)
John F. Kennedy was our only Catholic President and is the last American head honcho to not claim a Protestant Christian faith. In the 2020 Presidential primary race for the Democratic nomination we have Jewish candidates Bernie Sanders and Michelle Williamson and a Hindu candidate, Tulsi Gabbard. Former Vice President, Joe Biden, is a practicing Roman Catholic, and as the front runner for the Democratic nomination he stands a reasonable chance to become the second Catholic President and once again break the string of Protestant Presidents. (Note: There are some technical differences between merely being a non-Catholic Christian and actually being a Protestant, but for these purposes we are grouping non-Catholic Christians in the Protestant fold.)
The United States has had 2 Quaker Presidents, Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) and Richard Nixon (1969-1974). Unfortunately, both men left office under serious clouds, Hoover with the crushing Great Depression marring his term in office and Nixon being forced to resign due to the Watergate scandal. (Did you even know we had any Quaker Presidents?)
Last less than 6 feet tall.
Of our 45 Presidents, 19 have claimed a height of at least 6 feet, topped by Abraham Lincoln who towered 6 feet 4 inches above the Earth. The last President not to have attained the milestone height of 6 feet was George W. Bush (2001-2009) who just barely missed by a mere half inch. Taft, Hoover and Nixon also missed the 6 foot mark by only a half inch. (Note: Some sites vary by a half inch on the various Presidential heights.)
Question for students (and subscribers): Which of these bits of trivia are the most surprising to you? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Beschloss, Michael. Presidents of War: The Epic Story, from 1807 to Modern Times. Crown, 2018.
Matuz, Roger. The Presidents Fact Book: The Achievements, Campaigns, Events, Triumphs, and Legacies of Every President. Black Dog & Leventhal, 2016.
Moore, Kathryn. The American President: A Complete History. Sterling, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Pete Souza (1954–) of outgoing President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016, is a work of an employee of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, it is in the public domain. This image was originally posted to Flickr by quapan at https://flickr.com/photos/9361468@N05/31196987133. It was reviewed on by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.