Which president was drunk at his own inauguration? Who was on the cover of Cosmo before being sworn in as the leader of the Free World? And which Founding Father was also secretly a frequent skinny dipper in the Potomac?
These were some of the most powerful men in the history of the world. They were revolutionaries; leaving behind legendary legacies for generations. And they did some crazy $#!% behind the scenes in the Oval Office.
You’ve heard the stories of Honest Abe and George Washington’s cherry tree. You also probably know that Bill Clinton tried weed in college, and that JFK was a notorious playboy with the likes of Hollywood bombshell Marilyn Monroe and actress/stripper Blaze Starr in his little black book. But here are the 10 most bizarre things U.S. Presidents did, that more than likely didn’t make it into the high school history books.
10 John Quincy Adams loved skinny dipping
In 1825, a presidential spa day or dip in a hot tub just wasn’t an option. So instead, John Quincy Adams took advantage of the river in his backyard (the Potomac) by going for a swim – fully nude – every morning at 5:00 AM.
Letting it all hang out in the backyard of the White House apparently caught on – another president known for his “big stick” carried on Adams’ presidential tradition of skinny dipping in the Potomac more than 75 years later. That was Theodore Roosevelt. And with the Secret Service keeping an eye on the clothes, who’s to say other, very recent leaders also haven’t indulged in a little early-morning swim in the nude?
9 Lyndon B. Johnson named his penis “Jumbo,” blamed it for the Vietnam War
JKF’s successor in the Oval Office is widely known for escalating the conflict in Vietnam, and also for escalating the sexual tension in the White House.
In addition to his flagrant womanizing – often right in front of his wife – Johnson reportedly named his body part bearing the same name “Jumbo,” and often whipped it out to end arguments in the White House, his go-to comeback being, “Have you ever seen anything bigger than this?”
At the height of the Vietnam War, a Cabinet member asked Johnson in a heated meeting why the United States had entered Vietnam in the first place. We'll let you deduce how he responded. (Needless to say, the meeting was adjourned.)
8 Warren Harding gambled – and lost – the White House china collection in a poker game
Once in a poker game with friends in the Presidential Mansion, Harding gambled away Benjamin Harrison’s antique china set in one hand. During his term, he also used to attempt (unsuccessfully) to sneak out at night to catch burlesque shows and frequently had rendezvous with his mistress in a White House closet.
His two years in office are often voted unanimously by historians as the worst presidential term in U.S. history. His official cause of death in 1923 was a stroke, but it’s also rumored that his wife poisoned him over breakfast to help save him from the disgrace of his scandalous, incompetent presidency.
7 Gerald Ford was on the cover of Cosmo
Before becoming President of the United States in 1974, Gerald Ford earned his pocket money as a 1940s male model. His biggest claim to fame was the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine, kissing his then-girlfriend (who would later be known as First Lady Betty Ford) in his Navy whites.
Just imagine – if this blonde, blue-eyed hunk went from posing for Cosmo to leading the Free World in just 30 years, who could our generation’s Gerald Ford be? #JustinTimberlake2036
6 Ulysses S. Grant Got a Speeding Ticket... On a Horse.
Early in his presidency, the former General preferred to drive his own horse and buggy rather than be chauffeured around D.C. However, he had some difficulty adjusting between the high speeds of war and the slower bustle of traffic in town.
While driving his horse-drawn coach down Main Street in the nation’s capitol, the President of the United States was pulled over by a police officer. According to records, he was traveling so fast that the officer had to grab onto the horse’s bridle for half a block before the coach came to a complete stop. Upon discovering who the speeding driver was, the officer immediately offered to ignore the infraction, but Grant refused. He paid a $5 fine, allowed his coach to be impounded and walked home to the White House.
5 Thomas Jefferson had two pet bears.
In 1807, Captain Zebulon Pike (of Pike’s Expedition, the Louisiana territory) sent a letter to President Jefferson detailing his exploration so far. The most notable feature of his correspondence? It happened to arrive with two small grizzly bear cubs.
According to historians, Pike acquired the bears from a Native American in his travels and designated them the perfect souvenirs for the President. Maybe he didn’t realize that grizzly bears grow up to be dangerous, carnivorous creatures? Nope. In the letter, Pike explained his gift to the White House as “the most ferocious animals on the continent.”
Jefferson kept the bears (a boy and a girl) in a cage on the White House lawn until they were too big and posed a threat to visitors. He then donated them to a museum of natural history, describing them to their new owner as “perfectly gentle” and “quite well humored.”
What ever happened to Jefferson’s bears? They lived happily with their new owner for several years, until one eventually escaped and was shot in the museum kitchen. Both were later stuffed, mounted and put on display for future visitors.
4 Abraham Lincoln won a shirtless wrestling match
When you picture Abraham Lincoln, you probably imagine a tall, poised President with a top hat and finely groomed beard. But the truth is, before he was the most powerful man in the Free World, Honest Abe was just another farm boy from Illinois.
Working as a clerk in the small town of Clary’s Grove, young Lincoln was the subject of a bet between his boss and a customer. For $10, a couple of drinks and even some townsfolk’s’ trinkets and knives, Honest Abe stripped down to his knickers and wrestled. Being 6’4 and quite a brawny young man, he easily defeated his opponent, won the hearts of the town and the American Presidency*.
*Correction: Historians agree that Lincoln later won the presidency through a general election, NOT this shirtless wrestling match.
3 Martin Van Buren invented the term “OK”
Have you ever really thought about how two letters in the alphabet could have such a big meaning? And the seemingly random term has also spawned such classics as “A-OK!” and “Okey-doke.” So, where did this kindergarten favorite come from?
Unfortunately, but appropriately, the story is just, “OK.” In 1840, Martin Van Buren was running for President. Rather than slap a hard-to-read (and more importantly, Dutch) name on stickers and flyers, his campaign came up with the slogan, “Vote for O.K.” – “O.K.” being a shortened version of Van Buren’s nickname, Old Kinderhook (his place of birth).
Groups supporting Van Buren’s campaign became known as “O.K. Clubs.” Subsequently, and rather anticlimactically, the term became widely accepted as the phrase we know and love today.
2 John Adams had a dog named Satan.
Fun fact: John Adams was the second president, but the first to live in the White House.
More fun fact: John Adams had a dog named Satan and a horse named Cleopatra.
Actually, Satan belonged to First Lady Abigail Adams. There’s not much else that’s been documented about these Presidential pets, other than their great names, but we like to imagine Satan as a perfectly groomed Pomeranian.
1 1.Andrew Johnson was drunk at his own inauguration
Though it was the first step in his tragic rise to the Presidency, Andrew Johnson’s vice presidency got off to a rough start. After a night of partying at his friend (the Secretary of the Senate)’s house, Johnson arrived at the Capitol early the next morning too hungover to stand up straight. He treated his ailment as any champ would – he downed two more tumblers of whiskey in the Senate chamber.
The swearing-in went about as you'd expect – Johnson delivered a few awkward minutes of slurred, nonsensical speech before finally shutting up, taking his presidential oath of office, kissing the Bible and moving on. He attempted to remain a part of the ceremony by swearing in new Senators but quickly became so disoriented and confused he had to turn the job over to someone else.
One Senator described the event in a letter to his wife: “The inauguration went off very well, except that the Vice President elect was too drunk to perform his duties and disgraced himself…I was never so mortified in my life.”