Presidents deal with a truly grueling job when they move into the Oval Office. But they have to find some way of dealing with the loneliest job in the world. So, many of them have found some unique ways to pass their free time while living at the White House. Some did a lot of reading and writing. Others went hunting or fishing. Still others played golf. But many presidents took up more unique hobbies to occupy their downtime when they weren’t busy running the country.
Read on to discover the most unique hobbies that American presidents have enjoyed at the White House.
1. George Washington enjoyed dancing
- First president of the United States
Dancing was a key part of 18th century social life, and George Washington was known as an excellent dancer. As the Mount Vernon website reports, “For George Washington and others, dance was refined flirtation — a means for Virginia’s men to express their adoration and interest in ornately attired women – the loveliest of Southern Belles.” As a young officer, Washington gained a reputation as a skilled dancer. He also danced on several occasions during the American Revolution, and was still doing minuets into his 60s.
Next: Thomas Jefferson had one of the lesser-known hobbies in the White House.
2. Thomas Jefferson played archaeologist
- Third president of the United States
Atlas Obscura reports that for most of his life, Thomas Jefferson was obsessed with mammoths — or, more accurately, with American mastodons, the tree-chewing cousins of mammoths. Jefferson “liked theorizing about mammoths, he liked talking about mammoths, he liked making his friends rack up exorbitant postage bills in order to mail him mammoth teeth.” Jefferson even procured a mastodon skeleton — and “spent his downtime puzzling the bones together on the floor of the White House.”
Next: John Quincy Adams dabbled in several hobbies, but this is the most outlandish.
3. John Quincy Adams got into herpetoculture
- Sixth president of the United States
Keeping pets at the White House is hardly uncommon. Typically, it wouldn’t make the list of unusual hobbies. But we’ll make an exception for John Quincy Adams, who dabbled in herpetoculture, or keeping reptiles and amphibians in captivity. As the Presidential Pet Museum explains, Adams kept an alligator “in the White House’s unfinished East Room and its nearby bathtub.” The president supposedly even enjoyed showing off the animal to incredulous White House visitors.
Next: Andrew Jackson had one of the most violent hobbies.
4. Andrew Jackson loved dueling
- Seventh president of the United States
Here’s one of the more violent hobbies that U.S. presidents have enjoyed. Mental Floss reports that Andrew Jackson enjoyed dueling. He reportedly competed in about 100 duels of honor, “the old-fashioned variety, where sometimes men fired their pistols into the air and sometimes they didn’t.” A few of Jackson’s duels involved near-death experiences, such as one during which “he was shot squarely in the chest. Normally, that sort of thing would signal the end of a duel, but Jackson simply staunched the wound with a handkerchief, and then shot and killed his opponent.”
Next: Millard Fillmore went to great lengths for his hobby.
5. Millard Fillmore loved reading
- 13th president of the United States
Reading, on its own, probably doesn’t qualify as one of the most unique hobbies. But what was really unique about Millard Fillmore’s affinity for books was the lengths to which he’d go to protect them. History reports that Fillmore’s father reportedly owned just three books: a Bible, a hymnbook, and an almanac. Despite that, the younger Fillmore became a bibliophile. He even carried a dictionary with him “at all times in order to improve his vocabulary.” Word has it that as president, Fillmore “raced to help fight a December 1851 blaze at the Library of Congress and then signed a bill to fund the replacement of all the books that had been destroyed.”
Next: Few people know about Abraham Lincoln’s surprising hobby.
6. Abraham Lincoln became a skilled wrestler
- 16th president of the United States
Abraham Lincoln didn’t technically enjoy this hobby during his time in the White House. But it’s too interesting to leave off the list. Sports Illustrated characterizes Lincoln as “a skilled wrestler and world-class trash talker.” Historians find only one recorded defeat of Lincoln in 12 years of matches. Lincoln stopped wrestling before he assumed office. But as Sports Illustrated notes, he “was neither the first nor last president to enjoy success in the wrestling arena.” George Washington was an “accomplished grappler,” while William Taft became a two-time undergraduate champion at Yale. Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester Arthur, and Theodore Roosevelt also wrestled.
Next: Theodore Roosevelt had several athletic hobbies.
7. Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed walking on stilts
- 26th president of the United States
Theodore Roosevelt and his family enjoyed one of the most unique hobbies in White House history when Roosevelt assumed office. Vanity Fair reports that Roosevelt could walk on stilts. And each member of the Roosevelt family reportedly owned a pair of wooden stilts, which they even used around the White House. Vanity Fair reports that Roosevelt probably makes the list of the most athletic presidents, since he had a tennis court built at the White House, jogged regularly around the Washington Monument, hosted a boxing match at the White House, and even fought a professional boxer.
Next: Calvin Coolidge became known for this hobby. But we’d argue it wasn’t a hobby at all.
8. Calvin Coolidge took lots of naps
- 30th president of the United States
Some presidential hobbies are fun to joke about. But not all of these so-called hobbies reflected how presidents truly wanted to spend their time. One example? Calvin Coolidge, who The Atlantic reports fell into a deep depression after the death of his son. One symptom of depression? Sleeping too much or too little. “A heavy sleeper before, after Calvin’s death Coolidge slept even more. He went to bed at 10, rose at 9 or, if earlier, took a nap before lunch. He napped between two and four hours every afternoon.” Before his son’s death, Coolidge answered White House reporters’ questions so thoroughly that he was praised as “more communicative than any man, with the possible exception of Theodore Roosevelt, who ever sat in the White House.” Afterward, Coolidge came to be known as Silent Cal.”
Next: Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed this hobby throughout his life.
9. Franklin D. Roosevelt collected stamps
- 32nd president of the United States
Stamp collecting may not have been one of the most unique hobbies in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s day, but it does seem relatively uncommon among presidents. The Postal Museum reports that as a child, Roosevelt looked to stamps “for knowledge about the world.” But he didn’t leave the pastime behind as an adult. “Throughout his entire life, including his presidency, he spent time each day with his collection,” the museum notes. “During the 1930s, he and Postmaster General James A. Farley enthusiastically brainstormed over stamp designs, colors, and themes. Roosevelt actually sketched numerous ideas for stamp designs.”
Next: Harry S. Truman also enjoyed a lifelong hobby.
10. Harry S. Truman played the piano
- 33rd president of the United State
You may have seen a photo of Harry S. Truman playing the piano for Lauren Bacall. But what you may not realize is that Truman truly loved to play the piano. According to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Truman would get up at 5 a.m. as a child to practice piano for two hours. And as an adult, “music remained his first passion after politics,” the library explains. Truman “often said that if he had been a good pianist, he never would have become President. ‘I missed being a musician,’ he said, ‘and the real and only reason I missed being one is because I wasn’t good enough.'”
Next: John F. Kennedy’s pastime probably numbers among the most famous presidential hobbies.
11. John F. Kennedy loved sailing
- 35th president of the United States
John F. Kennedy’s love of sailing may be one of the best-known presidential hobbies. The New York Times reports that Kennedy began sailing in his youth, at the encouragement of his father. As World War II approached, he became interested in joining the Navy because he had “spent a lot of time in boats.” He continued sailing later, when he began his career in politics, and even “allowed sailing to become an important part of his political image.” Kennedy surrounded himself with ship models and naval prints when he became president. He used sailing to escape the pressures of the presidency. And he once famously said, “When we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came.”
Next: Lyndon B. Johnson enjoyed this strange hobby.
12. Lyndon B. Johnson enjoyed driving an amphibious car
- 36th president of the United States
Business Insider reports that among his friends, Lyndon B. Johnson became notorious for pranking unsuspecting visitors to his Texas ranch with his Amphicar. The Amphicar was the only civilian amphibious car ever mass-produced. So to most people, it just looked like a regular car. Even as president, Johnson would offer to drive visitors around his ranch. He’d proceed by “barrelling the vehicle down a hill into a lake and exclaiming to his passengers that the brakes had malfunctioned, while they had no idea the car was designed to float in water.”
Next: Richard Nixon loved this sport.
13. Richard Nixon loved bowling
- 37th president of the United States
Several sports have numbered among popular presidential hobbies. But Richard Nixon was partial to bowling — so much so that he installed a one-lane bowling alley under the North Portico of the White House residence. (As Politico reports, Harry S. Truman had already had a two-lane bowling alley built in the basement of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.) As The White House Historical Association reports, Nixon had the one-lane bowling built in 1969. Nixon reportedly spent many late nights bowling alone — and awkwardly, wearing a tie. The New York Times notes that when Nixon was president, this joke made the rounds in Washington:
“I shot a 128 today,” Nixon announces.
“Your golf game is getting better,” Henry Kissinger tells him.
“I was bowling, Henry.”
Next: Bill Clinton made headlines by sharing this hobby.
14. Bill Clinton played the tenor saxophone
- 42nd president of the United States
One of the most unique hobbies that a president has brought to the White House? The tenor saxophone. TV Insider reports that in 1992, then-presidential-hopeful Bill Clinton “booked a groundbreaking appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, to chat with the host and wail on his sax for soulful renditions of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘God Bless The Child.'” Clinton had played the instrument in high school, and at the time practiced as much as four hours a day. And Michael Wolff, musical director for The Arsenio Hall Show, said of the president’s playing, “He wasn’t great, but he was good.”
Next: George W. Bush didn’t take up this hobby until after his presidency.
15. George W. Bush enjoys painting
- 43rd president of the United States
Painting doesn’t really number among the most unusual hobbies, but George W. Bush’s enthusiasm for the pastime is still notable. Artsy reports that Bush began learning to paint in 2012, a few years after leaving office. “In 2013, when Bush’s initial forays into painting were revealed via an email hack, his practice was suddenly thrust into the spotlight,” Artsy explains. “These early works, including bizarre self-portraits of Bush in the bathtub and shower, spawned countless articles questioning the former president’s new hobby.” But later works, including portraits of world leaders and portraits of American military veterans, met with more approval, including from young Americans.
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