Politicians, even presidents are only human. Sure, some presidents were truly terrible people. But many presidents made honest mistakes and had completely normal flaws and fears. And occasionally, they unintentionally reminded their constituents that they are only human — sometimes endearingly so.
Let’s take a quick look at all the best times presidents reminded us they’re human, including one president who got arrested (No. 11). We’ll also take a look at Obama and Trump’s endearing moments.
1. George Washington made the shortest inaugural address ever
- 1st president of the United States
Some presidents have prepared lengthy inaugural addresses. That didn’t end so well for at least one commander in chief. William Henry Harrison’s record-setting speech may have been his undoing, since he took an hour and 45 minutes to deliver his speech and contracted a cold that developed into a fatal case of pneumonia. But Chegg reports that George Washington did the opposite, delivering the shortest inauguration speech on record. Washington’s address counted just 133 words and took less than two minutes to deliver.
Next: Even presidents get lost.
2. John Adams got lost on his way to Washington
- 2nd president of the United States
The Plain Dealer reports that after his election, John Adams and his family had to move to Washington. On the way, they got lost for several hours in the woods north of the city. The White House — or the President’s Mansion or President’s House, as it was called then — wasn’t yet completed. So Adams actually moved into Tunnicliffe’s City Hotel near the also half-finished Capitol building.
Next: This president swore by a weird method for preventing colds.
3. Thomas Jefferson believed in a strange cold remedy
- 3rd president of the United States
It seems that, like many of us, Thomas Jefferson would go to great lengths to ensure that he didn’t catch a cold or the flu. (Imagine trying to run a young nation while you dealt with the sniffles or an annoying cough!) Chegg reports that Jefferson became convinced that if he soaked his feet in a bucket of cold water each day, he would never get a cold. Interestingly enough, the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia reports that Jefferson proudly attributed his lack of common colds to his “habit of bathing my feet in cold water every morning, for sixty years past.”
Next: This president didn’t have an imposing stature.
4. James Madison was the shortest U.S. president
- 4th president of the United States
As much as U.S. presidents want to be imposing figures, they don’t exactly have control over their height. James Madison goes down in history as the shortest president ever at just 5 feet 4 inches tall. Chegg reports that Madison was also very slight. In fact, he never weighed more than 100 pounds. History reports that Madison’s contemporaries praised his intelligence. But they also noted his “small size and timid demeanor.” The wife of one Virginia politician even characterized him as “the most unsociable creature in existence.”
Next: This president had a notorious temper.
5. James Monroe chased his secretary of state away with a pair of hot fireplace tongs
- 5th president of the United States
Even presidents can have terrible tempers! As Chegg points out, James Monroe once chased his secretary of state out of the White House with a pair of hot fireplace tongs. Monroe’s temper numbers among the most unpresidential in the history of the American presidency. Monroe got caught up in many petty disputes and almost dueled Alexander Hamilton — another demonstration that he was merely human.
Next: This president loved skinny-dipping.
6. John Quincy Adams went skinny-dipping
- 6th president of the United States
Presidents enjoyed many different hobbies in their free time at the White House. One of the most entertaining? As Chegg reports, John Quincy Adams often went skinny-dipping in the Potomac, getting up at 5 a.m. to enjoy the swim before starting his day. Additionally, The Plain Dealer reports that Adams didn’t care at all about how he looked. And he supposedly wore the same hat for 10 years.
Next: This president didn’t believe scientists about a very basic fact.
7. Andrew Jackson believed the world was flat
- 7th president of the United States
The Plain Dealer reports that Andrew Jackson believed the world was flat. Contrary to what you might expect, the idea that the world was flat was never actually a widespread belief, according to Newsweek. Ancient Greeks and Romans accepted the knowledge of a spherical earth. All major medieval scholars regarded the Earth’s roundness as an established fact. Only 19th century writers misrepresented church fathers as believing in a flat Earth, perhaps influencing Jackson’s views on the matter.
Next: This president loved talking — and writing — about himself.
8. Martin Van Buren never mentioned his wife in his autobiography
- 8th president of the United States
Many of us enjoy talking about ourselves. But Martin Van Buren took that impulse to a new extreme. As The Plain Dealer reports, Van Buren wrote an autobiography in which he never mentioned his wife. Not even once! That might not be so bad if the autobiography had remained brief. But Van Buren really loved talking about himself and wrote a staggering 800 pages. But some have speculated that he left her out of the account because his grief after she died of tuberculosis.
Next: This president didn’t see the need for new clothes.
9. Zachary Taylor didn’t buy new clothes when he became president
- 12th president of the United States
The Plain Dealer reports that when Zachary Taylor moved to Washington to serve as president, he didn’t bother buying new clothes. Instead, he just continued wearing the same outfits that he’d worn for years while working on his farm. Plus, Racked reports that when Taylor commanded forces in the American invasion of Mexico, he didn’t bother with fringed epaulets or a bicorne hat. Instead, he “led the fighting in a dirty old coat and a sweet straw sombrero.”
Next: This president didn’t go to college and didn’t want an honorary degree.
10. Millard Fillmore refused to accept an honorary degree from Oxford
- 13th president of the United States
The Plain Dealer reports that Millard Fillmore refused to accept an honorary degree bestowed upon by the University of Oxford. His reason? The diploma was written in Latin. And Fillmore didn’t read Latin. He lacked a college education. And he reportedly said on the matter of the honorary degree, “I had not the advantage of a classical education and no man should, in my judgment, accept a degree he cannot read.”
Next: This president reportedly ran over an elderly woman in his carriage.
11. Franklin Pierce got arrested for a traffic violation — or not
- 14th president of the United States
The Plain Dealer reports that Franklin Pierce was once arrested — while serving as the president of the United States — for running down an elderly woman while driving his horse-drawn carriage. Interestingly enough, the charges against the president were later dropped. Mental Floss reports that some historians maintain that the story is likely completely false, considering that we have no surviving newspaper stories about the incident, or even personal correspondence that mentions it.
Next: This president became a licensed bartender.
12. Abraham Lincoln became a licensed bartender
- 16th president of the United States
Most presidents had their vices. Chegg reports that Abraham Lincoln remains the only U.S. president who was also a licensed bartender. The Vintage News reports that after serving in the Black Hawk War, Lincoln entered into a partnership with another young man to buy a general store in New Salem, Illinois. The law prohibited them from selling single drinks to consume at the store without a license. So they turned the store into a tavern, getting a $7 bartending license. They sold liquor for 12 cents a pint.
Next: This president loved cigars a little too much.
13. Ulysses S. Grant smoked way too many cigars
- 18th president of the United States
Even presidents struggle with addiction, substance abuse, and mental illness, too. One easy example? Ulysses S. Grant and his cigar habit. Chegg reports that Grant smoked at least 20 cigars a day. And after leading the Union Army to victory against the Confederacy, citizens sent him more than 10,000 cigars. Grant later died of throat cancer.
Next: This president worked to put himself through college.
14. James Garfield worked as a janitor to get through college
- 20th president of the United States
Not every president has come from a wealthy family who could pay his college tuition. As The Plain Dealer reports, James Garfield got a job as a janitor to pay his way through college. The Miller Center reports that Garfield entered Williams College in western Massachusetts at the age of 23, which made him one of the oldest students enrolled at the institution.
Next: This president owned 80 pairs of pants.
15. Chester A. Arthur loved clothing
- 21st president of the United States
Unlike some previous presidents, Chester Arthur seems to have taken great pride in his wardrobe. The Plain Dealer reports that Arthur owned about 80 pairs of pants. He reportedly changed them — and the rest of his outfit — several times per day. As Mental Floss notes, Arthur even wore a tuxedo to dinner. And while Arthur refused to hire a bodyguard to protect him during his presidency, “he did hire a valet who attended to his clothes and personal belongings.”
Next: This president personally answered the White House phone.
16. Grover Cleveland answered the White House phone himself
- 22nd president of the United States
Most presidents have left it up to their staff to answer the phones and screen their calls at the White House. But according to The Plain Dealer, Grover Cleveland would personally answer the phone at the White House. He reportedly numbers among the very first presidents to use the phone at the White House. That just wouldn’t fly today, when the president has a “secret” telephone number that only a very few people can even access.
Next: This president was afraid of light switches.
17. Benjamin Harrison was afraid of light switches
- 23rd president of the United States
As Gizmodo reports, Benjamin Harrison became the first president to install electric lighting at the White House. Yet he never touched the light switches himself “for fear of being electrocuted.” As Gizmodo notes, “This was a reasonable fear, given how crude household electric wiring could be at the time.” Harrison had his domestic staff operate the light switches for him.
Next: This president supposedly got stuck in his bathtub.
18. William Howard Taft got stuck in his bathtub — or not
- 27th president of the United States
Chegg reports that William Howard Taft weighed in at about 325 pounds and earned the nickname “Big Bill.” Taft goes down in history as the largest American president. And he often got stuck in the White House bathtub. Sometimes, he even had to call his advisors to pull him out. However, History reports that the story “doesn’t hold water.” The White House reportedly got a tub so large that even Taft couldn’t get stuck in it, installing a tub that was measured more than seven feet long and 41 inches wide, and weighed a literal ton.
Next: This president became the first to screen a movie at the White House.
19. Woodrow Wilson became the first president to show a movie at the White House
- 28th president of the United States
Chegg reports that Woodrow Wilson became the first president to show a movie at the White House, starting the long tradition of presidents screening movies at the White House (and later in the White House movie theater). But he didn’t do a great job choosing the movie for the inaugural screening. Wilson’s film of choice? The Birth of a Nation, which has since become the most-banned film in American history thanks to its sympathetic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan, plus its use of white actors in blackface.
Next: This president gambled away a White House china set.
20. Warren G. Harding became obsessed with poker
- 29th president of the United States
Even presidents can take their hobbies a little bit too far. Chegg reports that Warren G. Harding became obsessed with poker. He once bet an entire set of priceless White House china during a game — and lost the china. Nonetheless, Time still places Harding on the list of the most forgettable presidents. “He preferred poker, socializing and, it was said, womanizing to working,” the publication notes.
Next: Even presidents pull pranks.
21. Calvin Coolidge occasionally pranked his staff
- 30th president of the United States
Even occupants of the Oval Office need to have blow off some steam and pull pranks. Chegg reports that to prank his staff, Calvin Coolidge would press all the buttons on his desk, hide, and then watch his staff come running in. “He would then pop out from behind the door and say that he was just seeing if everyone was working,” Chegg explains. The Plain Dealer reports that Coolidge would also ring the doorbell at the White House and then hide.
Next: This president bent the rules during Prohibition.
22. Herbert Hoover skirted the rules of Prohibition
- 31st president of the United States
The Plain Dealer reports that during Prohibition, Herbert Hoover often visited the Belgian Embassy — and not for a diplomatic reason. The publication reports, “Because it was considered foreign soil, the embassy could serve cocktails.” Nonetheless, History reports that Hoover once referred to Prohibition as “the great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far reaching in purpose.”
Next: Even presidents go to great lengths to protect their children.
23. Harry S. Truman threatened a music critic who wrote a mean review about his daughter
- 33rd president of the United States
The Palin Dealer reports that Harry S. Truman once wrote a threatening letter to a Washington Post music critic who negatively reviewed a performance by Truman’s daughter. Truman wrote, “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”
Next: This president loved western movies.
24. Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoyed TV dinners
- 34th president of the United States
Even presidents have their guilty pleasures. As The Plain Dealer reports, Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly enjoyed eating a TV dinner while watching a Western movie. The New York Times notes that Eisenhower screened one example of the genre — 1952’s High Noon — no less than three times during his tenure at the White House. One journalist who saw Eisenhower watch the movie observed him “bent forward in genuine anxiety” and shouting “Run!” to the film’s protagonist.
Next: This president almost forgot to buy his wife a wedding ring.
25. Lyndon B. Johnson bought his wife’s wedding ring at Sears
- 36th president of the United States
Not everybody can afford a pricey engagement or wedding ring. That includes some U.S. presidents. As The Plain Dealer reports, Lyndon B. Johnson bought his wife a $2.50 ring at Sears. The couple decided to get married the day after his proposal. The New York Times reports that Johnson once recounted purchasing a wedding ring for his wife just before entering the church (Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio, Texas). “I was caught without a ring,” he said, “so I went across the street to Sears, Roebuck and got one.”
Next: This president made a fashion faux pas at his wedding.
26. Gerald Ford wore mismatched shoes to his own wedding
- 38th president of the United States
Another endearing piece of trivia related to presidents and their marriages? Gerald Ford wore mismatched shoes to his own wedding. As The Plain Dealer reports, he was wearing one brown shoe and one black shoe — a fashion statement that likely wasn’t intentional.
Next: This president said he saw a UFO.
27. Jimmy Carter thought he saw a UFO
- 39th president of the United States
According to Chegg, Jimmy Carter is the only U.S. president to go on record saying that he’d seen a UFO. As Politico reports, Carter asserted that he had witnessed an unidentified flying object in 1969. Carter said that the object was self-luminous and about as bright as a full moon. He also said that about 10 people saw it, and that it remained visible for around 10 minutes. When he shared the experience, he was serving as Georgia’s governor. And he went on to become the president only a few years afterward.
Next: Even some presidents don’t want to eat their vegetables.
28. George H.W. Bush said he would stop eating broccoli
- 41st president of the United States
The Plain Dealer reports that George H.W. Bush once declared that he would no longer eat broccoli (likely to the approval of vegetable-hating children across the nation). As The New York Times noted, Bush said that he never wanted to see another sprig of broccoli on his plate, whether he was on Air Force One, at the White House, or anywhere else. “I do not like broccoli,” he explained. “And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!”
Next: This president collected comic books.
29. Barack Obama collected comic books
- 44th president of the United States
The Plain Dealer reports that collected “Spider-Man” and “Conan the Barbarian” comic books. Obama once wrote of his hobby, “I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman. Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story — the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”
Next: Donald Trump proved himself exactly like many Americans in this regard.
30. Donald Trump asked the White House to replicate his favorite McDonald’s meal
- 45th president of the United States
Whether you love Donald Trump or hate him — or love fast food or hate it — you have to admit one thing: There’s nothing more American than McDonald’s and KFC. Trump famously eats a diet that’s very different from Barack Obama’s, with a healthy (or not-so-healthy) dose of fast food. Like many other Americans, Trump loves McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King. And he’s even asked the White House kitchen to replicate one of his favorite fast food meals: a McDonald’s quarter-pounder with cheese, no pickles, and extra ketchup, plus a fried apple pie for dessert.
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