Presidential history is full of fascinating facts

February 11, 2005|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

What number president is George W. Bush?

If you watched any of the inaugural festivities, you probably heard the number several times, but it has been a few weeks since then. Perhaps you heard it during the State of the Union address commentaries: "The _ _ President of the United States."

Was it 39th? 40th? 43rd? 46th? 50th? 52nd?

We should all know after hearing it for the last four years - the number doesn't change when a president is re-elected, of course - but most of us let facts like that slide in one ear and out the other.

Why should we care that George W. Bush is the 43rd president of the United States? What difference does the number make? If you're in elementary school or the parent of an elementary school student, at some point you'll be memorizing a list of the 43 presidents, along with some fascinating facts about their presidencies.


And since this is February, the month we honor presidents with a holiday, what better time to start than now?

First things first. The word "president" comes from the Latin praesidens, which means to preside, to hold a high position of authority.

Over the centuries, there has been a variety of personas in this position. How much do you remember from U.S. History class? See if you can name these presidents:

1. This president made one of the greatest land deals in history. For $15 million, he doubled the size of the United States virtually overnight.

2. A writer described this president as a "withered little apple."

3. This president was nicknamed "Old Hickory" because he had a reputation for being as tough as the hard wood of a hickory tree.

4. This president was shot in 1881 while he was at a Washington, D.C., railroad station.

5. This president was called the Little Magician because of his great political skill.

6. While in the White House, this widowed president had fresh flowers placed by his wife's photograph every day.

7. This president weighed more than 300 pounds.

8. This president wasted few words. Once at a dinner party, a woman said she bet she could get him to say more than three words. His response? "You lose."

9. This president's father told him that only "knaves" - dishonest men - entered politics.

10. He was the third president to be assassinated.

11. Which president said, "History, after all, is the memory of a nation."

12. Who was the only unmarried president?

13. Who was the first president born outside the original 13 states?

14. He was known for "big-stick diplomacy" because he believed a person should "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

15. This president gained fame as the general who led the Union to victory in the Civil War.

16. This president's wife was the first First Lady to hold a college degree.

17. This president was nicknamed "Old Man Eloquent" for his speeches.

18. Which president wrote a book about fishing?

19. This president promised Americans a "New Deal."

20. A military family, this president and first lady moved their household at least 27 times prior to their stay at the White House.


1. Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase

2. James Madison, who was 5 feet, 6 inches tall and only weighed 130 pounds

3. Andrew Jackson

4. James A. Garfield

5. Martin Van Buren

6. Chester A. Arthur, whose wife, Ellen "Nell" Herndon Arthur, died less than two years before her husband became president.

7. William H. Taft

8. Calvin Coolidge

9. Benjamin Harrison

10. William McKinley

11. John F. Kennedy

12. James Buchanan

13. Abraham Lincoln

14. Theodore Roosevelt

15. Ulysses S. Grant

16. Rutherford B. Hayes, whose wife, Lucy Ware Webb Hayes, was nicknamed "Lemonade Lucy" because she refused to allow alcohol at the White House.

17. John Quincy Adams

18. Herbert Hoover

19. Franklin D. Roosevelt

20. Dwight D. and Mamie Eisenhower, who lived in the White House for eight years - the longest they had stayed in one place up to that time.

Want to know more about the presidents? Check out these books:

· "First Facts About the Presidents" by Elaine Pascoe

· "Ask Me Anything About the Presidents" by Louis Phillips

· "Dealey Plaza National Historic Landmark" by Conover Hunt (about the Kennedy assassination)

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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