Theodore Roosevelt: A Life Of Unique Leadership And Heroism

Although Theodore Roosevelt may best be remembered as the 26th President of the United States, serving from 1901 to 1909, his life was far more than his two terms in office. He was an intellectual, adventurer, conversationalist, naturalist, and more. His face is one of the four featured on Mount Rushmore for a reason considering everything he did for the country both in and outside of the presidential office. Thought of as one of the top five presidents to ever lead the United States, see what made him such an American icon and what separated him from most of those who ever earned the title of president.

He Was A Little Rough Around The Edges When Attending Harvard

Roosevelt in athletic wear
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Known for being enthusiastic in his ideals, a young Theodore Roosevelt began attending Harvard in the fall of 1876. However, he was a little more rowdy than many of his other tame peers.

In the middle of heated discussions, he was known to clap his hands together to make a point or yell across the grass to get other student’s attention. Nevertheless, he still had plenty of friends through athletics and was an above-par student, graduating 21 out of 161 students.

He Was Dedicated To Improving The Safety Of Food For Americans

Political cartoon of Roosevelt
Stock Montage/Getty Images
Stock Montage/Getty Images

In the early 20th century, food safety was not at the top of many political leader’s lists. Roosevelt saw it as a significant concern and stepped in to improve the quality of American food – beef in particular.

To ensure that American beef products were safe to consume, Roosevelt did some investigating. He sent investigators to meatpacking plants to see the conditions and learn from workers some of the processes in which the meat was packaged and produced. Although the meat industry objected, in 1906, Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug and Meat Inspection Act.

He Hated Being Called “Teddy”

Portrait of Roosevelt
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Even though Roosevelt agreed to allow stuffed-animal makers to refer to their bears as “Teddys” after his childhood nickname “Teddie,” that didn’t mean he liked his nickname. Supposedly, the name reminded him of his first wife, Alice, who used it as a term of endearment.

He rarely spoke of Alice following her untimely death in 1884, although he remarried to Edith Carow in 1886. In his later years, he preferred to be called “Colonel Roosevelt,” although his nickname has stuck until today.

He Gave A Speech Immediately After Assassination Attempt

Roosevelt giving a speech
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

On October 14, 1912, the former president was giving a speech in Milwaukee where he was announced that he had just been shot in an assassination attempt by John Schrank. He went on to show the crowd a bloody shirt and a stack of papers with a bullet hole in them, which may have saved his life.

Roosevelt spoke for a full 90 minutes before finally allowing his aides to take him to the hospital. The bullet lodged into his rib cage where it remained for the rest of his life.

He Went Blind In One Eye From A Boxing Match

Drawing of Roosevelt as a boxer
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Throughout his life, Roosevelt had always been a supporter and participant in high-contact sport. His enjoyment for these athletics didn’t leave him either when he was elected into office. In 1905, near the age of 50, Roosevelt was sparring in a boxing match with a friend when he took a hard hit to his left eye.

The blow detached his retina, resulting in severe vision impairment. In his autobiography, he describes the punch as leaving him “dim” in his left eye. Luckily, he also enjoyed other sports that weren’t as physical.

He Almost Died On A Trip To The Amazon

Roosevelt in Brazil
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

A dedicated traveler, in 1913, Roosevelt made his way to the Amazon, describing it as his “last chance to a boy.” With plans to travel along the uncharted and infamous “River of Doubt,” the trip would prove to be a disaster.

Half of his traveling companions became deathly sick from tropical illnesses and half of their pack animals died of exhaustion. Food was at an all-time low and Roosevelt fell ill with fever and was ready to be left behind. After a grueling two months, they finally reached civilization.

He Was Fooled By Houdini

Theodore and Houdini on the ship
Library of Congress/Getty Images
Library of Congress/Getty Images

While sailing in the SS Imperator in 1914, Roosevelt was enamored by the on-board entertainment who was no other than famous illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini. During the show, Houdini performed a seance in which he correctly surmised that Roosevelt had recently visited Brazil.

Beside himself, Roosevelt asked Houdini if he actually practiced the dark arts, to which Houdini played along that he did. In reality, Houdini knew Roosevelt would be on board and did some research on his most recent exploits.

He Was The First Of A Lot Of Things

Roosevelt in an airplane
Fotosearch/Getty Images
Fotosearch/Getty Images

In 1901, Vice President Roosevelt became the President of the United States after the assassination of Willian McKinely. At the age of 42, he became and remains the youngest president in the country’s history.

Furthermore, he was also the first president to leave the country during his term, visiting Panama to see the Panama Canal with his own eyes. Finally, he was also the first former president to fly in an airplane at the invitation of aviator Arch Hoxsey. There was a crowd of over 10,000 people to witness his three-minute, 20-second flight.

He Was A Prolific Author

Roosevelt with glasses
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Being the voracious reader that he was, it’s no surprise that he was a writer as well, and a pretty good one. At the young age of 23, he wrote his first book titled The Naval War of 1812, earning his reputation as a historian.

Throughout his life, he authored an impressive 38 books including an autobiography, a biography on Oliver Cromwell, a history of New York City, and other countless books about hunting and his exploits on the frontier.

He Saved The Sport Of Football

Early football
Stock Montage/Getty Images
Stock Montage/Getty Images

Although football is already a dangerous sport with all of the padding and regulations, back in the early 1900s, it was far more brutal. Around 45 players died between 1900 and 1905 from various contact-related injuries. Because of this, it didn’t take long for the public to start turning their back on the sport.

In response, in 1905, Roosevelt gathered representatives from Yale, Harvard, and other schools to discuss strategies to improve the safety and regulations of the game. While it was still dangerous, the mortality rate significantly decreased, and the sport began to flourish.

He Had An Interesting Swim With The French Ambassador

Roosevelt In A Hat
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Theodore Roosevelt had an attitude and personality, unlike many presidents both before and after him. On one occasion, in 1903, Roosevelt was walking near the Potomac River, Roosevelt, and Gifford Pinchot, the Chief of the Division of Forestry, made the impulsive decision to hop into the water, naked.

With them was the French ambassador who joined them, although he opted to keep his gloves on because “we might meet ladies!” One of the many things that only President Roosevelt can say he had done.

His Eldest Daughter Gave Him A Lot Of Grief

Photo of Alice Roosevelt
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Roosevelt’s oldest daughter, Alice, who was the only child of his first wife, gave him a lot of trouble during his presidency. Alice was 17 when he took office and quickly made a name for herself for her mischief.

She was known for smoking cigarettes on the White House roof when she was forbidden for smoking inside and could often be seen walking around with a boa constrictor around her neck. Her antics raised her to a celebrity status with the color “Alice blue” being named after her. She was active in Washington until her death at 96.

He Tried Becoming A Rancher

Roosevelt on a horse
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

It’s no secret that Theodore Roosevelt was a lover of the outdoors, especially when it involved the great plains, livestock, and guns. In 1883, Roosevelt traveled to the Dakota Territory to hunt bison and got the idea to start a cattle ranch.

With a $14,000 investment, he then went into business with Sylvane Ferris, and they opened up a second ranch called Elkhorn. Although he enjoyed his time playing a cowboy, bad weather led to significant financial losses. He sold his interest in the ranch in 1898.

His Mother And First Wife Died On The Same Day

Roosevelt in uniform
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Unfortunately, on April 14, 1884, Valentine’s Day, Roosevelt’s mother, Martha Roosevelt, passed away from typhoid fever. A floor above, in the same house, his first wife, Alice, died less than 12 hours later from Bright’s disease as well as complications from giving birth to their first child, Alice, just two days earlier.

That night, Roosevelt wrote in his personal diary that “The light has gone out of my life.” He was never quite the same after such a string of terrible events.

He Was A New York City Police Commissioner And Wasn’t Loved For It

Cartoon of Roosevelt
MPI/Getty Images
MPI/Getty Images

In 1895, Roosevelt was appointed as a New York City police commissioner. During his time in the position, he made several reforms in an attempt to change an otherwise corrupt police department. He enforced his authority by regularly walking the streets to make sure that cops were on their beats, and more.

One decision that made him particularly unpopular with the public was his banning the sale of alcohol in saloons on Sundays. Nevertheless, he continued to press the issue even after receiving two bomb threats.

He Won The Nobel Peace Prize

Roosevelt waving his hat
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Although he was known for his military exploits such as his actions at San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War and his concept of “Big Stick” diplomacy, that didn’t prevent him from earning the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1906, he received the award for his participation in mediating the Treaty of Portsmouth, which effectively ended the Russo-Japanese War. Incredibly, he was the first American to ever receive the award and used the prize money to fund a trust to promote industrial peace.

He Was A Member Of The Hasty Pudding Club

Painting of Roosevelt
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Founded in 1795 by Horce Binney, the Hasty Pudding Club is a Harvard social club that was established by Horace Binney with the goal of bringing undergraduates together. As an undergraduate attending Harvard, Roosevelt was extended an invitation to the club where he acted as the social club’s secretary during his senior year.

Roosevelt was one of five presidents to be in the club with the others including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.

He Wasnt Good At Being Told No

Young Roosevelt
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

As a boy, Theodore Roosevelt had several health problems. So, while attending Harvard, he was told by Dr. Dudley Sargent that if he didn’t live a rather inactive life that it would have fatal consequences.

Roosevelt responded to this by stating, “Doctor, I’m going to do all of the things that you tell me not to do. If I have to live the sort of life you have described, I don’t care how short it is.” Just one year after graduation, he took time during his European honeymoon with his wife to scale the 15,000-foot Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps with two guides.

He Was A War Hero

Roosevelt and his Rough Riders
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1898, the Spanish-American war broke out and Roosevelt served, eventually becoming the colonel of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. Roosevelt and what become known as his “Rough Riders” were involved in a number of skirmishes, with Roosevelt being wounded by shrapnel while advancing on the San Juan River in Cuba.

Yet still, he is renowned for his actions at the Battle of San Juan Hill, in which he led a charge with a small group of men to hold off the Spanish until reinforcements arrived. His valor helped earn him to position of Governor of New York when he returned.

He Volunteered To Lead In World War I

Roosevelt in uniform
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When the United States became involved in World War I in 1917, the 58-year-old former president was eager to fight on the front lines. So, he repeatedly requested President Woodrow Wilson to send him to France as the commander of a 200,000-man expeditionary force.

Although many of the citizens supported his cause to fight, he was never called into service. However, his son Quentin was, who was eventually killed in action when his plane was shot down over France in 1918.