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10 Unique Presidential Claims to Fame

Becoming the President of the United States isn’t easy. Some people devote years to the pursuit and never make the grade like Lyndon LaRouche, who ran for President 8 times and never succeeded. Others show up once and inexplicably win the day. And while being President is impressive all on its own, a number of Presidents also had other remarkable claims to fame they could make that have followed them throughout history. 

10. Lincoln is the Only President Who Holds a Patent

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Around 25% of people in surveys will identify Benjamin Franklin as a past president, despite the fact he never was. But Franklin was a prominent inventor. When you take him out of the presidential pool, the number of actual inventors who have been President shrinks considerably. In fact, only one president has ever had a patent granted in their name, and that was Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln was elected in 1861, but some years earlier, in 1849, he was granted a patent for a device that could be used to buoy vessels over shoals. Patent No. 6,469 was Lincoln’s only patent and came about thanks to a stint working as a ferryman who had to deal with the hassle of getting a vessel over shoals. He ended up stranded twice when his boats ran aground. 

The invention was essentially airbags for a boat. The inflatable devices could be lowered on the sides of a boat, inflated, and used to get the boat over the shoals and back in the water again. Apparently, it was never actually built and there is some doubt about whether it would even work.

9. Teddy Roosevelt is the Only President Confirmed to Have a Tattoo (Sort Of)

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Word is that 30% of Americans have tattoos as of 2019. That means, statistically, about 13 Presidents should have had tattoos. Of course, no one was likely to have tattoos back in Washington’s day, but surely at least one President had a tattoo, right? Well, yes. Just one. At least after a fashion.

Though rumors about that both Roosevelts were inked along with Polk, Eisenhower, and even Andrew Jackson, there is only one confirmed presidential tattoo and that belonged to the most hardcore man to ever hold the office: Teddy Roosevelt. 

You can Google it right now and discover no end of articles that claim Roosevelt had his family crest tattooed on his chest. Turns out, that’s not true. It started as a joke in an old humor magazine from 1912. They included doctored photos of a fully tatted-up Roosevelt to sell the joke. 

In fact, Roosevelt did have a kind of tattoo on his chest, but it wasn’t intentional. Ever the man’s man, apparently the President had run afoul of some gunpowder when he was 13 and given himself a gunpowder tattoo across his chest. That’s what you call it when you fire a weapon and hot gunpowder blows back across your flesh, burning its way into you, leaving a permanent reminder. 

8. Martin Van Buren Was the Only President Who Spoke English as a Second Language

martin van buren

Most American Presidents only speak English. That said, there have been a handful of bilingual Presidents over the years as well. A number of early Presidents like John Adams and James Monroe were fluent in French. Both Roosevelts could speak German to some degree, as could Bill Clinton. A few even spoke Latin. But Martin Van Buren was not just the only one who spoke Dutch, he was the only one for whom English was his second language.  

Van Buren’s family was Dutch and though he was born in Kinderhook, New York, he grew up speaking his family’s native tongue and learned English later. His father owned a tavern which, at the time, was essentially the hub of political activity in any given community. People would get together, have a drink, and talk politics, so he would have been exposed from an early age. 

7. Woodrow Wilson Was the Only President With a PhD

woodrow wilson

When you wade into the waters of “who was the smartest President” you’re going to find a lot of answers and probably a lot of insults. Intelligence, of course, is not as easy to measure as some might think. But we can, at least, compare how educated and accomplished the Presidents were to see how they stack up to one another. And while many had diverse careers and educations and practiced law and other such things, only one President has ever attained a PhD.

Woodrow Wilson, who served from 1913 to 1921, had earned a PhD from Johns Hopkins University. His area of speciality was Political Science, which seems fitting.

A number of Presidents had degrees, but they didn’t stick around for advanced one. Washington earned a surveyor’s license from college but didn’t do a Bachelor’s. Lincoln, Van Buren, Jackson, Fillmore, Taylor, and Cleveland never attended college at all. Truman, McKinley, Monroe and Harrison attended colleges but never finished out their degrees. 

6. James Buchanan Was the Only Bachelor President

James Buchanan

We take it for granted these days that a President has a First Lady. When a woman gets elected, if she’s married, it’s likely her husband will be called the First Gentleman. James Buchanan is the only President so far who has thrown this tradition for a bit of a loop as he was the only President ever elected as a bachelor.

He had been engaged years before taking office, but he broke off that engagement shortly before the wedding. During his time in office, he had a “sort of” First Lady in the form of his niece, Harriet Lane. It’s said that she performed many of the same functions as other First Ladies and she became fairly well-liked as a result. 

5. President Tyler is the Only President to Not Be Buried Under an American Flag

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When a President dies, the funeral is typically a big deal. A state funeral is held and people will come from all across the country to pay their respects. When George H. W. Bush died in 2018, world leaders attended and a day of mourning was held. President Bush’s casket, draped with the American flag, was on display during the proceedings. It was similar to every presidential funeral before it with the notable exception of one. 

When John Tyler died, he was the only President in history to be laid to rest under a flag that did not belong to the country he represented. Instead, he was buried under the Confederate flag. There’s a reason Tyler is generally considered one of the worst Presidents in history. 

Tyler is buried at the Hollywood Cemetery, which, despite the name, is located in Richmond, Virginia. His was the only funeral not to be officially recognized in Washington DC. Confederate President Jefferson Davis made the funeral a spectacle and included the Confederate flag across the President’s casket. 

4. Rutherford Hayes is the Only President Revered in Paraguay

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You can’t shake a stick without hitting something that was named in honor of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and so on. Schools, bridges, parks, roads, you name it. There’s no end to the things named for some of those most iconic Presidents all across the country. But what about beyond the US borders?

One president stands head and shoulders above the others when it comes to appreciation on foreign soil.Rutherford B. Hayes is a legend unto himself in the country of Paraguay. Unlike in America, where just short of nothing is named after Hayes. Paraguay offers up a river, a province, a town and even a soccer team all named in honor of the one-term president.

The reason for the Paraguayan love of Hayes dates back to 1877. After Paraguay had gone to war with Brazil and Argentina, the country had lost huge amounts of land to the other nations. When Argentina tried to claim a chunk of wilderness space, the two countries agreed to forgo an actual war in favor of neutral, third party arbitration. This was before the UN existed, so the countries asked the USA to determine who got the land. President Hayes decided in favor of Paraguay, making him a local hero for years to come. 

3. James Madison was a Tiny Man

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You may think of a President as a larger than life character. It helps that some Presidents really were incredibly large. Abe Lincoln was 6-foot-4. Lyndon Johnson and Donald Trump were both about 6-foot-3. But if Lincoln is the tallest (he was), then one of those 46 men has to be the shortest. The smallest President in history was James Madison and appreciating just how slight a man he was takes a bit of time. He was short statured and also alleged to be incredibly light as well.

Official records indicate Madison was 5-foot-4. His weight seemed to hover somewhere around 100 pounds. That would generally be considered underweight for someone of that height. It was also said he was so soft spoken it was hard to hear him when he made speeches. 

2. Ronald Reagan Was the Only President to Wear a Nazi Uniform (in a movie)

Reagan with Miami Hurricanes football team 1988

In contemporary history, you’d be hard pressed to find a more deservedly hated group than the Nazis. They were terrible in pretty much every conceivable way. Since the end of the war, and even before actually, they’ve also been firmly enshrined in pop culture. They’re almost perfect villains and can be thwarted by any hero without risk of offending people by using them as foils in a story because they’re so terrible no one doesn’t want to see them destroyed. That’s why Captain America has been punching out Nazis since the early 1940s and literally hundreds of films have been made showing other heroes doing the same.

The task of playing a Nazi on film has to be at least a little daunting for actors who don’t want people associating them with hatred but, if we all understand it’s fiction, what’s the harm, right? And maybe that’s why the only President in American history to ever wear a Nazi uniform, at least that we know of, was the one who was acting in a movie. Ronald Reagan once dressed as a Nazi for the movie Desperate Journey back in 1942. 

1. Grover Cleveland is the Only President Who Worked As An Executioner

grover cleveland

No one’s first job is ever President. You have to do a lot to get to that point. In fact, you can’t even be President unless you’re 35. So that means every President likely had a handful of jobs before they got to where they were. Some were senators or congressmen, some were lawyers or business people. And Grover Cleveland? He was an executioner.

Before he took office, Cleveland was a lawman in New York. He worked as the sheriff of Erie County and that job also involved doing double duty as the county executioner. The chosen method at the time, and this was in the mid-1800s, was hanging.

During his tenure as sheriff/hangman, Cleveland was responsible for putting two men to death. Both were murderers and both were hung by Cleveland publicly. 

Cleveland was not the only president to take another’s life – many were soldiers before they took office and fought in battles that saw large losses of life. Some, like Andrew Jackson, fought duels. Cleveland was just the only one to do so presumably with a black sack over his head in an official capacity.

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