Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt worked as governor of New York before becoming vice president. After William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, he became the youngest person to assume the presidency. In 1904, he was voted in for a second term and became a leading force for progressive politics. Roosevelt was also known for his work in ecological conservation.
1. Teddy Roosevelt was a sickly child, but he overcame it
Despite his robust and active later life, Roosevelt struggled with severe asthma and health problems during his youth. He also experienced horrific night-time asthma attacks to which doctors told his parents there was no cure. It was Roosevelt’s father who encouraged the boy to train and strengthen his body, saying:
“Theodore you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. I am giving you the tools, but it is up to you to make your body.”
Roosevelt immediately went to work, building a gym in his house where he would box and lift weights. Outdoors he hiked mountains regardless of the weather, even as a student he kept it up. While others were boozing their way through Fresher’s Week (or whatever the upmarket Harvard equivalent was), Roosevelt joined the rowing club.
The flip side of all this strong-willed go-gettery, however, was an intolerance for any sign of the sickly child he used to be in his own offspring:
“I would rather have one of them die then to have them grow up weaklings.”
Urgh. Father of the year, right there.
2. Teddy Roosevelt’s wife and mother died on the same day, and he was devastated
On 14 February 1884, Roosevelt experienced, likely, the worst day of his life when he lost both his wife and his mother to illness – their deaths coming only 11 hours apart.
His 50-year old mother, Mittie, succumbed to succumbed to typhoid fever and his 22-year old wife, Alice Lee, died of Bright’s disease, a severe kidney ailment two days after giving birth to their daughter.
In his diary he wrote a large “X” and “The light has gone out of my life.” In a private tribute he added:
“Fair, pure, and joyous as a maiden; loving, tender, and happy as a young wife; when she had just become a mother, when her life seemed to be just begun, and when the years seemed so bright before her – then, by a strange and terrible fate, death came to her. And when my heart’s dearest died, the light went from my life for ever.”
The grief was so immense that he banned any mention of his wife in his company (he didn’t mention her in his autobiography either) and felt unable to look after his young daughter, leaving her in the care of his sister for three years while he quit politics to become a…. well, that’s the next one.
3. Teddy Roosevelt was a cowboy
Following his sombre retirement from politics, Teddy splashed nearly $40,000 on cattle and on his new home, Elkhorn Ranch, on the Little Missouri River in Dakota Territory, 12 miles away from the nearest neighbour.
Teddy was very serious about his life as a cowboy, sometimes spending up to 12 hours in the saddle. Not only did he learn how to ride, hunt and rope, but he also fulfilled the role of Deputy Sheriff. In one instance, he chased three outlaws, captured and watched over them for 40 hours without sleep by reading Leo Tolstoy books to keep himself awake. In another encounter, he punched out a man who called him “four eyes” with three blows in quick succession.
It wasn’t all fisticuffs, Teddy found time to write books on naval history, New York, the wild west and his own memoir of life in Dakota.
4. Teddy Roosevelt got shot and shrugged it off
On 14 October 1912, an unemployed saloonkeeper shot Teddy Roosevelt outside a Milwaukee hotel, shortly before the former President was due to make a speech. The bullet passed through the steel eyeglass case and 50-page speech he was carrying, which likely saved his life. Teddy refused to be taken to hospital and insisted on continuing with the 90-minute speech with the bullet lodged in his chest.
The seemingly unkillable statesman deadpanned:
“I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.”
Unbuttoning his shirt to reveal the wound, to audible gasps from his audience, he added: “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose,”
5. Teddy Rooosevelt’s daughter was a troublemaker
Alice, Roosevelt’s daughter, was known for her rebellious ways. She possessed her father’s quick wit, but she was also an ardent rule breaker and liked to smoke, gamble and go to late night parties. She even kept a pet snake. Roosevelt said of her:
“I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”