1. His mother and his first wife died on the same day.
On Valentine’s Day in 1884, Roosevelt’s mother passed away from typhoid fever. One floor above in the same house, his first wife, Alice, died less than 12 hours later from Bright’s disease and complications from giving birth to the couple’s first child just two days before. “The light has gone out of my life,” Roosevelt wrote in his diary that night.
2. Roosevelt was a New York City police commissioner.
After his appointment in 1895, Roosevelt attempted to reform one of America’s most corrupt police departments. The future president regularly took midnight rambles to make sure officers were walking their beats. His decision to enforce an unpopular law that banned the sale of alcohol in saloons on Sundays made him a very unpopular figure in New York, but he persisted in the crusade even after receiving two letter bombs in the mail.
3. Roosevelt went skinny-dipping in the Potomac River.
During his presidency, the noted outdoorsman often escaped the confines of the White House. Roosevelt sailed his presidential yacht on the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and regularly led hiking expeditions in Rock Creek Park where he would scale cliffs and use twigs and stumps for target practice with his revolver. After strenuous walks along the Potomac, the president on occasion would shed all his clothes and take a plunge in the river to cool off.
4. He won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The man famed for his exploits at San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War and “Big Stick” diplomacy captured the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in mediating the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War. Roosevelt was the first American to capture the award, and he used the prize money to fund a trust to promote international peace.
5. Roosevelt was the first sitting president to leave the country.
In November 1906, Roosevelt made presidential history by becoming the first chief executive to leave the United States. He sailed aboard USS Louisiana to personally inspect the construction of the Panama Canal, a project that he had championed as president.
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6. A boxing accident left him virtually blind in one eye.
Roosevelt boxed for Harvard University’s intramural lightweight championship and continued to spar recreationally during his political career. During his days in the White House, he regularly put up his dukes against former professional boxers and other sparring partners until a punch from a young artillery officer smashed a blood vessel and left him nearly blind in his left eye.
7. Roosevelt was a prolific author.
From his earliest days, Roosevelt had a passion for reading and writing. He penned his first book, The Naval War of 1812, at the age of 23 and earned a reputation as a serious historian. Over the course of his lifetime, Roosevelt authored 38 books, which included an autobiography, a biography of Oliver Cromwell, a history of New York City and the four-volume series The Winning of the West. The outdoorsman also wrote numerous books and magazine articles about hunting and his frontier exploits.
8. He was a member of the Hasty Pudding Club.
While a Harvard undergraduate, Roosevelt won election into the Hasty Pudding Club, and he was the social club’s secretary during his senior year. Roosevelt was one of five presidents—the others being John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy—to have been a club member.
9. Roosevelt once scaled the Matterhorn.
While a student at Harvard, Dr. Dudley Sargent warned Roosevelt, who had been a sickly child, that, because of a weak heart, failure to lead a sedentary life could have fatal consequences. “Doctor, I’m going to do all the things you tell me not to do,” Roosevelt responded. “If I’ve got to live the sort of life you have described, I don’t care how short it is.” A year after graduation, Roosevelt took time from his European honeymoon with Alice to scale the 15,000-foot Swiss Alp with two guides.
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10. He volunteered to lead an infantry unit in World War I.
At the outbreak of World War I, the 58-year-old ex-president was eager to return to the front lines. Roosevelt vehemently lobbied President Woodrow Wilson to send him to France at the head of a 200,000-man expeditionary force. Around the country, supporters of the hero of San Juan Hill staged rallies of support, but Roosevelt would not get called to fight in the war that eventually claimed his son Quentin, who was killed in action when his plane was shot down over France in 1918.