Presidential firsts

Although he was the hero of the American civil war, a popular general, savior of the Union and president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant found himself nearly destitute in the 1880s. Furthermore, he had terminal cancer. Seeking a way to stabilize his finances and provide financial security for his wife, Grant was persuaded by American author Mark Twain to write his memoir. Grant, dying of cancer, completed his book just days before he died. The first royalty check arrived after his death and was for more than $200,000, a world record for royalties at the time. His memoir eventually earned more than half a million dollars, ensuring that his wife had ample income for the rest of her life. Grant is regarded as the first president to write an autobiography that became a commercial success.

Here are some other less known but fascinating presidential first facts.

First president to reside in Washington
John Adams, America’s second president (1797-1801), was the first to reside in Washington, D.C. On June 3, 1800, he moved into the Union Tavern, Georgetown (now part of Washington). This was a temporary location for the president. When the Executive Mansion was completed in November 1800, Adams moved into his official residence, making George Washington the only president who did not live in Washington, D.C. because the Executive Mansion was not completed during his administration.

First president to be inaugurated in Washington
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) was the first to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. On March 4, 1801, Jefferson walked from his boardinghouse to the uncompleted Capitol building. There he was greeted with an artillery salute and took the oath of office in the Senate chamber. The oath was administered by John Marshall, the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Jefferson then delivered his inaugural address, but his voice was so quiet that few in the audience could hear him.

First president to be photographed
John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) has the distinction of being the first president to be photographed. His picture was taken by the Southworth and Hawes Studio of Boston. The photograph was taken in 1843 at his home in the town of Braintree, now Quincy, Massachusetts. The first photograph of a president in office was a picture of James Knox Polk (1845-1849) made on February 14, 1849, in New York City by Mathew P. Brady.

First president to serve as an official of an enemy government
That dubious distinction belongs to John Tyler of Virginia, president from 1841 to 1845. As the United States approached the Civil War years, loyalties became complicated and thus, on August 1, 1861, the former president became a delegate to the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States. He was elected a member of the Confederate Congress House of Representatives on November 7, 1861. However, Tyler never took his seat, as he died on January 18, 1862.

First president to be impeached
Andrew Johnson, the 17th president (1865-1869), faced an impeachment vote by the House of Representatives on February 24, 1868. Representatives were upset because Johnson dismissed Edwin M. Stanton as secretary of war and had declared several laws unconstitutional. He was charged with usurpation of the law, corrupt use of the veto power, and other misdemeanors. The lengthy trial ran from March 13 to May 16, 1868, with Chief Justice Salmon Portland Chase presiding. The vote was 35-19 against Johnson, but because it was one vote short of the two-thirds necessary for conviction, Johnson was acquitted. After leaving office, Johnson would later become the first former president to serve as a senator. Elected to the Senate from Tennessee in 1875, Johnson served from March 4 until his death on July 31, 1875.

First president to pitch a ball to open baseball season
On April 14, 1910, William Howard Taft (1909-1913) threw the baseball that opened the American League’s season. Teams playing at that event were Washington and Philadelphia. Washington won 3-0. Evidently, the presence of a U.S. president was a huge draw, as the 12,226 paying spectators broke all previous baseball attendance records.

First former president to become chief justice of the Supreme Court
William Howard Taft was appointed the chief justice on June 30, 1921. He served nearly a decade, resigning on February 3, 1930, a few weeks before his death.

First president to be inaugurated on January 20
Presidents were inaugurated in March until the passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified on February 6, 1933, establishing January 20 as the date for presidential inaugurations. Accordingly, the first president to be inaugurated on that day was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) for his second term on January 20, 1937.

First presidential pet to be featured in a movie
In 1943, Fala, the black Scottie owned by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, became a “movie star.” The Metro Goldwyn Mayer movie studio made a short film about Fala’s typical day at the White House. It began with the dog receiving his morning biscuit delivered on the presidential breakfast tray.

First president to be buried in Washington
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) was buried on February 5, 1924, in the National Cathedral, the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, in Washington, D.C.

First woman presidential physician
Dr. Janet Graeme Travell of New York City was appointed presidential physician by John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) on January 25, 1961. Although she was the first woman to serve as personal physician to a president, earlier presidents received treatment from female doctors. Dr. Susan Ann Edson, an 1854 graduate of the Cleveland Homeopathic Medical College treated President James A. Garfield from July 2, 1881 — the day he was shot by an assassin — until September 19, 1881, when he died.

First president who was a Rhodes Scholar
William Jefferson Clinton (1993-2001), received the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. A graduate of Georgetown University, Clinton was able to attend University College, Oxford University, from 1968 to 1970 on the Rhodes Scholarship. The scholarship, founded by British diplomat Cecil Rhodes, provides for outstanding students from the British colonies, the U.S. and Germany to study at Oxford. While there, Clinton studied politics. In 1994, Oxford awarded Clinton an honorary doctorate in civil law.

First president to use radio
Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) began using and listening to radio on February 8, 1922, utilizing a vacuum-tube detector and two-stage amplifier receiving set he had installed in a bookcase in his study on the second floor of the White House. He was also the first president to make a radio broadcast. On June 14, 1922, station WEAR in Baltimore broadcast his speech at the dedication of the Francis Scott Key Memorial at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. His voice was carried over telephone lines to the studio and broadcast from there.

First president to use radio broadcast from the White House
Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) delivered a speech from his study in the White House on February 22, 1924. The occasion was George Washington’s birthday. His speech was carried by 42 radio stations, coast to coast.

First presidential railroad car
Simply designated as U.S. Car No. 1, it was built in 1942 by the Association of American Railroads. It was bought for a nominal fee by the government and assigned to the White House for presidential travel convenience. The car weighed 285,000 pounds, was built on an extra-heavy frame and was coated with armor plate 0.625 inches thick. Three-inch-thick bullet-proof glass was installed on all windows and doors. The car had a lounge observation compartment, a dining room seating 12 persons, a kitchen and four bedrooms. Other than the presidential seal on the brass-railed rear section, there was no other identification on the car. In the preceding century, a private railroad car was built for Abraham Lincoln, but it was never accepted by the White House nor did Lincoln use it. However, it carried his remains from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois.

First president to fly in an airplane
During World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt flew 5,000 miles in January 1943. Using a four-engine Boeing Flying Boat, he flew from Miami to the west coast of French Morocco, where he participated in the Casablanca Conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Before Roosevelt, the first president to fly in any kind of aircraft was Theodore Roosevelt. He was a passenger in a Wright biplane piloted by Archibald Hoxsey at the St. Louis Aviation Field. The 1910 flight lasted four minutes.

First presidential airplane
Called the Sacred Cow, it was a four-engine Skymaster C-54 built at the Douglas Aircraft Company’s plant in Santa Monica, California. Delivered on June 1944 to the Air Transport Command, its first mission outside the United States was to fly Henry Lewis Stimson, secretary of war, from Washington, D.C., to Naples, Italy. It was a distance of 4,200 miles and took 24 hours.

First president to tour the country
George Washington traveled through the New England states from October 14 to November 13, 1789. Using a hired coach, he was accompanied by his aide Major William Jackson, his private secretary Tobias Lear, six servants, nine horses and a luggage wagon. He went as far north as Kittery, Maine, but did not visit Rhode Island or Vermont, as they had not yet joined the new government.