We left part one with the 25th President, William McKinley, who had just been assassinated in 1901, only a few months into his second term. His Vice-President, Theodore Roosevelt, became the 26th President. He had an exuberant personality, and was a keen naturalist, conservationist and historian as well as being a politician. He was often referred to as Teddy even though he apparently didn’t like the name. The teddy bear is named after him – it came about following a hunting trip in which he refused to shoot a captured bear, considering it unsportsmanlike. An enterprising Brooklyn shop owner created a stuffed bear toy, calling it “Teddy’s Bear” with the President’s permission. The name teddy bear stuck! Roosevelt was re-elected in 1904, serving almost two full terms.
Roosevelt was succeeded by his chosen successor, William H Taft, the 27th President. Taft was also later the 10th chief justice of the United States, the only person to ever have held both offices. Compared to Roosevelt (who was quite progressive), Taft was rather conservative, and Roosevelt saw him as weak. In 1912, Roosevelt challenged Taft to the Republican party nomination for President. Although Taft won the nomination, Roosevelt ran for President as a third candidate, splitting the vote.
As a result of Roosevelt’s action, Taft lost the 1912 election to Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson – the first southerner to become President since 1848. As the 28th President, Woodrow Wilson served two full terms, led the USA into World War 1 in 1917, and was the leading architect of the League of Nations. He intended to run for a third term, but was thwarted by ill health.
The 29th President was Warren G Harding, and as the Democrat candidate won the 1920 election by a landslide. He served as President until his death in 1923. After he’d died, details of an extra-marital affair and also a political scandal, the ‘Teapot Dome’ scandal. Teapot Dome involved bribing oil companies, and was considered the worst US political scandal until Watergate in the 1970s. Though it was one of Harding’s cabinet members who was implicated rather than the President himself, his reputation was tarnished by association.
The 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, took over on Warren Harding’s death in 1923. He was pro-business, stood for racial equality and signed into law the Indian Citizenship Act, granting citizenship to the indigenous peoples of the US. He also presided over a period of strong economic growth, the “Roaring Twenties”. He was re-elected in 1924, but decided not to seek another term in 1928.
The 31st President, Herbert Hoover, won the 1928 election, however in 1929 during his first year in office, the stock market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression. He is considered by historians as one of the worst Presidents in US history, and was roundly defeated in the 1932 election by Franklin D Roosevelt, though he had a long post-Presidency and served various jobs for post-war Presidents.
Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, became the 32nd President in March 1933, and went on to win four American elections. He introduced the New Deal, Social Security and heavier taxes on the wealthy. He helped American believe in itself again – as he said in his inaugural address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. His third and fourth terms in office were dominated by the Second World War, which the US tried to stay out of but joined after Pearl Harbour, and gave much thought to the design of what would become the United Nations (he thought, correctly, that the peace of the world would depend on relations between the USA and Russia). He died in 1945 from a cerebral hemorrhage, shortly before the end of the war.
Harry S Truman became the 33rd President, after spending just 3 months as Roosevelt’s Vice President. He served for nearly 8 years, presiding over the end of World War 2, including authorising the only use to date of nuclear weapons in war, implemented the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe, and forming NATO. He is generally considered one of the most successful of US Presidents.
Succeeding Truman to the Presidency was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who became the 34th President in 1953. He was a former military officer, who had been Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe in World War 2, achieving the rare rank of 5 star general or ‘General of the Armies’. He continued the New Deal policies, expanded Social Security and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, sending the army in to enforce integrated schools in Arkansas. He served two full terms and is generally considered one of America’s better Presidents.
The 35th President was John F. Kennedy. He holds the record to this day as the youngest elected President, aged only 43 (Theodore Roosevelt was younger when he assumed the President, but he took on the Presidency after McKinley was assassinated, rather than being elected). He was President during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world has come to nuclear war. He is of course best known for being assassinated in 1963, however before that he championed the US Space Programme, was a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement, and generally one of the most popular of American Presidents.
On Kennedy’s death, his Vice-President Lyndon B Johnson became the 36th President promising to build a “Great Society”. He was re-elected in 1965 with the largest percentage of the popular vote since James Monroe in 1820.
The 37th President, Richard Nixon, is also one of the most infamous. He became President in 1969, just in time for the American moon landings a few months later. He was re-elected four years later, but resigned from office in 1974 when he was almost certain to be impeached; he remains the only US President to resign from office. He did actually achieve quite a lot in office, ending American involvement in Vietnam, establishing the Environmental Protection Agency, began the War on Cancer and the War on Drugs, plus internationally advanced diplomatic relations with both China & the Soviet Union, including concluding the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. In addition to his time in office, he had previously served as Eisenhower’s Vice-President for 8 years, and then after leaving office wrote many books and rebuilt his reputation as an elder statesman.
When Nixon resigned in 1974, his Vice President Gerald Ford became the 38th President. He would only serve for 2 and a half years, losing the 1976 election. He holds the distinction of being the only President never to have been elected to either the position of President or Vice-President.
Following victory in the 1976 election, Jimmy Carter became the 39th President in January 1977. He only served one term in office, four years of continual crises including recession, energy crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan amongst other things – something of a raw deal. He was defeated by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. While his Presidency is not seen in a good light, he has received a lot of acclaim for his work post-Presidency including establishing the Carter Center to promote and expand human rights. At time of writing he’s 97 years old, and holds the record for the oldest living President, the longest lived President and the President with the longest post-Presidency. He’s also been married for 75 years, making him the longest married President!
Ronald Reagan became the 40th President in 1981. Politics really was his later life career as he’d previously enjoyed a successful 20 year career as a film and TV actor. This first came to my attention in the movie Back to the Future when Doc Brown, on finding out who was President in 1985 said in incredulity, “Ronald Reagan! The Actor?!”. At the time he became President, he was the oldest person to assume the Presidency, at 69 years of age. He served two full terms, and when he left office in 1989 had an approval rating of 68%, one of the highest in the modern era, only matched by Franklin Roosevelt and later Bill Clinton.
The 41st President was George H. W. Bush, who assumed office in 1989. His time in office was dominated by foreign policy including the ending of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany (of which he played a key role), and the first Gulf War. He is generally considered an above average President, but only managed one term before being defeated in the 1992 election.
The 42nd President was Bill Clinton. He served two full terms, and presided over a period of strong economic growth and general good times for America. He was generally a very popular President, although his time in office was marred by the scandal of his alleged sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. He became only the second President to be impeached after it was discovered he used his position as President to obstruct the investigation to him and lied under oath.
Clinton was succeeded in office in 2001 by the 43rd President, George W. Bush, son of former President George H.W. Bush. The 2000 election was a close run thing though, he narrowly defeated Clinton’s Vice President, Al Gore, in Florida (after a recount) to win the electoral college and thus the Presidency. Together they became only the second father-son duo to both be President, the first being John Adams and John Quincy Adams. His two terms in office would be dominated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2009, former community organiser Barack Obama became the 44th and first African-American President of the United States. His early years would be dominated by the recession and credit crunch which had started a few months before he started in office. He served two terms between 2009 and 2017.
In a bitterly divisive election, businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump became the 45th President in 2017. He was an outspoken and controversial figure whose Presidency was mired by scandal right from the beginning, and his final year in office was dominated by the Covid pandemic which he was initially sceptical of. He alleged voter fraud and refused to accept defeat in the 2020 election, launching various unsuccessful legal appeals. In January 2021, some of his supporters, possibly encouraged by inflammatory words, stormed the capitol building, shaking American democracy.
Despite his predecessor’s attempts to thwart the election result, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States in January 2021.
How to Remember
So the question is, how to remember them. The most recent ones are likely to be easier – if they are within living memory they are easier to place. But lets start at the beginning of the 20th century, and if you can remember that Theodore Roosevelt was the first President to come to office in the 20th century, you’ve got a good starting point. Perhaps try and remember the Teddy Bear leading us into the 20th century…
Roosevelt left office in 1909 and then we have three ‘W’s’ – William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, & Warren G Harding. We’ve also got three alliterative names with only Warren Harding separating them (who didn’t even serve a full term as he died in office. Other than Woodrow Wilson, we’ve got Calvin Coolidge who assumed the Presidency in 1923, was re-elected in 1924, and then in the 1928 election, we’ve got Herbert Hoover, who was President from 1929 to 1933.
From 1933 things get a bit easier because we have 12 years of Franklin D Roosevelt, who served up until the end of the Second World War. Now we’re on to post-war Presidents it feels like we’re on the home straight. Two lots of years, first Truman and then Eisenhower, take us straight through to JFK.
Linking Presidents to historical event too. JFK’s assassination in 1963 is a well known date, and if you know anything about that you may recall that Lyndon B Johnson took over from him. Then it’s the 70s, which was Watergate, and therefore Nixon. Then you’ve only got Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter before we’re through to the 1980s which was all about Ronald Reagan. After that, remember that Clinton was the filling in a Bush Sandwich, then you’re within recent memory for many…
If all else fails, did you know there are songs you can listen to, to help you learn the Presidents? Here’s one (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFPt_-nB-cs).