Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidential Firsts (mostly true)

  • Former President Herbert Hoover became the first politician to use a teleprompter in 1952, when he gave the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention in Chicago.
  • The presidential election on November 7, 2000 was one of the closest presidential elections in the history of the US. It was a contest between Democrat Al Gore, the Vice President, and Republican George W. Bush, Governor of Texas. On election night, news media twice prematurely declared a winner in Florida based on exit polls, before deciding the race was too close to call. Both candidates needed Florida's electoral votes to win the presidency. A month of court challenges and recounts followed, until the US Supreme Court halted recounts by ruling for Bush. Bush was certified as the winner in Florida by a margin of 537 votes, defeating Gore, who received more votes than Bush nationwide. It was the third time in American history that a candidate won the the Electoral College vote without winning the popular vote, and the first time a president was elected by the Supreme Court.
  • President Millard Fillmore (1850-53) is most often credited for the first bathtub in the White House, in 1851; but he doesn't deserve the credit. Journalist and satirist H.L Mencken wrote a fictional history of the bathtub for the The New York Evening Mail in 1917, and mentioned the Fillmore tub's installation. Mencken recanted the Fillmore tub tale later, saying "My motive was simply to have some harmless fun in war days. It never occurred to me that it would be taken seriously." In reality, fourth president James Madison was probably the first to bathe in the White House, in 1814; but the water had to be heated on a stove and carried in a bucket. Real plumbing apparently came in 1834 during the Andrew Jackson administration.
  • William Henry Harrison was president only 30 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes. He was the first president to die in office, and served the shortest term of any American president. When Harrison arrived in Washington, he wanted to show that he was still the mighty hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, an extremely cold and windy day. He wore no overcoat and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. It took nearly two hours to read, even after his friend Daniel Webster had shortened it. Harrison later caught a cold, which then got much worse. His doctors tried everything, applying opium, castor oil, plants, and even snakes. The treatments made Harrison worse and he went into delirium. He died on April 4, 1841, of pneumonia, jaundice, and septicemia.
  • In 1812, Dolley Madison, wife of fourth president James Madison, arranged the first marriage ceremony to be held at the White House – the wedding of her widowed sister, Lucy Payne Washington, to a Supreme Court Justice, Thomas Todd.
  • Argentine president Juan Perón died on July 1, 1974, less than a year after his third election to the presidency. His wife Isabel assumed the position and became the first non-royal female head of state and head of government in the western hemisphere.
  • On May 16, 1981, two weeks before her death, Soong Ch'ing-ling was admitted to the Communist Party and was named Honorary President of the People's Republic of China. She is the only person ever to hold this title, and apparently the first president in the eastern hemisphere.
  • Geraldine Anne Ferraro (1935-2011) was a Democratic politician and former member of the US House of Representatives. She is best known as the first woman to represent a major US political party as a candidate for Vice President (with Walter Mondale in 1984).
  • Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (born in 1938) was Liberia's first elected female president, and Africa's first elected female president. Elected in 2005, she is the second elected black woman head of state in the world and also second female leader of Liberia after Ruth Perry (who assumed leadership after an overthrow. She is known as the "Iron Lady."
  • Barack Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Committee chose the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, with members from across the country, to march in the inaugural parade in Washington on January 20, 2009. It was the first time that a gay and lesbian band marched in a presidential inauguration.
  • Following the normalization of US-Cuban relations in 2009, Obama visited Cuba in August, 2010, an became the first American president to visit Cuba since Teddy Roosevelt invaded in 1898. Obama met with new Cuban President Nicholas Santiago, the first non-Castro to head Cuba in 50 years, and was warmly greeted by the Cuban people in several public appearances. President Obama was in Cuba with his wife and daughters for three days. They stayed at the US Naval base in Guantanamo, but visited Havana and several other cities. They even swam at the Playa Girón beach that was the site of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion during the Kennedy administration.
  • The first five Presidents wore knickers to their ceremonies, with John Quincy Adams the first to move into trousers.
  • In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt was the first to deliver his Inaugural Address bareheaded.
  • In 1999 Ruth Dreifuss  took over as President of the Swiss Confederation — the first woman and the first Jew to hold this office. This was considered a significant personal achievement in Switzerland, where women received the right to vote only in 1971 and which was the last country in Western Europe to recognize Jewish rights.
  • And, of course, JFK was the first Catholic president to have sex with Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon was the first president whose Attorney General went to jail and veep resigned for cheating on income tax, Ronnie Reagan was the first to put black shoe polish in his hair and have Alzheimer's Disease while still in office, Bill Clinton was the first to sort-of have sex with Monica Lewinsky, Barack Obama is the first half-black president who was born in Kenya, Mitt Romney wants to be the first president with four wives, Newt Gingrich wants to be the first president of the Moon, and Sarah Palin may yet become the first really stupid, retrograde and uninformed female president.

This material is from my For the First Time (or maybe the last time) blog, which is no longer being updated, but has a lot of interesting things to read.


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