Presidential Hobbies: How Some U.S. Presidents Used Their Down Time
Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton plays a saxophone while some of his supporters sing and dance. Source: (Photo by Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Being the POTUS is not your typical 9-to-5 job. The country’s highest post comes with crazy hours and a whole lot of stress. There certainly isn’t a lot of downtime at the White House. When there was some free time, many of our past presidents used it on their favorite hobbies. We all know that participating in a hobby you enjoy is a great way to relieve stress. Let’s look at the common and not-so-common hobbies of some of our past presidents.
Despite his thin build, Abraham Lincoln was an accomplished wrestler. Source: (weeklystandard.com)
Lincoln, A Wrestler?
Abraham Lincoln was an awkward, lanky kid but he learned to wrestle. In fact, he once used his impressive grappling skills to best the town bully, a feat that earned him respect and admiration. Lincoln’s wrestling prowess became legendary. During his campaign for the presidency in 1860, Lincoln’s opponent, Stephen Douglas, even made reference to Honest Abe’s skills on the wrestling mat. Tales of his talents as a wrestler followed him all the way to the Capital, although the stories probably became exaggerated along the way. Still, they helped to cement Lincoln’s reputation as being tough and determined.
Landscapes are second only to dogs as Bush's favorite subjects to paint. Source: (dosmagazine.com)
George W. Bush Paints Dogs
Our 43rd President didn’t take up painting until after he left the Oval Office. He knew that painting was a hobby enjoyed by former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, so Bush decided to give it a try. He discovered that painting was a relaxing and challenging hobby. At first, he wanted to keep his new hobby a secret, but an email hacker discovered pics of his paintings that he emailed to his sister and his images were posted online. Bolstered by the positive feedback, Bush kept painting. Although he has done portraits of veterans, family members, and world leaders, Bush really prefers to paint portraits of his dogs.
John Quincy Adams liked to swim in his birthday suit. Source: (daily.jstor.org)
John Quincy Adams Enjoyed Swimming…in the Nude
Skinny dipping was the hobby of choice for John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States. According to entries Adams left in his personal diaries, his daily routine started at around four or five in the morning. In the spring, summer, and early autumn, he would swim naked in the Potomac River for nearly two hours every single morning. During the colder months, he skipped the skinny dipping and enjoyed a brisk, two-hour walk around Washington instead…with clothes on.
Big game hunting was Teddy Roosevelt's hobby. Source: (theodore-roosevelt.com)
Teddy Roosevelt, Boxer and Big Game Hunter
Teddy Roosevelt has a reputation for being a rugged, outdoorsy man. He fell in love with the sport of boxing and continued boxing even after he was elected our 26th president. He was also an avid hunter, but it was after his tenure as POTUS that he took up big game hunting in earnest. He spent 11 months on an African safari hunting wild animals. Many of the animals he hunted were shipped back to the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian where they were stuffed, mounted, and put on display.
Bill Clinton and his tenor sax. Source: (en.wikipedia.org)
Bill Clinton, Sax Man
Bill Clinton is a music lover and can play a mean saxophone. When he pulled out his tenor sax and played for the crowds at one of his election night celebrations, it ushered in a new era in politics…a movement away from traditionally serious and stoic commanders in chief to a more modern, younger, and hipper time. Clinton once jammed with the band on the Arsenio Hall Show and proved his chops on the Queen Latifah Show, MTV, and the Larry King Show.
Visitors to Mount Vernon can still see mules at the place where Washington bred his mules. Source: (mountvernon.org)
Washington Bred Mules
Our first president once visited Spain and witnessed the use of mules, the hybrid offspring of a male donkey and female horse, as pack animals. Mules, he discovered, were strong, sturdy, obedient, and ate less food than horses. So when he returned to his home in the colonies, he tried his hand at breeding his own mules. In fact, Washington devoted a lot of time to breeding mules and developed a herd of good, quality mules that became the envy of his neighbors.
Someone gave Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president, a mechanical horse as a gag gift. Coolidge so loved horseback riding but was forced to give it up due to severe allergies. He was delighted to receive a mechanical horse and rode it regularly. He looked at his unusual hobby as a way to stay in shape. He set up the mechanical horse in a room adjacent to his bedroom so he could ride it first thing in the morning.
Barack Obama on the cover of "Spider-Man" Source: (cbr.com)
Obama’s Comic Books
President Barack Obama began collecting comic books as a kid and continued his hobby all the way to the White House. Obama has amassed a large and impressive comic book collection that includes his childhood favorites, Spider-Man, and Conan the Barbarian, and new favorites, such as Game of Thrones. After being elected POTUS, Obama was even featured in a few comics, including issue 583 of the Amazing Spider-Man…a dream come true for the passionate comic collector.
FDR and his stamp collection. Source: (postalmuseum.si.edu)
FDR’s Stamp of Approval
Like Obama, Franklin D. Roosevelt began his collection as a child, but in this case, the collection was postage stamps. Roosevelt said that he started his collection to learn more about the different countries of the world, but as his collection grew, so did his interest in stamps. Even while serving as the 32nd POTUS, Roosevelt didn’t ignore his hobby. In fact, Washington insiders reported that Roosevelt devoted a portion of his time every single day to work on his stamp collections. He even sent his own stamp design suggestions to the Postmaster General.