Fillmore wasn’t the only one with White House/bath tub troubles

June 9, 2009

Jim Butler alerted me to this little piece at I Can Has Cheezburger?  Notice the historical/mathematical error, explained below:

Yeah, it’s funny.  But Taft didn’t serve in all three branches of the federal government. He was never a member of Congress.  He served in the executive branch and the judicial branch, at least twice in each, but he never served in the legislative branch, in Congress.

Taft was collector of taxes for the IRS, Ohio state judge, Solicitor General of the U.S., judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for the U.S., chairman of the commission to organize a government for the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, and then Governor-General of the Philippines, Secretary of War for Teddy Roosevelt, Acting Secretary of State, Governor of Cuba, Co-chairman of the National War Labor Board in World War I, and then Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, but never a member of either the House of Representatives or the Senate.

The LOLphoto is still funny.

Oh.  Kenny just found the same thing posted at Kitchen Pundit.   Still wrong.  Still funny.

What “bathtub trouble?” Well, yeah, we ought to explain that.  The story is that Taft was so large — 330 pounds plus as president — that he once got stuck in a White House bathtub, and consequently had a much larger tub installed there.  Is the story accurate?

Here’s a news story of Taft’s bathing troubles post-presidency, from the New York Times:

CAPE MAY, N.J., June 18 [1915]. — Ex-President Taft, who came here yesterday as the guest of the Pennsylvania Bankers’ Association, took a bath in his apartments in the Hotel Cape May. He failed properly to consider the size of the average seashore hotel bathtub, however, with the result that when he got into the tub the water overflowed and trickled down upon the heads of the guests in the dining room.

And the White House?  Here’s a photo of the specially-made Taft bathtub just before its installation at the White House, about 1911:

Four men show the size of President Tafts bathtub, 1911 - White House Museum.org photo

The National Archives and Records Administration has an exhibit right now at the Archives building on “BIG,” celebrating 75 years of NARA.  Included are orders for big tubs for Taft, and a replica of the giant tub installed at the White House (which was broken when it we removed in 1948 for renovation).

As evidence that William Howard Taft was the biggest man to serve as President of the United States, the exhibit presents the 1909 order for a bathtub and other items specially ordered to accommodate Taft’s 300-plus-pound frame. In January 1909, two months after being elected President (he was inaugurated on March 4, 1909), Taft boarded the USS North Carolina to set sail to inspect the Panama Canal construction zone. The ship was outfitted specially for him. The captain ordered the following items: “1 brass double bedstead of extra length; 1 superior spring mattress, extra strong; 1 bath tub, 5 feet 5 inches in length, over rolled rim and of extra width.” Later newspaper accounts (and a photograph) revealed that the bathtub was built on an even bigger scale—that it had “pondlike dimensions . . . [it] will hold four ordinary men and is the largest ever manufactured . . . the tub is 7 feet 1 inch long, 41 inches wide and weighs a ton.”

Soon after leaving the presidency, Taft lost 70 pounds, which he maintained throughout the remainder of his life. In 1921, Taft was appointed Chief Justice of the United States, becoming the only person to hold the highest office in both the executive and judicial branches.


On the road, end of semester version

June 9, 2009

Yeah, we’re on the road.  Kenny and I are midway to Wisconsin to pick up James, Friday after his last final at Lawrence.

Blogging light, diet loaded with fat and sodium.


June 9, 1902: Woodrow Wilson elected president . . .

June 9, 2009

107 years ago today  Woodrow Wilson was unanimously elected president, of Princeton University in New Jersey, on June 9, 1902.

Wilson’s history is remarkable.  He is not the only university president ever to have been elected president of the United States — Dwight Eisenhower and Charles James A. Garfield also served in that capacity (any others?) — but his election to the Princeton post marked an unusual rise in an essentially non-political career that would lead Wilson to the White House through the New Jersey governor’s mansion.

Wilson’s thinking, writing and thinking about how to make colleges and universities more democratic, and therefore more useful as fountains of leadership for the nation, propelled him forward.  This makes him unusually American in the way he worked for national service, and so was called to higher service.

All details courtesy the Library of Congress’s American Memory “Today in History” feature:

  • “On June 9, 1902, Woodrow Wilson was unanimously elected president of Princeton University, a position he held until he resigned in 1910 to run for governor of New Jersey. As university president, Wilson exhibited both the idealistic integrity and the occasional lack of political acumen that marked his tenure as the twenty-eighth president of the United States (1913-21).”
  • “Wilson served on the faculties of Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University before joining the Princeton faculty as professor of jurisprudence and political economy in 1890. A popular teacher and respected scholar, Wilson delivered an oration at Princeton’s sesquicentennial celebration (1896) entitled ‘Princeton in the Nation’s Service.’ In this famous speech, he outlined his vision of the university in a democratic nation, calling on institutions of higher learning ‘to illuminate duty by every lesson that can be drawn out of the past.'”
  • “Wilson began a fund-raising campaign to bolster the university corporation. The curriculum guidelines that he developed during his tenure as president of Princeton proved among the most important innovations in the field of higher education. He instituted the now common system of core requirements followed by two years of concentration in a selected area. When he attempted to curtail the influence of the elitist “social clubs,” however, Wilson met with resistance from trustees and potential donors. He believed that the system was smothering the intellectual and moral life of the undergraduates. Opposition from wealthy and powerful alumni further convinced Wilson of the undesirability of exclusiveness and moved him towards a more populist position in his politics.”
  • While attending a recent Lincoln celebration I asked myself if Lincoln would have been as serviceable to the people of this country had he been a college man, and I was obliged to say to myself that he would not. The process to which the college man is subjected does not render him serviceable to the country as a whole. It is for this reason that I have dedicated every power in me to a democratic regeneration.
    The American college must become saturated in the same sympathies as the common people. The colleges of this country must be reconstructed from the top to the bottom. The American people will tolerate nothing that savors of exclusiveness.
    Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton University, “Address to Alumni,” April 16, 1910.
Woodrow Wilson, circa 1913 (in the Oval Office?) - Library of Congress image

Woodrow Wilson, circa 1913 (in the Oval Office?) - Library of Congress image


Fixing education at the top

June 9, 2009

No, Harold Levy doesn’t get it all right.  He’s a former chancellor of schools in New York City, so even if he did manage to get most what he says right, there would be enough people on the other side of some issue to say he did not, that if I compliment him too effusively, someone will say I’m wrong.

Among the greater products of the United States of America — and Canada, let’s face it — is the grand array of nearly 4,000 colleges and universities that set the pace for education in the world.  Our greatest export is education, the idea that education almost by itself can solve many great and vexing issues, the idea that education is a great democratic institution, and the education systems themselves, the methods of education used no matter how little backed by research.

Higher education makes up the better part of what we get right.

In an opposite-editorial page piece in the New York Times today Levy proposes some significant but eminently doable changes in how we work education in high schools and colleges.  Maybe surprising to some, he has good things to say about the University of Phoenix and their $278 million advertising campaign, about high-pressure tactics to reduce truants, and about the GI Bill.


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