Monday Trivia, No. 102 [Mo wins!]

About one-third of the men who served as President of the United States — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James K. Polk, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry S. Truman*, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush — did not do something that each of their successors and/or predecessors to the office did. What is it?

* You should use the period after the S. He did.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. When you say “each,” does that mean that for a given president on the list both his predecessor and successor have done this thing, or that at least one of them has done this? If it’s the former, what’s the deal with Washington?

    • And either way, what’s the deal with Pierce and Buchanan? In each case, both their immediate predecessor and immediate successor are on the list.

      • Yeah, up until Pierce there’s a nice pattern: 1, 3, 5, 11, 13. 14 ruins it.

    • Each and every President of the United States has done this thing, in one way or another, while holding the office of President of the United States.

      Except the ones on the list, who did not do it.

      Now, it’s possible that a named President actually did this thing while in office, but if that President is named here, then there seems to be no documentary, testamentary, or anecdotal evidence of that President’s having done it available to historians.

      • Maybe the other ones excused themselves and did it in a different room.

        • Sure, that’s possible. For the most part, we have had relatively polite Presidents.

          …Not only that, we also had Andrew Jackson and LBJ.

      • …Or chewing tobacco (Andrew Jackson and Grover Cleveland enjoyed the chaw). I don’t think we’ve had any Presidents who have used hookahs while in office, but that would have counted too.

        Aside from the incumbent, only one President has tried to quit while in office — William Howard Taft. He failed. His periodic attempts at quitting are thought by some smokers to have contributed to idle snacking and thus to his weight gain. I don’t smoke myself but I can understand the confluence of small moments of boredom punctuated by other small moments of high stress, combined with a nervous habituation to have something to do with an idle hand and an idle mouth. (Taft lost weight and was able to stay off the cigars for longer, although not completely, once he became Chief Justice of SCOTUS.)

        Today, we tend to think of “smoking” as cigarettes, as though cigar smoking were somehow different from it. Relatively few Presidents have taken their tobacco in the form of cigarettes. That’s in part because cigarettes are relatively new. The first cigarette smoker in the Oval Office was FDR, who was known to light his next cigarette before he was even done with the one he was working on. DDE had a soldier’s enjoyment of cancer sticks, as did JFK (who also took self-consciously ironic pleasure in Cuban cigars). LBJ rolled his own cigarettes, but after him we haven’t had a cigarette smoker in the Oval Office until the incumbent.

        Good job, Mo!

        • I don’t think we’ve had any Presidents who have used hookahs while in office

          If the stories are true, Warren Harding.

        • Woo! An assist and a win in 72 hours.

          I read a story that JFK ordered his staff to stock up on his favorite Cuban cigars before the embargo was officially declared. Not sure if it’s apocryphal, but it sounds about right.

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