Awesome people in history: Theodore Roosevelt

Nothing beats an awesome mustache.

I’m not sure, but I think Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the more well-known Roosevelt. FDR led us through the Great Depression and World War II, and holds the record for longest presidency, at 12 years. All while confined to a wheelchair. Which is pretty awesome.

But there’s a reason Theodore is the Roosevelt we put on Mount Rushmore.

The only thing most people know about South Dakota.

You wouldn’t have associated “Teddy” with awesome as a young boy with asthma and poor eyesight. But these very weaknesses were what motivated him to adopt a daily routine of exercise – as much as his asthma would allow – and gradually he became rather buff. His toughness may have been a reason he was elected to the New York State Assembly at 23 years of age. To put that in context, I am 23, and I’m still in college.

And all I've done is worked for our puny college TV station.

In late 19th-century America, all levels of government here in America from city halls to the White House were filled with corrupt politicians put in office by “political machines” that selected candidates, bought votes, and made sure all non-elected government jobs from Secretary of State to janitor were filled with the machine’s loyal underlings. It was kind of like Gotham City in the Christopher Nolan Batman films. Theodore Roosevelt decided it was time to be a metaphorical Harvey Dent – an unbuyable idealist using his office to take on the corrupt system. For this, he became famous and popular with the people, as well as infamous and unpopular with the political machines.

In 1884, his mother and wife both died on the same day. In mourning, Roosevelt decided to go west and live the life of a cowboy.

Also known as one of the most awesome jobs in U.S. history.

When he returned to New York, he went right back to fighting corruption, and worked his way up to Washington, D.C. with his spunk and determination. He was Assistant Secretary of the Navy when William McKinley was president. During this time, there was growing agitation for a war against Spain, as newspapers reported on how harshly the Spanish army was oppressing the Cuban people. Oh, and the fact that a major U.S. battleship suddenly exploded in Havana harbor, the cause of which is still a mystery. Now, Roosevelt did something sly. As the debate over declaring war raged, he ordered the U.S. Pacific fleet so sail into Hong Kong and just hang out. Then, on the very day Congress finally did declare war, Roosevelt ordered the fleet to sail over to Manila to intercept and destroy the Spanish fleet. Then immediately quit his job to volunteer in the Army.

I'm not even sure the Spanish knew the war had started.

Roosevelt organized his own Army unit, the 1st Volunteer Cavalry. Better known as the “Rough Riders”, the became famous once they got to Cuba for bravery and tenacity under fire. And Roosevelt led them in person. When Roosevelt and the Rough Riders made their way on foot up Kettle Hill in the Battle of Santiago, securing American victory, Roosevelt’s status as a war celebrity was solidified.

After the war, William McKinley made Roosevelt his running mate for his reelection bid. Then, McKinley was shot, and Roosevelt became the youngest President on record. He had the White House completely remodeled, and used it to entertain all manner of celebrities. He once again turned to smashing the political machines, and enacted all kinds of reforms to alleviate the problem. He tackled the notorious monopolies and trusts run by figures like Rockefeller, Morgan and Carnegie that had cornered the American marketplace, charging exorbitant prices for products made by poorly-paid workers while running any competition out of business. Dozens of such monopolies were forcibly broken up in order to have a free market again. Roosevelt also enacted some of the first labor laws to protect workers, and the Pure Food and Drug Act to protect consumers.

Not content with just fixing America’s problems, Roosevelt also had the kahunas to try to fix all the world’s problems. He arbitrated the peace settlement that ended the Russo-Japanese War, earning himself a Nobel Peace Prize.

And setting a precedent followed by almost every president since then.

We can thank Roosevelt for the Panama Canal, too. When Columbia wouldn’t grant the U.S. the right to dig the canal, Roosevelt threw Uncle Sam’s might behind a small, little-known band of rebels seeking Panama’s independence from their southern neighbor. Roosevelt effectively created the country from nothing; not just by securing its independence, but also building up its economy and infrastructure so it could support the canal’s construction. Suddenly, a little-known and ignored backwater became one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries.

Roosevelt was an avid environmentalist, laying the foundations for the modern National Parks Service. In his spare time, he would visit these parks to go hunting. What did he hunt? Why bears, of course.

Deer hunting is for wimps.

One particular tale came from his bear hunts. On a bad day of hunting, someone decided to tie up a bear cub so the president could say he shot something. But Roosevelt refused, saying it was unsportsmanlike to kill a bear cub.

Which is where we get the "Teddy Bear".

During his presidency, Roosevelt kept nine dogs, two cats, four guinea pigs, two chickens, two ponies, a parrot, a pig, a rat, a snake, and a badger. The White House must have seemed like a zoo.

After leaving office, Roosevelt went on a huge African safari to hunt rhinos.

Because bear hunting is for wimps.

He returned to the U.S. and decided he wanted the White House back, after all, causing a split in the Republican Party. His “Bull Moose” Party was actually more popular than the Republican ticket, because people liked the man so much. While in Wisconsin, he was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin. Rather than go to a hospital, Roosevelt went ahead and gave the campaign speech he was scheduled to make anyway. “It takes more than that to stop a Bull Moose”, he said.

Ultimately, though, Roosevelt lost to Woodrow Wilson, so he went on a trip to the Amazon rain forest. Because, you know, that’s how he rolled. His last years were mainly spent advocating U.S. entry into World War I and opposing President Wilson’s policies. When he died, he was a symbol for many of all that was right about America. Which is why he’s the guy on Mount Rushmore.

Information from plus some things I’ve read in various “Facts about Presidents” books.