William Howard Taft
1909 - 1913
William Howard Taft was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on September 15, 1857. By time he was two he was "very large for his age."
His mother thought you could never love your children too much.
His father served as Attorney General for President Grant.
William Howard Taft was his predecessors most trusted advisor. Whenever a situation became too difficult for lesser men to handle, it was Taft who was sent to "sit on the lid."
William Taft attended Yale College (now Yale University). He graduated second in his class.
He later attended the Cincinnati Law School and became a lawyer and a judge.
Taft was the youngest judge in the state of Ohio.
He married Nellie Herron on June 19, 1886.
Some of the office he held were:
- Collector of internal revenue for President Arthur.
- Ohio superior court judge. He was only 29 at the time.
- President Harrison appointed him chief barister (lawyer)for the US government.
- The only office he ran for before the presidential election was for a "sitting judge."
- Governor General of the Philippines - the U.S. had acquired the islands from Spain.
- Secretary of War for President Teddy Roosevelt.
Taft's Bathtub before it was installed.
White House Photo.
When he first moved to Washington he lived only a few houses from Teddy Roosevelt. They use to walk to work together.
Taft became President in 1908. He easily defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan. It was Bryan's third attempt to be elected president. Taft had 321 electoral votes to Bryan's 162.
William Taft's Vice President was James S. Sherman from 1909-1912. From 1912-1913 he did not have a Vice President.
"Big Bill" was over 300 (332) pounds and 6'2". Needing a big bathtub, he had a 7' long 41" wide tub installed that could accommodate 4 normal-sized men. (He lost 150 pounds after leaving office.)
The heaviest president at 332 pounds, Taft struggled all his adult life with a weight problem. He got stuck in the White House bathtub and had to have an oversized version brought in for his use. ( I couldn't verify that the story about him being stuck is true or not.)
President Taft was the only ex-president to be a judge on the Supreme Court. He was appointed Chief Justice. He was the only president to head two branches of the federal government. Also, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he swore in Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover as U.S. Presidents. (Another first and only.)
Taft lost the support of many African Americans due to the Brownsville Raid of 1906 and his failure to appoint Black Americans to government positions. However, in 1910 he appointed William Lewis as an assistant to the attorney general. He was the first African American to hold such a high level position in the government.
President Taft was the first president to play golf. Taft said he liked golf because "you cannot permit yourself to think of anything else" while you are playing it.
William Howard Taft was the first president to own a car at the White House (he had the White House stables converted into a 4-car garage),
He was the first to throw out the first ball to begin the professional baseball season. He started the tradition of a president throwing out the first ball.
Taft appointed Julia Lahrop, to head the Children's Bureau in 1912. She was the first woman to head a federal bureau.
Taft appointed 6 Supreme Court justices during his four year term.
New Mexico became a state on January 6, 1912 and Arizona became a state on February 14, 1912. Making Taft the first President of 48 states. (Eisenhower was the first President of 50 states.)
In 1912, Taft did not want to run for a second term. He was persuaded to run for what he called the "loneliest job in the world."
During the campaign one of his advisors, Archie Butt died when the Titanic sunk.
He and Teddy Roosevelt were close friends who were now running against each other. After giving a speech critical of Roosevelt, Taft returned to his railroad car and said "Roosevelt was my closest friend." Then he started to cry.
His vice president, Sherman, died a week before the election.
One Taft campaign song for the three person race was:
Shout then for Taft, he is on the safest craft,
Working for the right and you,
"Bull Moose" may blow, Woodrow Wilson he may row,
But 'tis Billy puts the "Old Ship" trough.
(The Bull Moose was Teddy Roosevelt.)
In a bitter fight with Theodore Roosevelt, Taft saved the Republican Party in 1912 by taking on a doomed re-election campaign as an act to keep the party intact. Wilson, a Republican, won the election. Roosevelt ran for the Progressive Party. Taft finished third. He only won two states.
Taft liked milk so much that he brought his own cow to the White House. The cows name was Mooly Wolly. Mooly was replaced by another cow called Pauline Wayne. Pauline produced 64 quarts of milk a day and the president earned $80 a day when the mild was sold. Pauline was the last cow to graze on the White House lawn. Pauline also grazed on the lawn of the State, War and Navy Buildings.
Taft did not like to be criticized by the press.
Taft had no military experience and there were no wars fought during his term.
Taft set the record for the number of miles traveled by a president up to that time. His travels included several trips to see progress on the Panama Canal.
During his administration, the U.S. parcel post system began, and Congress approved the 16th Amendment, providing for the levying of an income tax.
Library of Congress
"It was by all odds the most infectious chuckle in the history of politics. It started with a silent trembling of Taft's ample stomach. The next sign was a pause in the reading of his speech, and the spread of a slow grin across his face. Then came a kind of gulp which seemed to escape without his being aware that the climax was near. Laughter followed hard on the chuckle itself, and the audience invariable joined in." (Biographer Henry F. Pringle)
When he left office there had not been a full two term president since Grant. (Teddy Roosevelt served part of a term when McKinley was assassinated and then a full term.)
Taft spoke out for a six year term for the president.
After he left office he taught law at Yale.
In 1921, President William Harding appointed Taft to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The job Taft had dreamed of for years.
By 1930 he had had two heart attacks and retired from the Supreme Court.
William Howard Taft died on March 8, 1930 in Washington, D.C. only one month after he retired from the Supreme Court.
He was 72 years and 174 days old. He was the first President to be buried in the National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. The only other President buried at Arlington is President Kennedy.
Taft was also the first president to have his funeral broadcast via radio.
Quotes from William Taft:
"I am not in favor of suffrage for women until I can be convinced that all the women desire it; and when they desire it I am in favor of giving it."
Nov. 2, 1909.
"We live in a stage of politics, where legislators seem to regard the passage of laws as much more important than the results of their enforcement."
Four years after being appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Taft wrote to a friend "The truth is that in my present life I don't remember that I was president.