Look At Your Shoes, Peasants

This billboard was situated on Elizabeth Street in Sydney, Australia, advertising Kiwi Shoe Polish, with an image of an unidentified man who coincidentally, bore a strong resemblance to the current president of the United States. Evidently, FDR had not authorized use of his likeness. I can’t imagine that a billboard in the US of an Australia Prime Minister would help sales of shoe polish over here. In fact, I doubt any of us could name one Australian Prime Minister.

LIFE 7/38

So Busty!

Living Lens

Looking très French in his beret and silk apron, sculptor Rene (of course his name is Rene) Shapshak adds the final touches to his clay model of former President Harry S. (“You Dropped A Bomb On Me”) Truman in early 1956 at the Federal Reserve Bank Building in Kansas City, Missouri, the state from whenst Truman sprang. While interweb sources all declare that this would become a bronze bust, to be unveiled in Israel on Truman’s 73rd birthday, I can find no such bronze bust. It would seem the bust itself was a bust.


Hannibal Hamlin, I Never Knew Ye

Illustrated History of US

My minor was in history, and I admit I’ve never heard of Hannibal Hamlin, the first Republican Vice President. Or perhaps the memory of him was replaced by the cannibal Hannibal in the movie I saw my freshman year, forever cursing the name. I can promise you no one in public school will ever learn his name. But how could we be expected to know the names of the Vice Presidents? We don’t even know what they do. Neither he nor Lincoln look particularly psyched for union preservation in this poster.  A former member of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Hamlin left the pro-slavery Democratic Party in 1856 for the newly-formed Republican Party that aligned with his anti-slavery views. He served only four years, during all but the very last month of the Civil War, and was replaced during the 1864 election by Andrew Johnson. Among other positions that followed, Hamlin returned to the Senate and served two terms, then became the US Ambassador to Spain. Que bueno!

In this picture, I think he bears a passing resemblance to another double H, Howard Hessman, aka Johnny Fever. But that’s just me.

Put Me In, Coach

Illustrated History of the US

Just look at the grin on the fellow biting his lower lip, as President Warren G (the president, not the rapper) Harding throw out the baseball to start the April 1922 season. Guess that didn’t happen this year.

The originator of the tradition was the portly and oft-ridiculed President William Howard Taft, seen throwing out the  first pitch at a Washington Senators game in 1910. (AP Photo, File)

Good form, sir!

But before you go, let’s make sure that you have one bit of trivia in that noggin of yours about our 27th president, that has nothing to do with his size (which seems to have vacillated from 243 in college to a high of 330 and then down again).  His father was a former US Attorney General, and he himself was named by President Warren Harding (above) to the Supreme Court in 1921. Yes, he was the Chief Justice of the US. And no, he never got stuck inside a bathtub.


Ike Dresses All The Rage For The Holidays

by Carl Mydans

Before IKE meant “I know, eh?” which sounds soooooo Canadian, Ike meant Dwight Eisenhower, as in the former president. All the boys in his family were called Ike; he was “Little Ike” as the youngest. And who could have imagined one day women would be sitting on a hardwood floor, clapping for him, wearing his nickname all over their flouncy dresses?

Truman Strolling Down French Riviera

LIFE 6-23-58

Five years after he’d left the White House, Truman (not visibly flanked by any Secret Service) took a monthlong Mediterranean tour. Here, he walks through the alleys of St. Paul de Vence. Behind him are his traveling companions, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Rosenman.

Other vacations were less formal, like this trip to Key West, Florida in November of 1951. The man holding up swimming trunks is General Harry H. Vaughan.

Truman Library

Doesn’t he look happy as a clam in the Key West “chow line” for lunch?

http://www.trumanlittlewhitehouse.com March 8, 1951

Nothing slowed old Harry down.


President Truman didn’t pass until the day after Christmas of 1972 at the age of 88. His wife, Bess, outlived him by another decade, making her the oldest living First Lady to date.

Here they are with daughter Margaret in the lounge of the American President Lines’ President Cleveland, April 28, 1953, before sailing for San Francisco and home after a one-month Hawaiian vacation.



Best Seat In The House

by Matthew Brady

It’s August of 1864 at the Potomac headquarters, and Captain Charles Frances Adams, Jr, appears to have the best back support.  He is flanked by officers of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. The man on the far left is unknown, the man sitting backwards in his chair is  Capt. Edward A. Flint, and the far right is Lt. George H. Teague.

Adams was the great-grandson of United States President John Adams, and the grandson of president John Quincy Adams.  John Quincy Adams was the earliest president to be photographed. Here is a daguerreotype taken by Brady in 1843.

He would die five years later. Isn’t it amazing to see an image of a man born in 1767? After he left office, Adams won a seat in the House of Representatives, becoming one of only two presidents to hold political office after serving in the White House (Andrew Johnson returned to the Senate shortly before he passed). During a passionate debate, Adams suffered a heart attack on the House floor and died a few days later.


Happy 134th Birthday to Martin Van Buren!


Today marks the birthday of our 8th president, Martin Van Buren. This morning I couldn’t have told you one fact about him. But now I’ve learned several!

  • He was the FIRST president to be born in the U.S.
  • He was the first president NOT of British or Scots-Irish ancestry; he was Dutch and spoke Dutch as his first language, with English as his second.
  • His political enemies nicknamed him Martin Van RUIN.
  • He married his childhood sweetheart and first cousin once removed, Hannah Hoes, but she died 18 years before he was sworn in. FYI, a first cousin once removed is either your cousin’s kid or your parent’s cousin

Once I learned that, I immediately thought of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt and how ew it was that they were cousins. And how Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin back in the day. But did you know Edgar Allen Poe married his 13-year-old first cousin, too?

So did Einstein, Jesse James, and composer Stravinsky. Thomas Jefferson married his third cousin. Johann Sebastian Bach had 20 children, seven of them with his first wife and second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach. Charles Darwin married his first cousin and had ten children. Cue the natural selection jokes. The real Christopher Robin married his first cousin and had one daughter, who was later diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Makes you wonder. 

Now check out Einstein and his handsome cousin.


Politics Is Hilarious

This Fabulous Century 1930-1940
This Fabulous Century 1930-1940

Why is FDR howling with laughter? He and son James, along with William McAdoo and advisor James Farley, are responding to the quips of Will Rogers as he introduces the new president in 1933.


“Mr. Roosevelt is a plain-spoken man. Remember that speech last night about the banks? Long adjectives and nouns–he didn’t mess with ’em at all. He knows what the country wants is relief and not rhetoric. He is the first Harvard man to know enough to drop three syllables when he has something to say. Why, compared to me, he is almost illiterate.” — May 7, 1933



1916 Election: Peace With Honor

Illustrated History of the US
Illustrated History of the US

One hundred years ago, incumbent President Woodrow Wilson used newfangled machines on wheels to get his message of peace across to the common man (not woman, of course; they were still unable to vote). While Europe had already entered WWI,  Wilson remained popular with his campaign slogan “He kept us out of war.” He defeated Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican candidate, by a narrow margin. And then he sent our boys off to war the very next April.

You can’t always stay neutral, folks.


Precious Little Pre-WWII Graphs

I got my paws on a December 1939 Fortune magazine this week, which contained several interesting graph results of a readers’ poll. Keep in mind that there was no television then, no internet, no means of learning up-to-date war information other than radio or newspaper.

This question was: Which statement best represents your idea of Germany? 


Most Americans believed that Germans were peace-loving, misled by ruthless rulers. Understanding that Hitler was the most ruthless of rulers, impending war led to this question.


I love the body language on these little black bodies. Yes, maybe, and hell to the no.

At this point, the four-term FDR was only in his second term, and readers had no way of knowing if he would go on to serve again. Look how cute they made the innacurately non-wheelchair-bound but accurately chainsmoking president look. Reports say he smoked 20-30 cigarettes per day! And as you recall, he did have polio, so he could not walk unassisted.


The last question simply asked if those polled wanted to keep FDR in the White House at all, which nearly half the readers did. And why not? Did you ever see a happier horse with a cigarette holder, swimming away from a crocodile?



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