William Howard Taft is a truly unique American figure who led two branches of government, was a wrestling champion and the youngest Solicitor General in American history.
Born on September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Taft seemed headed toward a distinguished legal career before his ambitions shifted to politics. Taft succeeded Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 as the 27th President, only to lose a bitter re-election bid in 1912. But eight years later, Taft achieved his life’s dream to became Chief Justice of the United States.
Here are some interesting facts about one of the most interesting figures of the early twentieth century.
1. Taft was a big guy. He was a heavyweight wrestling champion at Yale, for starters. He stood about 6 feet tall and weighed 243 pounds when he graduated from college. He struggled with his weight and may have weighed more than 330 pounds as President. But he was at his college weight at the time of his death.
2. His career goal was to be a Supreme Court justice. Taft’s father was Alphonso Taft, a former U.S. Attorney General, and distinguished judge; Taft himself was appointed a federal circuit judge at 34.
3. Taft is the only former U.S. Solicitor General to become President. Five Solicitors General eventually joined the Supreme Court, with Elena Kagan as the most recent example. Taft was Solicitor General in the Benjamin Harrison administration, at the age of 32.
4. Taft’s wife may have motivated him to seek a political career. Historians believe Helen “Nellie” Herron saw a broader career for her husband beyond a series of judicial appointments and encouraged him to accept positions that got him off of the bench and into Washington political circles.
5. President McKinley brought Taft into the national political arena. McKinley asked Taft to head a commission overseeing the newly acquired Philippines Territory 1900 and he left his federal judgeship to become Governor-General.
6. Taft eventually held his own father’s job in the Cabinet. Alphonso Taft was briefly Secretary of War in 1876. His son, William Howard Taft, was Teddy Roosevelt’s Secretary of War after leaving the Philippines. Taft and James Monroe were the only two Presidents to serve as Secretary of War.
7. Taft had been offered a Supreme Court seat before becoming President. McKinley promised Taft that if he left the bench and accepted the role of Governor-General, if a Supreme Court seat came up during his term, he would appoint him. However, McKinley was assassinated and Vice President Roosevelt became president. Roosevelt then tried to nominate Taft for the high court twice, but Taft turned down the nominations for various reasons, including ironically because he felt he had work to finish up in the Philippines first.
8. The Taft presidency didn’t end well. For starters, Taft became his own man and veered away from Roosevelt’s policies, which alienated Roosevelt and led to the bitterly fought 1912 election in which Roosevelt ran as a third-party candidate. Historians give Taft mixed marks overall as a chief executive.
9. Taft went back to the law and finally joined the Supreme Court. After leaving the White House, Taft taught at Yale Law School until he was named by President Warren Harding to the Supreme Court in 1921. He was Chief Justice until he retired, shortly before his death at the age of 72 in 1930. After joining the Court, Taft reportedly wrote that, “I don’t remember that I ever was President.”
10. Taft wasn’t stuck in the White House bathtub. Constitution Daily looked at the whole bathtub myth in detail back in 2012. While Taft was a big guy, he had a special tub put in the White House before he became President. The myth started decades later. But despite his distinguished career, some people best remember Taft because of the bathtub myth.