William Howard Taft and the legend of POTUS in the Tub

President William Howard Taft, March 11, 1909, from the Wikipedia, original in the US Library of Congress. In the public domain because of its age.

I know that it is a bit of a deviation from my usual photographic theme, but I wanted to talk today, just a bit, about the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft (1857-1930). I took note yesterday (Friday, September 15th) that it was Taft’s 160th birthday and I read an article by Alexis Coe about him in the New York Times. Taft was the only man to serve both as President and as Chief Justice of the United States. It would be hard to imagine that kind of accord in our day and age. More’s the pity. Notably, Taft was the anointed successor to Theodore Roosevelt and was elected President in 1908., Roosevelt had buyer’s remorse and in 1912 Taft was defeated for re-election by Woodrow Wilson  after Roosevelt split the Republican vote by running as third-party “Bull Moose.Party” candidate.

I remember from high school history class – yes, friends, in those days we studied history – the legend of Taft, who was the most corpulent of American Presidents, getting stuck in the White House bathtub and requiring four of his staff and possibly butter to extract him. Ms. Coe reveals the sad truth that the bathtub story is, well, “false news.”  I am shattered!  Apparently, the originator of the legend was White House usher and butler Irwin (Ike) Hoover. Ike worked at the White House for 42 years In his 1934 memoir, Hoover describes Taft’s love of the bath and how he invariably needed help getting out. But, apparently there was never a moment of national crisis or need for butter.

Everyone should check their facts., I was going to say something to the effect that long before POTUS was called POTUS there was “false news.” But I was mistaken the acronym POTUS is not modern in origin. Rather it was developed as a  telegraph code for news agencies and its first appearance was in a book known as The Phillips Code published in 1879. See how easily it is to state falsely.

I have chosen as Figure 1 a portrait taken on March 11, 1909 of then POTUS Taft – cool mustache, no comb-over. This is how we want our presidents, Romanesque.

This entry was posted in History of Photography.