The Presidential Gallery

It’s Presidents Day. What does that even mean? A day off? No day off? Stuff is closed… maybe? Hey! Mattresses are on sale!

*jumps on beds in an appropriately celebratory fashion* Hooray for presidents!

Actually, despite being called “Presidents Day,” today is celebrated in honor of George Washington’s birthday. Yep, just his. Which is actually February 22nd. Or maybe it was the 11th. Which is not confusing at all.

Lincoln is generally recognized as the “other” president on Presidents Day, but his birthday, February 12, was never actually a federal holiday. Presidents Day kinda lands between the two, but it was the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that really shoved it to the third Monday in February. So be aware, your birthday may be changed by an Act of Congress.

So yeah, George Washington was a pretty cool guy, right?. General, inventor, father of our nation and all that. He designed a 16-sided threshing barn that allowed horses to thresh wheat indoors. See, up until that point, grain would be threshed by hand (ow) or by having horses stomp on it (ew). But in Washington’s barn, horses would be made to continually run so that they wouldn’t, erm, “go” on the grain. (See? Ew.) The horses would run on the second level of the barn, and the floor had gaps through which the grain would fall to be collected. Problem solver!

So, Washington yes, awesome dude, but what about the other guys? Where’s the love?

This is why they’re hot.
All Mad Art Lab-like.

Thomas Jefferson is said to have played the cello, clavichord and violin, and his music library can now be found at the University of Virginia. Jefferson said that music was “an enjoyment, the deprivation of which cannot be calculated.” And like Washington, he was an inventor; Monticello is full of nifty stuff he created and he’s credited with inventing the swivel chair. The wheel cipher is another Jeffersonian invention, used to encode communications; you can play with an online version here and send your friends coded e-mails like the giant nerds we are.

Jefferson was also an architect, and quite miffed that his anonymous entry for the design of the Capitol building came in second place.

John Quincy Adams played the flute, and created compositions for it. During his time as a student at Harvard University, Adams wrote such hits as “Lesson by Morelli” and “York Fuzileers.” Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of them.

Woodrow Wilson apparently “dreamed of being a stage performer” and would imitate performers from musicals he’d seen. He also played the violin.

Warren G. Harding was said to be the most musical of our presidents. He was the organizer of the Citizen’s Cornet Band, a band made available to be used at Republican and Democratic rallies. Harding once said that he could play every instrument but the slide trombone and the E-flat cornet. He was also the first president to have a radio in his office, and, unrelatedly, his middle name was Gamaliel.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt played the organ. And I could write an entire new post on the awesome art that came out of his New Deal programs via the Works Progress Administration, including some at my (and Katie’s) alma mater. Ok, maybe that’s not HIS art, but c’mon!

Harry Truman played the piano:

Dwight D. Eisenhower liked to paint. He admitted that he was not very good at it, but said it was “relaxing.” He said that he had more time to paint as President than as a private citizen because his day was more structured, and had a small studio on an upper floor of the White House. Painting farm scenes and landscapes, his work was even featured in museum exhibitions, but he acknowledged that “They would have burned this [expletive] a long time ago if I weren’t the president of the United States.

Did you have any idea that Richard Nixon was a pianist (and played the accordion too)? I didn’t (music starts at 1:55):

Ronald Reagan was famous for his acting before his president-ing, both in films and on television. He earned his nickname of “The Gipper” from his role in 1940’s Knute Rockne, All American as George “The Gipper” Gipp. He also… doodled. (What? That’s what they called it!)

And of course, everyone knows how Bill Clinton played the sax:

(In my travels, I did find one wag that noted, “Well, George W. was autistic…”)

Barack Obama says he cooks “…a really mean chili. People don’t know this, but Michelle can testify. Now, she’ll claim that I haven’t cooked it for about 10 years, so I shouldn’t get too much credit for it.”

Obama is also a “doodler.” And he sings!:

So it looks more like a presidential auditorium than a presidential gallery in here… and I’m sure I’m missing some awesome presidential talent here, add more in the comments!

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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  1. Hmm. Well, you know how some people go through a phase where they buy a set of weights, use them for a while, and then they just take up space in their rec room? I’m guessing that this is the millionaire version of that.

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