Quick Bio - Our 26th President, 1901-1909. He held the Vice Presidency and assumed office after William McKinley was assassinated. (If you're scoring at home, four US Presidents have been killed in office, four others died of natural causes, and one resigned.) He took office at age 42, and remains the youngest ever president. Roosevelt had previously been Governor of New York, New York City Police Commissioner, and Assistant Naval Secretary.
He was a Republican, though modern Republicans might be revolted at his anti-corporation, pro-environment, pro-regulation, and pro-union stances. He was deeply religious but did not approve of the use of "In God We Trust" on money and postage stamps because he felt it would "cheapen" the phrase. Like Washington, Jackson, Taylor, and Grant before him, Roosevelt's fine military record paved a path to the highest office: never rising above the rank of Colonel, Roosevelt and his Rough Riders took Cuba during a daring raid in the Spanish-American War.
Roosevelt was given the nickname "Teddy" by the press. He thoroughly detested being called "Teddy," though the nickname would long outlive him: while on an unsuccessful bear hunting trip in Mississippi, his hosts cornered, clubbed, and tied a black bear to a tree for the President to shoot. Roosevelt was revolted. He deemed it unsportsmanlike and ordered the wounded bear be put out of its misery. Once this story was memorialized in political cartoons, an immigrant shopkeeper in New York was inspired and created the teddy bear. It was so named with Roosevelt's kind permission; he never asked for any compensation.
Accomplishments as President - As hinted above, Roosevelt was a "progressive" (his term) whose lasting achievements demonstrated an eye toward the future. His intense, ultra-masculine personality made his policy stances firm, and he routinely got his way:
- He put the ten-year-old Sherman Antitrust Act to use, suing some 45 companies for monopolizing their markets. Two of his biggest foes were Northern Securities, a growing transportation conglomerate threatening to control 33% of the nation's railroads, and Standard Oil, whose dastardly, often ill-gained death-grip on the fuel market (88% of all petroleum sales) made its boss, John D. Rockefeller, the richest American ever (his peak wealth in today's dollars would've been $660 billion, or ten times Bill Gates' net worth).
Rockefeller and Northern's head J.P. Morgan both insulted Teddy to his face, regarding him as their "competitor," and this attitude solidified Roosevelt's point that such "trust" corporations were out to destroy competition. Teddy won: Northern never got formed, and Standard Oil got broken into all the American oil companies we know and love today (Esso/Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, ARCO, Amoco, ConocoPhillips, etc.).
- He sided with unions, helping settle the United Mine Workers strike such that the workers got better pay and reduced hours. This case gave the union cause momentum, which eventually led to the standard offering of benefits that we take for granted now (like vacation days and overtime pay). You wonder, given this feat and the previous one, how Teddy would've viewed Wal-Mart.
- He further held businesses' feet to the fire with safety regulations. The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act set the precedent for inspections of food products, clean processing of food, and BS-free labeling. Businesses whooped about the strangling regulations they had to adhere to. People got safer food.
- He established the National Parks system, thereby preserving the natural wonders of our country for future generations to enjoy. He loved the outdoors and wanted at least some of the land to be free of railroads and oil derricks.
- And, while not a policy accomplishment, Roosevelt also created the modern press conference when he gave reporters a room at the White House so they weren't standing in the rain awaiting his statements.
Teddy spoke softly and carried a big stick while he was busy getting shit done.
(Please note: this isn't a list of my four favorite presidents, or the four best presidents, or the four most noble, or the four who should be on the $50 bill instead of Grant, or even my ideal version of a new Mount Rushmore. It's just a list, as the title says, of four dudes who actually got shit done.)