Welcome again to the Presidential Birthday Parade, for an August edition that won’t leave you disappointed! Four presidents were born this month, taking us all the way back to August 20, 1833, when Benjamin Harrison started the trend. The 23rd President of the United States was born in North Bend, Ohio, and was grandson to former President William Henry Harrison. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the Civil War, married twice, and fathered three children. Six states were admitted into the United States while he was in office: Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming. His likeness has been on six postage stamps, a $5 National Bank Note in the early 20th century, and is scheduled to be on a $1 coin in 2012. And here’s one for the Bizarro files: grave robbers actually stole his father’s body and sold it to a medical school! One of Benjamin’s brothers tracked it down.
Jump ahead 41 years and we arrive at the birth of Herbert Clark Hoover, born August 10, 1874 in West Branch, Iowa. He remains the only Iowan president and was the first born west of the Mississippi River. He majored in Geology and worked as a mining engineer in Australia and China with great success. In 1900, Herbert and his new wife, Lou Henry, were trapped in China by the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising that threatened the foreigners in their compound. Hoover acted heroically, helping to defend against the siege, guiding US marines through the Chinese terrain, and even rescuing some children from crossfire. His presidency was marred by the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, but his name lives on, memorialized on the Hoover Dam, five Herbert Hoover High Schools, city squares in Belgium and Warsaw, an Iowan library, and the theme song of “All in the Family.” Plus, get this, he invented his own sport! Hooverball is a combination of volleyball and tennis, with yearly tournaments still held in Baltimore.
In the 1960s, the cool presidents went by their initials, and when JFK was tragically assassinated, it was LBJ who stepped up to the plate. LBJ, or Lyndon Baines Johnson, was born on August 27, 1908, a date now recognized in Texas as a state holiday. He was a teacher, a debater, and, ultimately, a politician, progressing from Congressman to Senator to Vice President to President. His wife, known as “Lady Bird” Johnson, bore him two daughters: Lynda Bird and Luci Baines Johnson. When we said he liked his initials, we weren’t kidding! Even his dog was “Little Beagle Johnson”! In office, Johnson made great strides with policies that supported civil rights and education while declaring war on poverty. The “Chicken War” of 1963 was less successful, however, and the Vietnam War caused his popularity to plummet. Like Hoover, his legacy remains in the things named after him: a freeway, a runway, a grassland, a school, and the United States Department of Education headquarters. In 1980, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian award in the country. One parting shot: the man loved Fresca so much, he had a button installed in the Oval Office that would summon an aide with the beverage.
Finally, the president whose birthday has been, perhaps, the most debated in American history: our current president, Barack Obama. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii (unless you’re a member of the Birther Movement) on August 4, 1961, Obama made history as the first African American elected president. So, what don’t you know about the man in the Oval Office? He enjoys basketball, poker, and comic books (notably Conan the Barbarian, no word on whether he was considered for the role in the upcoming movie). While attending Harvard, he applied to appear in a pin-up magazine—but was rejected. That’s probably a relief, in retrospect. While living in Indonesia, he had an unusual pet: an ape named Tata. Unfortunately, the ape was not invited to join him in the White House.