President Theodore Roosevelt

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Just before a campaign speech in Milwaukee on October 14, 1912, a man named John Schrank shot candidate Theodore Roosevelt in the chest. Roosevelt coughed, didn’t see any blood, and decided to go ahead and deliver his speech, which he opened with:

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.”

Then he pulled out his 50 pages of speech notes, with bullet holes through them. An eyeglass case (and his notes) had slowed the bullet, but it still went into Roosevelt’s chest and lodged against his fourth rib on the right side, near his heart. He went on to talk for 90 minutes before going to the hospital to have the wound looked at, and doctors decided to leave the bullet in his chest rather than remove it.

Roosevelt ended up losing the election that year to Woodrow Wilson (he had already served two terms as president and was running as a third-party candidate), but solidified his place as arguably the most badass politician in American history. Of course, he’d already had a good handle on that title while in office and throughout his political career.

Roosevelt had grown up with severe asthma and extremely nearsighted in New York City, graduated from Harvard, got married, and then enrolled in law school at Columbia, where he got so bored during his first semester there that he wrote his first book, History of the Naval War of 1812. He dropped out. He was elected to the New York state assembly at age 23 and was re-elected twice. While his wife was pregnant with their first child in 1883, Roosevelt took an influential trip to the Dakota Territories. He helped cowboys round up cattle, hunted bison, slept out at night, and fell in love with the open spaces of the West. When his wife died from kidney failure and his mother died 12 hours later of typhoid fever in 1884, Roosevelt left his newborn daughter with his sister and returned to North Dakota to ranch. Roosevelt would later write, “I have always said I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”

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Throughout his career, Roosevelt became known as a naturalist, explorer, and an adventurer who cautioned Americans against getting too soft. In his 1899 speech, The Strenuous Life, Roosevelt said: “I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”

In 1909, Roosevelt and his son Kermit sailed to Africa for a safari, and returned with hundreds of scientific specimens and hunting trophies. In 1914, father and son joined an expedition to attempt the first descent of the River of Doubt in Brazil. Roosevelt injured his leg, got jungle fever, and lost 60 pounds. One of the 19 expedition members drowned in rapids, one member was murdered, and the murderer was left behind in the wild jungle, where he presumably died.

Roosevelt also boxed, sparring regularly during his career. He once was hit so hard in the face during his presidency that he lost all vision in his left eye. His blindness remained a secret for most of his career, and he gave up boxing for judo, earning a brown belt. He also liked to skinny-dip in the Potomac River-during the winter-and loved singlestick, a stick-fighting martial art which managed to earn him some injuries reported in newspapers at the time, including a smashed hand courtesy General Leonard Wood.

Roosevelt can also be thanked for the American invention of the “teddy bear.” As the story goes, then-President Roosevelt was on a hunting trip in Mississippi, and guides had caught an elderly black bear, clubbed it, and tied it to a tree for the president to shoot. Roosevelt refused, saying it would be unsportsmanlike, but demanded the bear be put out of its misery. The story made its way to newspapers, and Clifford Berryman drew a cartoon depicting Roosevelt and the poor bear. In later cartoons drawn by Berryman and others, the bear became smaller and cuter. A candy shop owner in New York saw the cartoon and got an idea: He took two stuffed bears his wife had made and put them in his shop window, calling them “Teddy’s bears.” The bears were instantly popular.

Roosevelt became a symbol of masculinity throughout the 20th century, preaching and living ideals of duty, honor, and hard work. He did not, however, ride a moose, as depicted in a 1912 campaign photo that was revealed to be fake in 2013 by a curator at a Harvard library.

Roosevelt died in 1919 after a blood clot moved from his leg into his lungs. He never liked the nickname “Teddy.” It didn’t sound very badass.

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