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Facial Hair Friday: A really big mustache—and bathtub

The replica of the tub on display in the "BIG!" exhibit at the National Archives.

Oh, President Taft. It was your birthday yesterday, and I just had to feature you here on Facial Hair Friday.

You were one of the few Presidents that seemed to stick my brain when I was studying for the AP History exam. Important dates, key battles, our founding documents—I could barely keep those facts stuck to my teenage grey matter, but I always remembered you, Taft, because of your bathtub. Sadly, there was no question about your powder room fixtures on the exam.

When I joined the National Archives, the “BIG!” exhibit was in its final weeks. I walked through and saw the many big things we have in the National Archives (like a huge globe and the 13-foot-long Articles of Confederation), and then I turned the corner and there it was.

You see, the reason that I remembered Taft so well was that our teacher mentioned he had a bathtub specially made for him due to his size. Yes, kids can be cruel. (And Taft would have been familiar with this—remarks about his weight were something he was all too familiar with growing up.) And there in the middle of the exhibit was the bathtub.

The bathtub was a replica of the one Taft had built. Taft weighed 340 pounds and stood almost six feet tall. Two months after being elected, the USS North Carolina was outfitted for Taft for his trip to inspect the Panama Canal construction zone. The (original) tub was 7 feet 1 inch long, 41 inches wide, and weighed one ton.

This Berryman cartoon depicts William Howard Taft being enticed towards a run for the Presidency in 1908. Taft blocks the buzz of a potential Supreme Court nomination to better hear the enticing buzz of the Presidential bee. Berryman speculates that Taft may be succumbing to Roosevelt's wishes and is "not afraid" of running for President. (ARC 1693338)

But I am older and wiser now, and I can tell you that I no longer associate President Taft with his bathtub. I now know that he was the last President to sport facial hair (note his finely curled mustache in the cartoon to the left), which is why we are featuring him today.

And there’s more to Taft than facial hair. As Secretary of War, Taft told President Theodore Roosevelt that his highest ambition was to serve as Chief Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. But Roosevelt hoped Taft would run in the 1908 election as his successor if Roosevelt followed through on his promise not to run for President again. With Roosevelt’s encouragement, Taft began to consider the option. When Roosevelt attempted a run for the Presidency in 1912, however, the formerly close friends and allies were bitterly divided.

Taft was a one-term President, and afterward went back into law and opposed the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition).

In 1921, President Harding  nominated Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the former President finally achieved his long-held goal. He is the only President to have served on the Supreme Court, and he administered the oath of office to Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

So, yes, there’s more to this President than just a ‘stache and a tub. Happy Birthday, President Taft!

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