Cigars, painting, and crosswords: the surprising hobbies of 17 presidents

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Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images, Corbis Historical via Getty Images

  • The lesser-known habits among past American presidents range from athletic to creative, and even to the delicious.
  • These habits helped the leaders of the free world unwind.

Though presidential legacies are mostly comprised of the policies that shape society and government for years after they leave office, some who served in the White House had memorable ways of unwinding as well.

Many presidents continued to be avid athletes from their youth into office, but some other passions including painting, crosswords, and swimming were a part of their terms as well.

Here are some of the unexpected ways presidents have passed their time:


George Washington: dancing

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Rembrandt Peale (American, 1778–1860), circa 1854. Oil on canvas. The de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
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VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

Washington was a regular dancer through his teens and came to regard it as an important social interaction, calling it “the gentler conflict.”

Source: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association


Thomas Jefferson: food and wine

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Portrait of President Thomas Jefferson. Painting by C.W. Jarvis.
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Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

Jefferson’s time in France fueled his passion for the country’s fine wine and unique foods including french fries, ice cream, and mac and cheese, which he’s credited for popularizing in America.

Source: The Thomas Jefferson Foundation


John Quincy Adams: skinny dipping

The sixth president was notoriously meticulous, keeping daily journals that detailed his morning routine. After waking up around 4 or 5 a.m., Adams would walk two miles to the Potomac River and leave his clothes by the shore to swim.

Source: Business Insider


Andrew Jackson: cockfighting

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circa 1844: Andrew Jackson (1767 – 1845), the 7th President of the United States of America.
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Library Of Congress/Getty Images

Though cockfighting is now illegal in every state, Jackson was an enthusiast and was rumored to have held cockfights in the White House.

Source: The Washington Post


Theodore Roosevelt: boxing

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‘Terrible Teddy’ waits for ‘the unknown” President Theodore Roosevelt as a boxer sitting on a stool with his arms resting on the ropes in the near corner of a boxing ring, waiting for a challenger to enter the ring and sit in the vacant chair in the ‘Democratic Corner’.
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Universal History Archive / Contributor via Getty Images

After a sickly childhood, Roosevelt was an avid sportsman who boxed throughout his presidency. The hobby was put to use by political cartoonists to illustrate his competitive nature as a politician.

Source: National Constitution Center


Calvin Coolidge: riding an electric horse

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General Photographic Agency / Stringer / Getty Images

Coolidge so much enjoyed horse riding for exercise that he had an electric horse installed in the White House that had two speeds: trot and gallop.

Source: The White House Historical Association


Franklin Delano Roosevelt: swimming

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Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt enjoys a swim during his presidential campaign. | Location: Hyde Park, New York, USA.
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Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

After losing his ability to walk to polio at the age of 39, Roosevelt took up swimming three times a week to strengthen the muscles in his arms, stomach, and lower back.

After a few months, Roosevelt was able to walk short distances with the help of a cane or assistance from an aide. After his election, the New York Daily News donated a pool to the White House so Roosevelt could continue the practice.

Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, White House Historical Association


Dwight Eisenhower: painting

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower uses paints and canvas to help him relax at Camp David, Maryland.
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Corbis Historical via Getty Images

Eisenhower was an avid painter, often capturing natural landscapes and gifting them to friends.

Source: LBJ Presidential Library


John F. Kennedy: smoking cigars

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President John F. Kennedy smokes a cigar during a Democratic fundraising dinner at the Commonwealth Armory at Boston University.
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Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

Kennedy smoked 4-5 cigars a day and counted Upmanns or Monticellos among his preferred brands.

Source: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library


Lyndon Baines Johnson: spending time at the ranch

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President Lyndon B. Johnson works with a calf on his LBJ Ranch in Texas.
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© CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Johnson spent 490 days, or a quarter of his presidency at his Central Texas ranch, combining work and vacation so seamlessly it came to be known as the “Texas White House.”

Source: CNN


Richard Nixon: bowling

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President Nixon is the picture of concentration as he releases bowling ball at Executive Office Building lanes Sept. 17. However, the camera catches Mr. Nixon’s left foot over the foul line.
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via Getty Images

President and first lady Nixon both enjoyed bowling and had a one-lane bowling alley installed in the White House basement in 1969.

Source: White House Historical Association


Gerald Ford: collecting stamps

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These 41 cent stamps feature former President Gerald R. Ford.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Though he wasn’t around to see his own face grace US postal stamps in 2007, Ford was just one of many heads of state across the world who enjoyed collecting them, contributing to its nickname as “the hobby of kings.”

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Smithsonian Postal Museum


Ronald Reagan: horseback riding

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Queen Elizabeth II and President Ronald Reagan riding through the grounds of Windsor Castle on the morning of June 8, 1982.
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David Levenson/Getty Images

Reagan had a lifelong passion for riding horses that came in handy as a sporty public spectacle during his presidency, often alongside other world leaders.

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library


Bill Clinton: crossword puzzles

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Democratic presidential primary candidate Gov. Bill Clinton tackling crossword puzzle, relaxing at home, having peanut butter & banana sandwich in kitchen.
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Steve Liss/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Reports of Clinton’s crossword puzzle hobby were common during his campaign, and he even appeared in a 2006 documentary to profess his love for them.

Source: The New York Times


George W. Bush: running

Though Bush wasn’t the first president to count running among his hobbies, he was reportedly the most competitive.

“George W. Bush, was not a jogger but an honest-to-God runner,” Secret Service agent Dan Emmett wrote in 2014. “He ran at a six-minute-per-mile pace normally for 3 miles, and there were even fewer agents who could run with him than with President Clinton.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal


Barack Obama: collecting comics

Obama touted his childhood love for comics during his campaign and even appeared with Spider-Man during his first year as president.

Source: The Chicago Tribune


Donald Trump: golfing

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Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Though Trump’s professional and personal affection for golf has been well documented, the president has said his career-best shot is a fairly impressive 66, which is six shots below a standard American course’s par.

Source: Golf Digest, Golfweek