10 U.S. Presidents With Unique Hobbies: Surprising Interests of Historical Leaders

Throughout history, U.S. presidents have been known for more than just their political accomplishments. These leaders have also engaged in a variety of hobbies that reflect their personalities and offer a glimpse into their lives beyond the Oval Office.

What did these presidents do in their spare time that was so unique? From athletic activities to artistic pursuits, each president has had interests that set them apart. This article explores ten U.S. presidents who had particularly unique hobbies, highlighting their fascinating and sometimes surprising pastimes.

1) Herbert Hoover’s Fishing

Herbert Hoover had a lifelong passion for fishing. As a child in Iowa, he roamed the prairies and streams, often catching over 100 fish in a single outing. This love for fishing followed him throughout his life.

Even as President, Hoover found time to fish. It provided him a sense of peace and escape from the pressures of his office. He often spoke about how fishing helped him relax and reflect.

Hoover’s dedication to fishing was so significant that he authored a book, Fishing for Fun and to Wash Your Soul, in 1963. In it, he shared stories of his fishing trips and offered insights into the enjoyment and tranquility the hobby brought him.

Biographer Hal Elliott Wert recognized Hoover’s deep connection with fishing by writing a 350-page book titled The Fishing President. This work highlights Hoover’s fishing adventures spanning from childhood to his later years.

Among U.S. Presidents, Hoover was one of the most avid fishermen. His enthusiasm for the pastime was extraordinary, making fishing a defining aspect of his personal life. This keen interest set him apart from many of his peers.

2) Thomas Jefferson’s Archaeology

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, had a keen interest in archaeology. He is often considered one of the pioneers of American archaeology.

In the late 18th century, Jefferson conducted an excavation of a Native American burial mound on his estate in Virginia. This burial mound was on a bluff overlooking the Rivanna River.

Jefferson’s methods in the excavation were systematic and scientific. He recorded his observations and findings, making detailed notes on the structure and contents of the mound.

His approach was advanced for his time, employing techniques similar to those used in modern archaeological digs. He noted the layers of earth and artifacts, and this stratigraphic method helped him understand the sequence of events.

This excavation provided valuable insights into the practices and rituals of the Native American populations in the region. Jefferson’s work in this field has earned him recognition as a significant figure in the history of archaeology in America.

Jefferson’s contributions to archaeology extend beyond this single excavation. His efforts laid the groundwork for future archaeological studies in the United States.

3) Theodore Roosevelt’s Taxidermy

Theodore Roosevelt's Taxidermy

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, had a unique hobby: taxidermy. This interest began at an early age. Born on October 27, 1858, in New York City, young Roosevelt was often sick and bedridden.

During his childhood, he developed a fascination with animals. He spent much of his time studying them. By age 7, he attempted his first taxidermy projects. He learned from books how to preserve animal specimens.

Roosevelt collected various species, from birds to small mammals. He even created a private “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History” in his family’s home. This museum showcased his growing taxidermy skills.

His passion for taxidermy grew alongside his interest in natural history. As an adult, he used his taxidermy knowledge in his conservation efforts. His understanding of wildlife preservation was crucial during his presidency.

Despite a busy political career, Roosevelt never lost his love for nature. His taxidermy hobby was an essential part of his life. It combined his interests in science, adventure, and conservation.

4) Abraham Lincoln’s Wrestling

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was known for his wrestling skills before his political career. Born in 1809, Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois, in the early 1830s. During this time, he worked as a clerk and developed a reputation as a skilled wrestler.

Standing 6-foot-4, Lincoln’s height gave him an advantage in the sport. He participated in various local matches and was renowned for his strength and technique. Wrestling was a common form of entertainment, and Lincoln’s skills earned him respect in his community.

Lincoln reportedly amassed around 300 victories over 12 years. His only recorded defeat came during the Black Hawk War in 1832 against Hank Thompson. Lincoln’s ability to wrestle also helped him build rapport with local citizens, which later aided his political ambitions.

Lincoln’s wrestling style was known as “catch-as-catch-can,” a rough and tumble form of grappling popular on the frontier. His wrestling prowess was a point of pride and showcased his determination and physical capabilities.

5) Calvin Coolidge’s Mechanical Horse Riding

Calvin Coolidge had a unique hobby—riding a mechanical horse named “Thunderbolt.” This unusual pastime set him apart from other presidents.

He loved horseback riding but couldn’t always get outside. To stay fit indoors, he used this electric horse. It was located in the White House, where Coolidge could take a ride anytime.

Coolidge had an enduring admiration for horses. Though he had experienced a fall from a horse as a child, breaking his arm, it did not diminish his love for riding.

Having “Thunderbolt” inside the White House allowed Coolidge to enjoy a bit of exercise without needing to leave his presidential duties. This mechanical horse became a small but notable part of his daily routine.

Coolidge’s choice to install such a device in the White House demonstrated his commitment to fitness and his unique way of merging work with personal interests. This hobby remains one of the quirkiest among U.S. presidents.

6) Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Stamp Collecting

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States, had a deep love for stamp collecting. He began this hobby as a child and carried it with him into the Oval Office.

Roosevelt often used stamp collecting as a way to relax. During the 1930s, many photos were released showing him working on his collection. These images helped create a public persona of a president at ease.

He believed stamp collecting offered mental relief, especially during stressful times like the Great Depression and World War II. It provided a peaceful retreat from the intense pressures of his presidency.

Roosevelt’s passion also extended to promoting the hobby. He engaged in designing several commemorative stamps and supported the U.S. Postal Service in various ways. His involvement brought increased attention and interest to stamp collecting across the nation.

His collection included stamps from many countries and time periods. It reflected his broad interests in history and geography, offering him a window into the world beyond politics and conflict.

Roosevelt’s dedication to this hobby underlines the role personal interests can play in offering balance, even for world leaders facing immense challenges. Through stamp collecting, he found a unique way to engage with the world and unwind.

7) Jimmy Carter’s Woodworking

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, is well-known for his passion for woodworking. After leaving the White House in 1981, Carter devoted a significant amount of his time to this craft.

He didn’t just dabble in woodworking; he took it very seriously. Carter has created numerous pieces of furniture, showcasing his skill and dedication. His projects range from simple wooden chairs to intricate cabinetry.

Carter’s love for woodworking dates back to his teenage years. He participated in competitions where he showcased his ability to measure, cut, and shape wood with precision. These early experiences honed his skills and fueled his enthusiasm for the craft.

Even while serving as President, Carter had a woodworking shop at his home in Plains, Georgia. He found peace and relaxation working with wood, a stark contrast to the pressures of the Oval Office.

In addition to personal projects, Carter’s woodworking skills were instrumental in his support of Habitat for Humanity. He actively built homes for those in need, combining his passion for woodworking with his commitment to public service. This combination of hobby and humanitarian effort has made his post-presidential years both productive and meaningful.

8) George Washington’s Dancing

George Washington, the first president of the United States, was known for his love of dancing. He enjoyed attending balls and social gatherings where he could showcase his dancing skills.

He was particularly fond of the minuet, a slow and graceful dance popular in the 18th century. This was not only a pastime but also a way for him to connect with his peers and society.

Martha Washington, his wife, also enjoyed dancing. Together, they were regular attendees at various social events, making dancing a shared interest in their life.

Washington’s passion for dancing reflected his appreciation for the arts and culture of his time. It also helped him maintain good physical fitness and social grace.

9) John Quincy Adams’s Swimming

John Quincy Adams had a unique way of starting his day. He enjoyed swimming in the Potomac River. This wasn’t just any swim; he did it naked. Adams believed this routine was good for his health.

He wrote in his diary about his swims. According to him, the exercise helped him stay clean and comfortable. His swims in the river were well-known.

This daily routine started at dawn. After his swim, Adams took a six-mile walk. This was part of his commitment to staying fit and healthy.

Adams’s love for swimming set him apart from other presidents. His habit was surprising to many. It made him memorable in a unique way.

10) Bill Clinton’s Saxophone Playing

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, showcased his musical talent through his saxophone playing. He often performed on television and at public events, making it a notable part of his persona.

In 1992, then-Governor Clinton played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. This performance included songs like “Heartbreak Hotel,” captivating the audience and gaining media attention.

Clinton’s saxophone is now part of the National Music Museum. It is a special Presidential Model saxophone donated in 1994, highlighting his lasting connection to music.

His saxophone skills were more than a hobby; they became a symbol of his relatability. This musical side of Clinton helped him connect with younger voters and added a unique aspect to his public image.

These moments of musical talent continue to be remembered as a distinctive feature of Clinton’s presidency. His saxophone playing remains an interesting and unique part of his legacy.

Unique Hobbies Among U.S. Presidents

U.S. presidents have engaged in a variety of unique hobbies that often reveal intriguing facets of their personalities and leadership styles. Some presidents have participated in activities that are both unexpected and fascinating.

The Importance of Hobbies for Presidents

Hobbies play a critical role in the lives of presidents. These activities provide a necessary break from their demanding duties. For example, Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoyed painting, which helped him relax during his presidency. John Adams found solace in political philosophy, spending his leisure time writing and reflecting on governance.

Physical hobbies have also been prevalent. Theodore Roosevelt boxed regularly, though he eventually had to stop due to an injury. Such hobbies are not only leisure activities but also methods to alleviate stress.

Music And The Arts

Many U.S. Presidents found solace in creative activities. For example, Thomas Jefferson was skilled at playing the violin, often using music as a retreat from his political duties. Richard Nixon had notable piano skills and even composed his own pieces. He once played the piano on national television, showcasing his musical talent.

Ulysses S. Grant, although known for his military efforts, had a passion for painting. Grant often painted scenes from his travels and military experiences. George W. Bush took up painting after his presidency, creating portraits of world leaders and American servicemen. These artistic hobbies reveal a more personal and reflective side of these leaders.

Athletic Pursuits

Physical activity was a common hobby among several Presidents. Theodore Roosevelt was known for his vigorous lifestyle, often engaging in hiking, boxing, and horseback riding. His active lifestyle was part of his “strenuous life” philosophy, promoting physical fitness and adventure.

John F. Kennedy enjoyed sailing and swimming, which he often did to relax and stay fit. Barack Obama is known for playing basketball, a sport he continued to enjoy even during his presidency. Gerald Ford was an accomplished athlete, having played football at the University of Michigan before entering politics.

Herbert Hoover enjoyed fishing and would often go on fishing trips to unwind. George H.W. Bush frequently went skydiving, even celebrating his 90th birthday with a parachute jump. These athletic pursuits reflect their desire for balance and resilience, even while holding the highest office in the land.