Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood was one of contradiction: he was born into a family of privilege, suffered through significant physical ailments, and embarked on a years-long mission of discovery.
Unfortunately, the early life of Theodore Roosevelt was filled with illness. As a young boy, he was diagnosed with asthma, which seemed to strike most often on Sundays, and might even have been psychosomatic – a physical problem coming from mental or emotional causes. Teddy Roosevelt as a child spent a great deal of time propped up on pillows in his bed, or on cushions in a big chair. There always seemed to be doctors coming and going from the family brownstone, and medicines were an all-too-frequent common bedside companion to young Teddy Roosevelt as a kid. Yet, despite the physical problems and sickness, Theodore always found time to be mischievous, pulling pranks and being extremely hyperactive, in a time when it was unacceptable. To Theodore Roosevelt youth was not meant to be spent completely in the sick bed.
During his home-bound younger years, Teddy developed a keen, lifelong interest in zoology (the study of animals) after seeing the head of a seal in a local farmer’s market. Intrigued, he purchased the head, and enlisted the help of two cousins, to form the “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History”. Realizing that preservation and display of animal carcasses was vital to studying them, he began learning the basics of taxidermy (the art of preparing, stuffing, and presenting animal skins). As he mastered the art of taxidermy, he was able to fill his little museum with animals he and his cousins caught or killed, allowing them to study and/or display them for others. For Theodore Roosevelt, youth was not a deterrent to serious academic study. At only nine years old, he wrote a paper entitled, “The Natural History of Insects” detailing his observations and studies.
In 1869 Teddy and his family went on a trip overseas, to try and ease Teddy’s physical problems. The family traveled to Paris, Italy, Austria, the Riviera, and Germany. Although the mountain areas offered him some relief (less pollen and air pressure), it didn’t really give him any relief. Later, the family visited Egypt and the Holy Land in 1872-73, where the dry climate helped a little. Although the trips were meant to be medical in nature, they mostly served to awaken Theodore’s love of geography and travel, instead of the hoped-for respite from his illnesses.
To combat his physical problems, Teddy’s physically-fit father – “Thee” – suggested a program of daily exercise. Always encouraging, he had a private gym built on the open-air porch of the family home, and hired instructors to teach his sickly son to lift weights, do pull-ups, box, and work on the parallel bars.
Because Teddy was frequently sick, he was home-schooled by tutors and missed out on the opportunity to bond with children his own age. Although this gave him the ability to work independently and focus, it was also the reason his near-sightedness was not discovered until he was thirteen. After numerous rifle target-shooting sessions with his father, during which Teddy could not accurately focus the sights, he was given very thick glasses. Although he looked funny in such huge lenses, young Theodore became an expert shot, determined to overcome his physical disadvantages.