February was a popular month among our past presidents – both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were born in February, and President’s Day falls on the third Monday of the month. But who exactly does President’s Day celebrate?
It all started in 1800. After George Washington’s death in 1799, his birthday (February 22) became a national day of remembrance. The 1832 centennial of his birth and the start of construction of the Washington Monument in 1848 kept Washington’s memory in the national spotlight, and the tradition endured. In 1879, Washington ’s Birthday officially became a federal holiday; at first, it was only celebrated in the District of Columbia, but in 1885 it was expanded to the whole country.
Washington was the first individual to be honored with a federal holiday; it would be another 98 years before Martin Luther King, Jr. became the second.
You’ll notice that President’s Day doesn’t fall on Washington’s February 22nd birthday. In 1971, Richard Nixon signed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This law shifted several federal holidays from predetermined dates to designated Mondays. The bill received support from both the private sector (who knew that more long weekends would increase retail sales) and labor unions (who liked the idea of more long weekends for workers). The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also included a provision to combine Abraham Lincoln’s February 12 birthday and George Washington’s February 22 birthday; in many states, both birthdays were celebrated.
Thus President’s Day was born. Though originally intended to celebrate Washington and Lincoln specifically, the holiday is now popularly seen as a day to celebrate all presidents, past and present. So, in honor of President’s Day, here are some presidential facts:
President’s Day never falls on the actual birthday of a president even though four presidents – George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, William Henry Harrison, and Ronald Reagan – were born in February.
President Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 on land that once belonged to James Monroe.
The capitol of Liberia is Monrovia, named for James Monroe because of his passionate support for colonization of Liberia.
Ulysses S. Grant got a speeding ticket for riding his horse too fast down a Washington street.
Benjamin Harrison was the sitting president when electricity was first installed in the White House, but he remained so terrified of being electrocuted that he refused to touch the light switches.
William Taft is the only ex-president to serve as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer, which is why he had a giant peanut-shaped balloon in his inaugural parade.
Ronald Reagan did a gig as a stand-up comedian in Las Vegas for several weeks in 1954.
Bill Clinton is a two-time Grammy winner – he won for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in 2004 and for Best Spoken Word Album in 2005.
Barack Obama collects Spiderman and Conan the Barbarian comics.
James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were once arrested together for taking a carriage ride in Vermont on a Sunday which violated the laws of that state.
Andrew Jackson was a tailor; he refused to wear any suits he didn’t make for himself.