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TRThursday: Theodore Roosevelt Gets Fat…

“It is clear to me that the President is running his machine too hard.” – Irving Fisher, Economist and Progressive Campaigner, on Theodore Roosevelt

My son, Harvey, did a report for school on Teddy Roosevelt and his influence over the course of history. In doing so he came across a photo of young Roosevelt that was hard to believe and which my wife, Summer, proclaimed, “ He was hot!” (or something to that effect):


A young Theodore Roosevelt looking purposeful and fit.

As we see Roosevelt the Rough-rider and Badlands cowboy, he has bulked up and hardened:


After years of cowboying in the Badlands, Roosevelt is fit and trim.

Even as a politician and stump speaker he maintained his strong, virile appearance:


Notice the strong jaw and round but tough facial features. This guy wasn’t someone to mess with.

However, when he became president, not only was he in his 40’s but he had access to food as never before, and the results…well, just see for yourself: 

He Eats Twice as Much as Any Man

While president, Roosevelt got a reputation for growing the power of the Federal government. He chewed through corporate trusts and expanded the waistline (and consequently the future appetite) of Federal power over private industries. This, along with the swell of his girth, led to numerous political cartoons that were quite different from the tough, Rough Rider Roosevelt the nation had come to know. At 5′ 10″, Roosevelt’s weight stayed around 200 lbs. In comparison to his friend and successor William Howard Taft who was 5′ 11″ and peaked at 335 lbs, Roosevelt was not huge. However, his gain in weight concerned him, yet at the same time he would not control his diet to bring it down.

In Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris writes that Roosevelt would “eat twice as much as any man”. Whatever was put before him he would consume with a voracious appetite, preferring meats over vegetables. His friend and fellow politician Gifford Pinchot wrote to Irving Fisher, and economist, politician, and fitness buff:

“He is certainly the most enduring man I have ever known. And it seems to me equally certain that his endurance can have little to do with his diet.”

In other words, Roosevelt’s diet was so heavy his colleagues were astonished it did not wear him down rather than rev him up. Irving Fisher, who had been studying the nutrition theories of Russell H Chittenden replied:

“It is clear to me that the President is running his machine too hard. In another decade or two, I would almost risk my reputation as a prophet, and predict that he will find friction in the machine and which will probably increase to almost a stopping point.”

Final Thoughts

Over the years Roosevelt’s weight fluctuated. When he would go on excursions he would lose weight and gain it back when he came home. Though he always remained active, his love of food would likely be one of the reasons he died at the early age of 60, having a blood clot travel to his brain.

For all of Roosevelt’s many virtues, temperance was not one he was strong in. For him, having it all and doing it all was the essence of life. Thankfully he never cared for alcohol, otherwise history would have likely recorded a very different story.

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