Theodore Roosevelt: A President of “Firsts”

President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) is a man of many “firsts.”  Bold and progressive-minded, he’s always on the cutting edge and embraces technological innovations.

“Pictures of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt As All the World Has Known Him,” The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 6, 1919

The first president to go down (and pilot) a submarine—Roosevelt climbs into the submarine Plunger, in Long Island Sound on August 22, 1905.  He remains on board from 3:30 to 6:10 p.m., spending nearly an hour completely submerged.  Several newspapers, including the New York Times (August 27, 1905, p. 6), criticize Roosevelt for risking his life.

“PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT UNDER WATER THREE HOURS IN PLUNGER,” The Evening World (Washington, DC), August 25, 1905

The first president to leave the country during his time in office—On November 9, 1906, Roosevelt embarks from the Chesapeake Bay aboard the U.S.S. Louisiana to inspect the construction of the Panama Canal, an undertaking that eventually connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  

“PRESIDENT SAILS FOR THE ISTHMUS,” Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, CA), November 9, 1906

The first conservationist president—Roosevelt uses his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the U.S. Forest Service in 1905.  He establishes 150 new national forests, 18 national monuments, five national parks, and 51 wildlife refuges, protecting 172 million acres.

“CHIEF TOPICS AND SPEAKERS AT CONFERENCE FOR CONSERVATION OF NATURAL RESOURCES,” Charlevoix County Herald (East Jordan, MI), May 30, 1908

The youngest president ever (and the record still stands!)—After President William McKinley is assassinated in 1901, Roosevelt becomes president at the age of 42.   John F. Kennedy is the youngest president ever elected at the age of 43.

“PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT,” New-York Tribune (New York, NY), September 22, 1901

The first president to make a public appearance by automobile—Roosevelt’s predecessor, William McKinley, is the first president to ride in a car, but Roosevelt is the first to make it part of his official presidential duties when he toured Hartford, Connecticut, in 1902.  Cheering supporters greet Mr. Roosevelt at all points along his parade route, which he traversed in “a handsome Victoria automobile, in charge of two expert New York chauffeurs,” The Indianapolis Journal (Indianapolis, IN), August 23, 1902.

“The President Talks to 10,000 Toilers in a Hartford Park,” The Indianapolis Journal (Indianapolis, IN), August 23, 1902

The first president to invite an African American to dine at the White House—Soon after moving into the White House in 1901, Roosevelt invites educator Booker T. Washington to dine with the first family.  The event sparks an angry backlash from Southern politicians and the press.

“Booker T. Washington, A. M., LL. D., Ph. D.,” The Appeal (St. Paul, MN), October 26, 1901

The first president to send a transatlantic cable for the purposes of diplomacy—The Commercial Pacific Cable Company completes the full length cable from San Francisco to Manila in mid-1903.  President Roosevelt commemorates the opening of the service by sending a telegraph message from Oyster Bay, Long Island and back again.

“OYSTER BAY, July 4, 1903,” The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), July 5, 1903

The first president to have a telephone—Roosevelt takes press relations to the next level by installing a telephone into his home and offices in Oyster Bay, Long Island.

“VIRTUAL CAPITOL OF THE UNITED STATES THIS SUMMER,” The Abbeville Press and Banner (Abbeville, SC), August 12, 1903

The first president (and American) to win the Nobel Peace Prize—Roosevelt receives the prestigious award in 1906 for negotiating peace in the Russo-Japanese war. 

“Nobel Peace Prize Awarded President, Who Will Devote the Fund to Ending Disputes Between Capital and Labor,” The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 10, 1906

The first president to ride in an airplane (although out of office at the time)—October 11, 1910, Roosevelt stays aloft for 4 minutes in a Wright Brothers-built plane at Kinloch Field in St. Louis, MO, piloted by Arch Hoxsey.  The first president to do so in office is his cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“ARCH HOXSEY, WHO TOOK MR. ROOSEVELT ON HIS FIRST AIR TRIP,” New-York Tribune (New York, NY), October 12, 1910

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* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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