When President Jimmy Carter wasn’t busy constructing a vision for the country, he could be found dabbling in carpentry. His most lauded creation? A treehouse for his youngest child, Amy, which was built in 1977 to give her one of the pleasures of a "regular" childhood. Carter designed the five-foot-tall lumber play pad in the shade of a cedar tree on the South Lawn, where Amy would be under the watchful eye of Dad in the Oval Office.
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Concerned that her daughters, Malia and Sasha, weren’t eating nutritious meals on a daily basis, former First Lady Michelle Obama had the largest edible garden in presidential history planted on the South Lawn of the White House in 2009. When initially planted, the L-shaped 1,100-square-foot plot featured 55 varieties of vegetables and fruits, including arugula, hot peppers, tomatillos, and more. Food raised in the garden was used in meals enjoyed by the Obama family and friends as well as dignitaries who visited 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
In addition to the press pool that packs the West Wing briefing room, the White House has hosted two other pools since the 1930s. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had an indoor swimming pool built in 1933 in the west terrace, as swimming helped soothe the effects of his polio. During the Nixon administration, that pool was covered and now sits below the press briefing room. Then in 1975, an outdoor pool was built on the grounds of the mansion at the request of President Gerald Ford, an avid swimmer.
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To satisfy her love of reading and champion literacy around the country, bookworm Laura Bush famously oversaw a major transformation of the presidential library during her tenure as First Lady. The overhaul included an update of the library’s collection in 2005 as well as a new paint job and drape replacement in 2006 to make the ceiling look higher.
Right on Track
President Bill Clinton was famously fond of hitting the pavement outside the White House grounds to escape the stresses of being commander in chief. His running habit, however, was a nightmare for the Secret Service, as threats to the president could be lurking anywhere along his route. In 1993, a quarter-mile loop was built into the driveway of the South Lawn to provide the president with his fitness fix and appease his security detail.
On a Roll
While President Richard Nixon was the kingpin of the White House, he reportedly blew off steam in a one-lane bowling alley he had built under the North Portico in 1969. But he wasn’t the first commander in chief with a passion for the game of tenpins. A two-lane bowling alley had been built for President Harry Truman in 1947 in the West Wing, but the lanes were later moved to the basement of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
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In 1990, President George H.W. Bush echoed the cries of generations of children everywhere when he famously declared, “I do not like broccoli.” So great was his revulsion for the crunchy crucifer that he formally banned it from his plate whenever he was in the White House, Air Force One, or anywhere else his presence was required.
President Ronald Reagan first began popping jelly beans during his gubernatorial race in California in 1966 to tamp down cravings for the pipe-smoking habit he had recently quit. His lifelong love affair with the sweet snack continued throughout his presidency. While he was in office, Reagan had a running order for 720 bags of Jelly Belly jelly beans from the Goelitz Company to be delivered to the White House every month. Goelitz eventually released an official candy jar bearing the presidential seal.
A Higher Calling
Although 25 presidents came before him, none, it might be said, stood as tall as President Theodore Roosevelt. His children, and some say the president himself, each owned pairs of stilts that they'd climb atop and gleefully stilt-walk across high-ceilinged White House rooms.
The Wild West Wing
What did Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Thomas Jefferson all have in common? A sense of adventure. America’s third president put his penchant for exploration on display upon his move to the mansion in 1801, when he converted the Entrance Hall of the White House into a wilderness museum that would grow to feature artifacts like arrows and animal skins brought back by such trailblazers as Lewis, Clark, and Zebulon Pike.
No-nonsense President James Polk and his wife, Sarah, didn’t indulge in idle pleasures, so card games, hard liquor, and dancing were all banned at the Polk White House. But as a strict sabbatarian, Sarah Polk did take a day off from her official duties on Sundays, and she made sure her husband did the same.
Tailored for Success
Old habits never died for President Andrew Johnson, who often eschewed the fine clothing supplied to him during his presidency. Instead, he occasionally sewed his own suits out of nostalgia for his earlier career as a tailor. His talent with a needle and thread earned him the nickname "the Tennessee tailor" after the state where he once ran a successful tailoring business.
The Good Fight
Though his nickname “Honest Abe” paints a picture of a docile do-gooder, President Abraham Lincoln possessed a fighting spirit in more ways than one. As a young man, Lincoln was a skilled wrestler who was defeated only once in 300 matches. His scrappiness carried over to the White House, where he occasionally engaged in playful wrestling matches with his sons Willie and Tad.
Nothin’ but Net
President Herbert Hoover passed over traditional fitness options such as walking or jogging for the invented pastime of Hooverball. Devised by Hoover’s White House physician, Admiral Joel Boone, to add variety to the president’s workouts, the game involved heaving a weighted medicine ball over a net.
An avid walker, President Harry Truman took a daily one-and-a-half-mile jaunt near the White House at a speedy 120 steps per minute. Although the pace was often too brisk even for his Secret Service men to keep up, Truman himself had energy to spare, pausing occasionally to sign an autograph or talk with citizens who approached him mid-walk.
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