Cigars, painting, and crosswords: the surprising hobbies of 17 presidents

pjimage (3)Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images, Corbis Historical via Getty Images

  • The lesser-known habits among past American presidents range from athletic to creative, and even to the delicious.
  • These habits helped the leaders of the free world unwind.

Though presidential legacies are mostly comprised of the policies that shape society and government for years after they leave office, some who served in the White House had memorable ways of unwinding as well.

Many presidents continued to be avid athletes from their youth into office, but some other passions including painting, crosswords, and swimming were a part of their terms as well.

Here are some of the unexpected ways presidents have passed their time:
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George Washington: dancing

George Washington: dancing

Washington was a regular dancer through his teens and came to regard it as an important social interaction, calling it "the gentler conflict."

Source: Mount Vernon Ladies' Association

Thomas Jefferson: food and wine

Thomas Jefferson: food and wine

Jefferson's time in France fueled his passion for the country's fine wine and unique foods including french fries, ice cream, and mac and cheese, which he's credited for popularizing in America.

Source: The Thomas Jefferson Foundation

John Quincy Adams: skinny dipping

John Quincy Adams: skinny dipping

The sixth president was notoriously meticulous, keeping daily journals that detailed his morning routine. After waking up around 4 or 5 a.m., Adams would walk two miles to the Potomac River and leave his clothes by the shore to swim.

Source: Business Insider

Andrew Jackson: cockfighting

Andrew Jackson: cockfighting

Though cockfighting is now illegal in every state, Jackson was an enthusiast and was rumored to have held cockfights in the White House.

Source: The Washington Post

Theodore Roosevelt: boxing

Theodore Roosevelt: boxing

After a sickly childhood, Roosevelt was an avid sportsman who boxed throughout his presidency. The hobby was put to use by political cartoonists to illustrate his competitive nature as a politician.

Source: National Constitution Center

Calvin Coolidge: riding an electric horse

Calvin Coolidge: riding an electric horse

Coolidge so much enjoyed horse riding for exercise that he had an electric horse installed in the White House that had two speeds: trot and gallop.

Source: The White House Historical Association

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: swimming

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: swimming

After losing his ability to walk to polio at the age of 39, Roosevelt took up swimming three times a week to strengthen the muscles in his arms, stomach, and lower back.

After a few months, Roosevelt was able to walk short distances with the help of a cane or assistance from an aide. After his election, the New York Daily News donated a pool to the White House so Roosevelt could continue the practice.

Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, White House Historical Association

Dwight Eisenhower: painting

Dwight Eisenhower: painting

Eisenhower was an avid painter, often capturing natural landscapes and gifting them to friends.

Source: LBJ Presidential Library

John F. Kennedy: smoking cigars

John F. Kennedy: smoking cigars

Kennedy smoked 4-5 cigars a day and counted Upmanns or Monticellos among his preferred brands.

Source: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

Lyndon Baines Johnson: spending time at the ranch

Lyndon Baines Johnson: spending time at the ranch

Johnson spent 490 days, or a quarter of his presidency at his Central Texas ranch, combining work and vacation so seamlessly it came to be known as the "Texas White House."

Source: CNN

Richard Nixon: bowling

Richard Nixon: bowling

President and first lady Nixon both enjoyed bowling and had a one-lane bowling alley installed in the White House basement in 1969.

Source: White House Historical Association

Gerald Ford: collecting stamps

Gerald Ford: collecting stamps

Though he wasn't around to see his own face grace US postal stamps in 2007, Ford was just one of many heads of state across the world who enjoyed collecting them, contributing to its nickname as "the hobby of kings."

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Smithsonian Postal Museum

Ronald Reagan: horseback riding

Ronald Reagan: horseback riding

Reagan had a lifelong passion for riding horses that came in handy as a sporty public spectacle during his presidency, often alongside other world leaders.

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Bill Clinton: crossword puzzles

Bill Clinton: crossword puzzles

Reports of Clinton's crossword puzzle hobby were common during his campaign, and he even appeared in a 2006 documentary to profess his love for them.

Source: The New York Times

George W. Bush: running

George W. Bush: running

Though Bush wasn't the first president to count running among his hobbies, he was reportedly the most competitive.

"George W. Bush, was not a jogger but an honest-to-God runner," Secret Service agent Dan Emmett wrote in 2014. "He ran at a six-minute-per-mile pace normally for 3 miles, and there were even fewer agents who could run with him than with President Clinton."

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Barack Obama: collecting comics

Barack Obama: collecting comics

Obama touted his childhood love for comics during his campaign and even appeared with Spider-Man during his first year as president.

Source: The Chicago Tribune

Donald Trump: golfing

Donald Trump: golfing

Though Trump's professional and personal affection for golf has been well documented, the president has said his career-best shot is a fairly impressive 66, which is six shots below a standard American course's par.

Source: Golf Digest, Golfweek

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