NAME: William Howard Taft. His middle name was after his paternal grandmother, Sylvia Howard. Friends called him Will. Because of his size, he earned the nickname Big Lub in school.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Taft stood 6 feet 2 inches tall, had chestnut hair, blue eyes, and a rather high, soft voice, and wore a great handlebar mustache. The heaviest president, he struggle all his adult life with a weight problem. He graduated from college a pudgy 243 pounds, and by 1904 he was up to 326 pounds. He then went on a diet, losing 75 pounds in two years. But as president his weight soared to 332 pounds. He had grown so bulky that he got stuck in the White House bathtub and had to have an outsized model brought in for his use. After stepping down as president he again began to watch his calories. By 1929 he, at 244 pounds, had regained the relatively trim figure of his youth. Except for the strain that his weight placed on his heart, Taft generally was in good health. However, in the Philippines in 1901 he nearly died from dengue fever.
PERSONALITY: Taft was cheerful, friendly, a typical hail-fellow-well-met with an infectious chuckle. Always popular, he had many friends, but, surprisingly, few intimates. “One of the astonishing things about Taft’s four years in the White House,” wrote biographer Henry F. Pringle, “was the almost total lack of men, related or otherwise, upon whom he could lean…For the most part, he faced his troubles alone.” He was not happy as president. The break with his predecessor and former mentor, Theodore Roosevelt, weighed heavily on his mind; he was often irritable, depressed, at least once in tears. He regained his good spirits in retirement and as chief justice.
PRIMARY SOURCE: DeGregorio, William A. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. 7th ed. Fort Lee: Barricade Books, 2009.
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