NAME: William McKinley, Jr. He was named after his father. He dropped the “junior” on his father’s death.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: A brawny figure, with a barrel chest, broad shoulders, and, with advancing years, a swelling paunch, McKinley stood 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed up to nearly 200 pounds. His handsome features were marked by deeply set blue-gray eyes guarded by bushy eyebrows, a fair complexion, a strong jaw punctuated by a cleft chin, and a rather large nose. He spoke in a strong, clear voice. He had good posture and walked briskly. He was the only clean-shaven president between Andrew Johnson and Woodrow Wilson. He wore reading glasses. He dressed conservatively, typically in a white vest, and refused to be photographed unless he was impeccably groomed. During political campaigns he wore a red carnation in his buttonhole for good luck, a practice that prompted the Ohio legislature to designate the scarlet carnation the state flower. His health generally was sound except for a brief physical breakdown in college, perhaps brought on by overwork.
PERSONALITY: By all accounts, McKinley was open, friendly, even tempered, cheerful, optimistic, and universally well liked. “McKinley was more than popular,” according to historian Margaret Leech, “he was beloved…Even his political opponents were attracted by the peculiar sweetness of his personality.” Biographer Charles S. Olcott concluded, similarly, “His uniform courtesy and fairness commanded the admiration of Democrats as well as Republicans…The general public found him free from vanity or affectation.” Yet he did not gush with emotion. Rather, he worked a subtle charm effective with people from all walks of life. He enjoyed having lots of people around. Although not a particularly gifted storyteller, he had a dry wit and enjoyed a good, clean joke but bristled at off-color remarks.
PRIMARY SOURCE: DeGregorio, William A. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. 7th ed. Fort Lee: Barricade Books, 2009.
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