Here are some things you might know about William Howard Taft.
He was the 27th president of the United States. He also served on the Supreme Court, becoming the only person to ever achieve both positions. He was also extremely overweight, and a special bathtub to be craned into the White House to fit his oversized frame.
But what’s lost in these relatively useless pieces of trivia is a real man, struggling to maintain his weight while balancing the problems of an emerging nation right after the turn of the 20th century. Which is why this detail in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit, a 900-page tome dedicated to the progressive era, is so fascinating:
“”[Taft] intended to continue the diet and exercise regimen that had enabled him to lose over 75 pounds during the previous eight months, reducing his weight from 330 to 254 pounds. During this period he faithfully maintained a rigorous, doctor-prescribed diet that excluded sugar, fats, milk, cheese, cream, egg yolks, and bread. He was allowed only grilled fish, lean meat, egg whites, clear soup, salads, vegetables, some fruits, gluten biscuits, and sugarless wine.”
Knock out the gluten biscuits, and Taft nearly went Paleo to lose some serious fat before running for president. Apparently, he was also a mean tennis and golf player.
And as anyone who’s lost a ton of weight can attest, it requires a complete wardrobe overhaul. Taft wrote in a letter to his brother saying the slim down was “not an inexpensive luxury.” He had to re-size “twenty pairs of trousers… twenty waist coats… two Prince Albert coats… and five Sack oats!”
This is all to say the man known for being the fattest president actually addressed his own obesity decades before America became the most overweight country in the world.
It’s also to give you fodder for some bar conversation this weekend.