February 20, 2012 - Presidents' Day

 – U.S.

The first president of the United States, George Washington, was born on February 22, 1732—and that date used to be vigorously celebrated by Americans.

Another important presidential birthday is remarkably close in the calendar year: Abraham Lincoln's birthday is February 12. Some workers and students are given both days off as holidays—and this was, perhaps, more common in the past (such as when I was a kid), since back then we didn't have days off for Columbus Day or for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nowadays we tend to rearrange holidays for our school and business convenience—and we often want our holidays on Mondays so that we have 3-day weekends. That's why the federal and many state governments have moved the celebration of Washington's birthday to the third Monday of February (although that date only ever falls between Feb. 15 and Feb. 21, and so it always misses Washington's actual birthday!). Even though many published calendars refer to this holiday as Presidents' Day, its name is still officially Washington's Birthday on the federal calendar.

State governments often, but not always, follow holidays celebrated at the federal level. There is a confusing array of state holidays honoring Washington and Lincoln. Some states celebrate neither, some celebrate only one, some celebrate both bundled together with all other presidents, in Presidents' Day, and some celebrate both with two 3-day weekends, back to back! Alabama states that its Presidents' Day commemorates the birthdays of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (although the latter was born in April!).

Strangest of all, to me, is that the state of Indiana has moved its commemoration of Lincoln's birthday to the day after Thanksgiving (in November!), and the commemoration of Washington's birthday to a date just before Christmas (in December!). Apparently Indiana government officials wanted to lengthen Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday periods without giving workers more paid holidays.

By the way, to add to the confusion, some sources give February 11 as Washington's birthday. That's because, when George Washington was born, the American colonies used the Julian calendar. We now most often give dates as they would have been under our modern Gregorian calendar.

Did you know...?

  • L.B.J.
    The tallest U.S. presidents, at six feet four inches (193 cm), were Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson. The shortest president, James Madison, was five feet four inches (163 cm). George Washington was just a smidge taller than current president Barack Obama (6 feet 1.5 inches, or 187 cm, and 6 feet 1 inch, or 185 cm, respectively).
  • Ohio and Virginia have been the homes of the most presidents. (The count depends on whether we count birthplace, major place of residence, or residence when elected—but Ohio has produced 6 to 8 presidents, and Virginia has produced 5 to 8.)
  • J.F.K.
    The youngest U.S. president was Theodore Roosevelt, who became president at age 42, when President McKinley was assassinated. The youngest president to be elected to the office was John F. Kennedy, at age 43. The oldest president to assume office was Ronald Reagan, who was almost 70 years old at his inauguration.
  • Ford
    The longest-lived president was Gerald Ford, who lived to a ripe old age of 93 years and 165 days. (Reagan lived to be 93, too!) Strangely, two of the first three presidents died on the exact same day – and it was the Fourth of July, the nation's birthday! That's right, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826. (They were 90 and 85 years old when they died.)
  • The presidents honored on Mount Rushmore are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt. Many historians rank these four in the top five U.S. presidents, with the addition of Franklin D. Roosevelt (usually placed in position #3). Of course, Mount Rushmore was planned and begun in 1927, before F.D.R. was elected. (By the way, did you know that Mount Rushmore was originally planned to depict each president from head to waist? Lack of funding changed the plan!)
F.D.R. doesn't
appear on
Mount Rushmore,
but has a wonderful
memorial in D.C.
    Washington appeared
    on this 1917 $20 bill.
  • The presidents who appear on U.S. money include:

George Washington (quarter and $1 bill)
Abraham Lincoln (penny and $5 bill)
Thomas Jefferson (nickel and the rare $2 bill)
Franklin Roosevelt (dime)
Andrew Jackson ($20 bill)
Ulysses S. Grant ($50 bill)
John F. Kennedy (half dollar)
Dwight D. Eisenhower (silver dollar)

Some large-denomination bills that are no longer produced include:
William McKinley ($500 bill)
Grover Cleveland ($1,000 bill)
James Madison ($5,000 bill)
Woodrow Wilson ($100,000 bill)

Now, ALL of the presidents will be on golden dollar coins!

For more on George Washington, check out this earlier post.  For example, did you know that George Washington was NOT America's first president? That he was elected with 100% of the vote? (Twice!) That he is called the “Precedent President”?

Also on this date:

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