Health and Medical History of President

Theodore Roosevelt

President #26: 1901-1909
Lived 1858-1919
"Death had to take him sleeping. For if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight."
-- Thomas Marshall 1a
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Health and Medical History of President

Theodore Roosevelt

President #26: 1901-1909
Lived 1858-1919
Lived 1858-1919 2023 1776
Revolutionary War
War of 1812
Mexican-American War
Civil War
Spanish-American War
World War 1
World War 2
Korean War
Viet Nam War
Desert Storm
Bush's Wars
"Death had to take him sleeping. For if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight."
-- Thomas Marshall 1a

Maladies & Conditions  · asthma · myopia · polo unconsciousness · bleeding tendency · fast. loud talker · tiring campaign · shot at · snored · obese? · blind in one eye · otitis media & thigh abscess · deaf in left ear · trouble sleeping · chief characteristics · ? infection · died in his sleep

Odds & Ends · Doctors · Resources · Cited Sources

Maladies and Conditions
Discussed at great length in 2a. Clearly, there was a major psychological component to the illness.
"without his glasses his vision was so bad that he couldn't recognize his own sons" 1b.
polo unconsciousness
A few episodes of unconsciousness as a result of playing polo. 3a.
bleeding tendency
Owen Wister describes the distracted Roosevelt, writing his book on the naval war of 1812 (so this would have been 1882 or earlier), being urgently prodded to get dressed by Mrs. Roosevelt's cry, "We're dining out in twenty minutes, and Teddy's drawing little ships!" ... at which point "there would be a scurry, and he would cut himself shaving, and it wouldn't stop bleeding, and they would have to surround him and take measures to save his collar from getting stained" 4a. Comment: This would seem to suggest at tendency to bleeding, but of course one must know how deep the cut was.
fast. loud talker
Roosevelt talked so fast that the White House staff "really had to listen carefully to get his directions straight the first time" 5a. He also talked loudly, louder than any White House inhabitant for at least a 50 year stretch 5b. Comment: These and many other observations about Roosevelt's superhuman energy suggest that he was hypomanic. Although some modern physicians have suggested he was bipolar (i.e. manic-depressive), Dr. Zebra is not impressed with the overall quality of their work, and prefers to suspend judgment until making a full analysis.
tiring campaign
Roosevelt ran for President in 1912, as a third-party candidate. There were suspicions
that the strain of the campaign was proving too much for Roosevelt. His voice was bothering him seriously. Reports reached the Bull Moose headquarters that he was losing his grip, that he was repeating himself disastrously. He was forced to cancel two addresses scheduled for the Middle West because of his throat. The disability was bad enough to raise the possibility that he could speak no more. 6a
Roosevelt did not like to speak in the open air, for it put too much of a strain on his voice. 7a
shot at
During a stop in Milwaukee on his 1912 "Bull Moose" campaign for the presidency, Roosevelt was shot at close range by John Schrank, a psychotic New York saloonkeeper. Schrank had his .38 caliber pistol aimed at Roosevelt's head, but a bystander saw the gun and deflected Schrank's arm just as the trigger was pulled. Roosevelt did not realize he was hit until someone noticed a hole in his overcoat. When Roosevelt reached inside his coat, he found blood on his fingers.

Roosevelt was extremely lucky. He had the manuscript of a long, 50-page speech in his coat pocket, folded in two, and the bullet was no doubt slowed as it passed through it. He also had a steel spectacle case in his pocket, and the bullet traversed this, too, before entering Roosevelt's chest near the right nipple. Thus, one could say that Roosevelt's long-windedness and myopia saved his life! MORE

Although the bullet traveled superiorly and medially for about 3 inches after breaking the skin, it lodged in the chest wall, without entering the pleural space. Roosevelt was examined in a Milwaukee hospital MORE, (where he reluctantly allowed the surgeons to administer an injection of tetanus anti-toxin 1c), and then was observed for 8 days in a Chicago hospital. He was discharged on October 23, 1912 -- only a few days before the election. The bullet had effectively stopped Roosevelt's campaign. He finished second to Woodrow Wilson, but ahead of the incumbent President, William Howard Taft. The bullet was never removed, and caused no difficulty after the wound healed. 8

The details of the assassination attempt and its aftermath are described in 7b.

Roosevelt reporetdly snored so loudly in a hospital that complaints were filed by almost every patient in the wing where he was recuperating 9. Comment: I have no hard evidence to support the reasonable supposition that this incident occurred during his recovery from the assassination attempt in 1912. Given Roosevelt's obesity in later life, snoring would not be surprising.

Loud snoring raises the possibility of sleep apnea. Hypersomnolence would be an additional sign of sleep apnea. Was Roosevelt hypersomnolent? During his Presidency, at least, he was not. The White House usher observed 10a:

President Roosevelt slept well at night, but never in the day. He liked to read in the evening after all was quiet. The usual retiring hour was about ten-thirty, but it was always with difficulty that the President was persuaded to turn in at that time. He would promise to come along in a minute, but would immediately become absorbed in a book or magazine and it was generally after much effort and much persuasion that he would finally turn in for the night. Mrs. Roosevelt would call and call. The sound of her voice calling "The-o-dore!" is well remembered by all the older employees. She often appealed to me to go to the President and "see if you cannot persuade him to come to bed." No matter how late he sat up, he always arose at the same time in the morning and always appeared refreshed and hearty.
Nor did Roosevelt show signs of excessive daytime somnolence on the campaign trail in 1912. While stumping in Milwaukee, one of Roosevelt's intimates wrote: "We had a few minutes before dinner, and the Colonel took a little nap sitting in a rocking-chair in his room. It was the only time, in all the campaign trips I made with him, that I ever saw him sleep before bedtime." 7c
In 1912, Roosevelt's campaign manager wrote: "We usually had our meals together in the dining-car. He was an eager and valiant trencherman, and I saw how it was that he had more than two inches of flesh and fat over his ribs for the lunatic's bullet to go through. He drank great quantities of milk, but not much of anything else. I have seen him eat a whole chicken and drink four large glasses of milk at one meal, and chicken and milk were by no means the only things served" 7d. By April 1915, ex-President Taft noticed that Roosevelt did not "have as good color as he used to have," that his face seemed "fatter and flabbier," that he looked "a bit coarser" 1d.
blind in one eye
6b Probably the result of a White House boxing match 11a. MORE

Roosevelt almost lost an eye while President. His children (and future-President Taft's youngest son) lured him to the attic and turned out the lights. In the dark Roosevelt almost poked his eye out on a nail. 5c.

otitis media & thigh abscess
In 1918, as a result of a throat infection, Roosevelt developed "bilateral acute otitis media, inflammatory rheumatism, and abscess of the thigh." Both eardrums were pierced, and surgery was performed on his thigh. 1e 12a.
deaf in left ear
As a result of the otitis media, he lost his hearing in the left ear 1e 6b.

The poet Edgar Lee Masters vividly described Roosevelt's health in later years MORE.

trouble sleeping
Even as President, Roosevelt had no trouble sleeping. But during World War I, all four of Roosevelt's sons were in the Army in Europe 1f. TR now admitted "I wake up in the middle of the night, wondering if the boys are all right, and thinking how I could tell their mother if anything happened" 1g. The youngest son, Quentin, a pilot, was killed in action in July 1918. 1g. TR's eldest son, Theodore, was awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II for his actions on Normandy Beach on D-Day.
chief characteristics
"His chief characteristics were vision, courage, decision, instant readiness for action, the simplest honesty and the most wholesome sanity. His mental engine ran at a higher speed than that of any other man I have ever known. His foresight was uncanny. His sympathy was so quick, his emotion so intensely human, that he penetrated the feelings of others often as if by magic." 7e
? infection
"An infection picked up in South America still poisoned his blood. He was, in that summer of 1918, close to the end of his stormy trail." 6b
died in his sleep
The January 1919 New York Times obituary gives many details 13.

Had Roosevelt not died at the young age of 60, it is quite likely that he would have been elected President in 1920. At the very least, "He would not need to lift a finger this time [as opposed to 1912], and the [Republican presidential] nomination would still be his" 14a.

Interestingly, Harding might have been Roosevelt's Vice President [Ibid.]. If Roosevelt had lived, say, three years longer, and Harding still had died in 1923, then the Secretary of State would have succeeded to the Presidency under the law then in effect.

Odds and Ends
Before Presidency
After Presidency
1947 reviews
Ampres Series
28 reviews
Kansas Series
1 review
Signature Series
4 reviews
Morris Series
674 reviews
Morris Series
Morris Series
Cited Sources
  1. Manners, William. TR and Will: A Friendship that Split the Republican Party. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1969.
    a  pp.310. Marshall was Wilson's Vice-President and is best known for his remark: "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar."  b  p.8  c  p.286  d  p.295  e  p.303  f  p.300  g  p.306
  2. McCullough, David. Mornings on Horseback. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1981.
    a  pp.36, 44, 59, 63, 70, 79, 81-82, 89, 90-108, 110-113, 133, 189, 190, 212, 229, 249, 340, 367
  3. Boller, Paul F. Jr. Presidential Anecdotes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
    a  p.201
  4. Roosevelt, Theodore (introduction by H.W. Brands). The Naval War of 1812. NY: DaCapo Press, 1999 (original 1882).
    a  pp.xvii-xviii
  5. Parks, Lillian Rogers. My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House. New York: Fleet Publishing, 1961.
    a  pp.83  b  p.30  c  p.104  d  p.60  e  p.277

    Comment: This book stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for 26 weeks, prompting Jacqueline Kennedy to require all staff at the White House to sign a pledge agreeing not to write about their experiences (NY Times, page B8, Nov. 12, 1997). Parks's mother, a maid at the White House from 1909-1939, had actually been encouraged by Eleanor Roosevelt to write and publish a memoir (p260).

  6. Pringle, Henry F. The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A Biography. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1939.
    a  p.836  b  p.912
  7. Davis, Oscar King. Released for Publication: Some Inside Political History of Theodore Roosevelt and his Times 1898-1918. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925.
    a  pp.216, 356, 367  b  pp.374-393, 398  c  p.373  d  p.429  e  p.458  f  p.303  g  p.434
  8. Foley, WJ. A bullet and a Bull Moose. JAMA. 1969;209:2035-2038. Pubmed: 4897364.
  9. Boulware MH. Snoring: New Answers to an Old Problem. Rockaway, NJ: American Faculty Press, 1974.

    Comment: Cited by: Fairbanks DNF. Snoring: an overview with historical perspectives. Pages 1-16 in: Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. 2nd ed. Fairbanks, David N. F. and Fujita, Shiro (eds.). NY: Raven Press, 1994.

  10. Hoover, Irwin Hood (Ike). 42 Years in the White House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934.
    a  p.270

    Comment: The Library of Congress contains more of Hoover's first-hand recollections of eight presidents.

  11. Smith, Ira R. T.; Morris, Joe Alex. "Dear Mr. President:" The Story of Fifty Years in the White House Mail Room. New York: Julian Messner, 1949.
    a  p.52

    Comment: Ira Smith was a peppery fellow who ran the White House mail room from 1897 to 1948. He started working during the administration of William McKinley and was the only mail room staffer until the volume of mail made it necessary to hire help during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.

  12. Ross, Ishbel. An American Family: The Tafts - 1678 to 1964. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Co., 1964.
    a  p.308
  13. Available on the web:
  14. Russell, Francis. The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding in His Times. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.
    a  p.311
  15. Bromley, Michael L. William Howard Taft and the First Motoring Presidency. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2003.
    a  p.72  b  p.16
  16. Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh (ed). Burke's Presidential Families of the United States of America. 2nd ed. London: Burke's Peerage Limited, 1981.
    a  p.184  b  pp.411, 495

    Comment: Maps -- in great detail -- the ancestors and descendants of American presidents through Ronald Reagan. They would have had an exhausting time with President Obama's family tree! MORE

Other Sources
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