William Howard Taft: Minor Trauma During Presidency

minor trauma
Almost every night, Taft's military aide, Major Archibald Butt, would write a letter to his sister-in-law. Published after the death of Taft 1, these unique and honest letters provide a window into even the smallest parts of a President's life. Poor Butt, who died on the Titanic, spares not even himself when he relates how he slammed a car door on the President's hand and, on another occasion, drove a golf ball into the President's thigh SEE BELOW.
Taft was the first President to ride in an autmobile. He enjoyed it greatly, and liked to go fast. In July 1911, for example, Taft's car made it from Baltimore to the White House in 90 minutes 1a -- a time even present-day drivers envy!

Taft was also the first President injured in an autmobile mishap. On November 17, 1909, Major Butt wrote 1b:

We had a rather jolly evening [yesterday] until the last moment, when in getting out of the limousine I mashed the President's fingers in the door and he yelled out in pain. I know how it hurts, and I felt terribly sorry, but it was really his fault, for while I got out of the wrong side of the machine in order to help out the women, he reached over and took hold of the encasement in order to pull himself up, and so when I slammed the door it caught his fingers. He said nothing, but hurried upstairs to put his hand in hot water, and when I saw him this morning he did not feel much the worse, though the ends of his fingers on his right hand were swollen and blue and the nails had already begun to discolor.
Major Butt was a frequent golfing companion of President Taft. Butt describes an incident reminiscent of the problem Gerald Ford would have more than 60 years later 1c:
[President Taft] hasn't the slightest idea of the etiquette of the game [of golf]. Of course he thinks I will watch out for him. ... I had my lesson early this spring when I put a brassie shot right into the fat part of his leg just above the knee. He squealed when I hit him, but said it was his own fault. That did not prevent me from feeling like a cur, especially when the bruised spot covered over six inches in diameter.
Taft's personal trainer also inflicted a few dings. Charles Barker wrote 2a:
Naturally, being younger and more agile, I was probably a better boxer than the President and one morning hit him a rather smart blow on the fleshy side of one of his cheeks. This seemed to nettle him for a few minutes and he remarked, "I'll get you sometime for that, old man." A few minutes later, turning to the window, he said, "My, it's a beautiful morning!" Naturally, I turned to look out of the window and then he hit a stinging blow on my nose, and for a few moments blood spurted quite freely. I stopped the flow first with one of the boxing gloves and afterwards with a towel.

The President, at first fearing that I was suffering from the blow, exclaimed, "Oh, I'm very sorry, but you would leave an opening. [sic] Are you hurt much?"

Barker explained that it amounted to nothing serious, and that he later donated the boxing gloves to a museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Cited Sources
  1. Butt, Archibald W. Taft and Roosevelt: The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt, Military Aide. Garden City, NY: Doubleday (1930). Volume 1: pages 1-432. Volume 2: pages 433-862.
    a  p.721  b  p.209  c  pp.687-688

    Comment: Butt, an Army officer, was military aide first to President Theodore Roosevelt and then to President William Taft. On April 14, 1912, Butt was at sea aboard the Titanic returning from a European vacation that Taft had insisted he take. President Taft later said: "When I heard that part of the ship's company had gone down, I gave up hope for the rescue of Major Butt, unless by accident. I knew that he would certainly remain on the ship's deck until every duty had been performed and every sacrifice made that properly fell on one charged, as he would feel himself charged, with responsibility for the rescue of others." Taft was correct. Butt did not survive the sinking.

  2. Barker, Charles E. With President Taft in the White House. Chicago: A. Kroch and Son, 1947.
    a  pp.17-18

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