How our presidents love to swim! Not surprisingly, many took to the water for fun, exercise and/or therapeutic reasons, but did you know that at least six liked to skinny dip?
Water-loving presidents have included Harry Truman (term in office, 1945-53), Gerald Ford (1974-77), former lifeguard Ronald Reagan (1981-89), and Barack Obama (2009-present).
Did you guess which commanders in chief enjoyed swimming au naturel? For that, we must travel farther back in time. The 6th president, John Quincy Adams (1825-29), was well-known for a morning swim in the Potomac River if the weather was warm. Back then, there was no men’s swimwear -- that didn’t arrive on the scene until the mid-1800s – and it was rather woodsy along the riverbank, so he didn’t think anything of it. Adams wasn’t even deterred when someone once stole his clothes, or when Anne Royall, one of the first female journalists, sat on his clothes until he agreed to grant her an exclusive interview.
His successor, Andrew Jackson (1829-37), also was a Potomac skinny-dipper. Afterward, he liked to unwind by weeding and digging around the White House garden, wearing the appropriate gardening togs, of course.
Another Potomac swimmer was Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09). He liked a bracing swim in the wintertime, and didn’t bother with swimwear, preferring to just disrobe and jump in.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45) enjoyed skinny dipping as well as the next president, but he was serious about the need to swim. Struck by polio in the 1920s, he wanted to develop strength, especially in the upper body, to enable him to get in and out of wheel chairs, and to walk with the aid of steel leg braces and crutches occasionally. So he commissioned the first White House swimming pool in 1933, and did laps daily. It was a rectangular indoor pool next to the Rose Garden. With underwater lighting, it was high-tech for the time.
John F. Kennedy (1961-63) swam because it helped ease his aching back. Sometimes his dips in that indoor White House pool, with or without clothes, included brothers Robert and Ted, and friends. Later, Lyndon Johnson (1963-69), also enjoyed the pool with family and colleagues, and he reportedly wasn’t shy about swimming in the buff.
Next time, we’ll focus on the White House pools and hot tub.