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Funny Facts About President Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln led the United States through the Civil War and helped bring about the abolition of slavery. But the 16th President also had a lighter side. Lincoln had a varied list of interests outside of politics — he was a farmer, carpenter, animal lover, and inventor — and was known for his keen sense of humor. Here are five funny facts you might not know about the man known as the Railsplitter, Honest Abe, and, according to many historians, the nation’s greatest President.

Lincoln Was Known to Respond to Insults With Jokes

Abraham Lincoln stood out, visually. He was the tallest President, at 6 feet, 4 inches (at a time when the average American male was 2 inches shorter than today), and he had the largest feet of any President, at a size 14. Consequently, Lincoln’s political opponents frequently took absurd shots at his appearance. In 1860, The Houston Telegraphwrote that he had “the leanest, lankiest, most ungainly mass of legs, arms, and hatchet face ever strung upon a single frame.” The Southern Confederacy similarly published a poem stating that “his nose was as long and as ugly and big / as the snout of a half-starved Illinois pig.” Lincoln took it all with characteristic good humor and was not above the occasional self-deprecating joke. He once recounted a story in which someone called him a “self-made man,” to which he replied, “Well, all I’ve got to say is that it was a damned bad job.” And when Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas called him “two-faced” in a debate, Lincoln famously replied, “If I had another face, do you think I’d wear this one?”

Lincoln Grew His Beard at the Suggestion of an 11-Year-Old Girl

Lincoln’s opponents may have made fun of his appearance, but it was a letter from a supporter that led to him becoming the first fully bearded President. An 11-year-old named Grace Bedell saw a poster of a clean-shaven Lincoln that her father brought home from a county fair, and decided she needed to encourage the candidate to go for a glow-up. Bedell wrote Lincoln, “I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you. You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin.” Lincoln wrote back to Bedell, seemingly considering her advice with the response, “Do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection?” He ultimately grew out his beard after being elected President in November 1860. Just a few months later, Lincoln met Bedell when his train tour stopped in New York, and let her know that she was behind his makeover: “You see,” Lincoln told her, “I let these whiskers grow for you, Grace.”

Lincoln Let his Cat Eat at the Dining Room Table

An animal lover, Lincoln owned dogs and cats throughout his life, and he let his sons Tad and Willie keep rabbits, turkeys, horses, and goats at the White House. The animal that got the most special treatment, however, was Lincoln’s cat Tabby, whom he let dine at the table, including once during a formal dinner at the White House. When Mary Todd Lincoln said it was “shameful in front of their guests,” the President replied, “If the gold fork was good enough for [former President James] Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.” Lincoln thought highly of his cat Dixie, as well; he once remarked that she was “smarter than my whole Cabinet!”

Lincoln Kept Documents in His Top Hats

The stovepipe hat was one of Lincoln’s signature accessories, and the final hat he ever wore is now kept at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The top hat helped the 6-foot-4 President tower over crowds even more than he naturally did, but the adornment wasn’t just used for looks: The President actually kept documents in the hat while he was wearing it. Lincoln would often remove papers (letters from friends, as well as speeches), from his hat while addressing constituents, and he was also known to take documents from atop his head and throw them down in front of generals in anger. According to some historians, the phrase “keep it under your hat” — meaning to keep something secret — comes from Lincoln’s habit.

Lincoln Was Granted a Patent for an Invention That Didn’t Work

In May 1849, right after the end of his term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Lincoln was granted a patent for “adjustable buoyant air chambers,” which were meant to help buoy boats over shoals. He got the idea from his time working as a ferryman, when on two different occasions he was on a riverboat that got stuck after running aground on the Mississippi River. Lincoln whittled the patent model himself, and submitted sketches showing how the invention would work. The air chambers would be attached to the side of the boat and inflated to lift the vessel over an obstruction — at least, that was the theory. The device was never produced and it turned out that the amount of force needed to lower and fill the air chambers made it impractical. Nevertheless, Lincoln remains the only U.S. President ever to receive a patent.

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