Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919): Growing Up to be President
Served as president from 1901-1909
Teddy Roosevelt was born into a wealthy family in New York City, but he suffered from poor health so he had a very sheltered childhood.
Today it is known that Teddy Roosevelt had asthma, a disease that was not well understood in that day. Remedies of the time included having a child drink caffeine or smoke in an effort to open air passages; of course these would not have been effective, and smoking, particularly, would have been counter-productive.
Roosevelt’s father enjoyed spending time with his children, and on a hiking trip in Europe, he noted that his son improved when the family exercised regularly. Theodore Sr. came home resolving to establish a plan for strengthening his sickly son. A room in the family’s Oyster Bay mansion was turned into an exercise room, and Teddy was encouraged to use the equipment in the room, but also to hike, wrestle, swim, and go horseback riding or rowing…whatever would help build up his strength.
Young Teddy succeeded in gaining enough strength that he was “normal” and mostly healthier as he grew older. Later in life, Teddy Roosevelt was to spend three years out on his ranch in North Dakota. It was during this time in the West when he fully developed into a very capable and well-respected outdoorsman.
Teddy also suffered from another problem that was not well understood at the time. He had poor vision for seeing into the distance. (This is known as nearsightedness, meaning he could see things that were near but not far.) When he was 13, he was given his first gun. In his autobiography, he notes that he was puzzled as he watched his companions take aim at things–he saw nothing. He eventually discussed this with his father, who soon had Teddy fitted for his first pair of glasses. “I had no idea how beautiful the world was until I got those spectacles.”
In 1872, when Theodore was 14, he made a trip with the family down the Nile. Teddy actively collected plants and animals he found on that trip, and he resolved that he was going to be a natural scientist. While he did not actually pursue this career goal, he contributed much to the Museum of Natural History in New York City. He also became an ardent conservationist and was responsible for preserving major parcels of land including the Grand Canyon.