Theodore Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, to a wealthy New York family. During his childhood, Roosevelt had asthma and was often sick, so he went to school at home. Finally his father encouraged him to improve his health through physical exercise. By the time Roosevelt attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was fit enough to compete in the college’s boxing program. Roosevelt graduated with honors, married, and became a member of New York’s state assembly.
Then tragedy struck. Roosevelt’s mother and wife both died from illnesses on Valentine’s Day in 1884. Roosevelt moved to the western United States and worked as a cowboy and a rancher. That’s when he developed a love of the outdoors that would continue throughout his presidency.
FROM WAR HERO TO PRESIDENT
In the fall of 1886 Roosevelt returned to New York. He remarried, took up writing, and re-entered public service.
When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Roosevelt formed a volunteer company of cowboys, college football players, New York City police officers, and Native Americans. These "Rough Riders" became famous for their charge near San Juan Hill in Cuba, where they fought to help the island gain independence from Spain.
Roosevelt’s popularity after the war helped get him elected governor of New York in 1899. In 1901, Roosevelt was elected to serve as vice president to President William McKinley after his vice president passed away. But barely six months into McKinley’s second term, the president was assassinated by an angry citizen at a fair.
TEDDY THE TRUSTBUSTER
Following McKinley’s assassination in 1901, Roosevelt became the 26th president of the United States. He immediately focused on monopolies, which is when several companies join together and become so powerful that the new company doesn’t have any competition. Also called trusts, these monopolies controlled the railroad, beef, oil, and other industries. Trusts had become so powerful that people were suffering from high prices, low wages, and poor working conditions. (For instance, if a company is the only company that sells beef, then that company can charge as much as they want and pay workers as little as they want.) Roosevelt became known as a "trustbuster" for breaking up these monopolies.
He also made conservation a top priority during his administration. He created the United States Forest Service and established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, and five national parks during his time in office.
MAKING FRIENDS OVERSEAS
Roosevelt was a problem solver when other countries had disagreements. In fact in 1905, he became the first U.S. president and first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating an end to a war between Russia and Japan.
He also continued to oversee construction of the Panama Canal, a waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across Central America. He visited the construction site in 1906, but it wouldn’t officially open until five years after he left office, in 1914.
Roosevelt served a second term, then left the White House in 1909. He attempted to regain the presidency in 1912 by running as a third-party candidate for the Progressive, or Bull Moose, Party. During a campaign speech in Wisconsin, he was shot in the chest by a saloonkeeper who disagreed with his policies. Roosevelt refused to go to the hospital until he finished his speech, over an hour later. He survived the assassination attempt but lost the presidential race to Woodrow Wilson.
Roosevelt spent his retirement on safari in Africa and exploring the jungles of Brazil. But after the death of his youngest son, Quentin, in World War I, Roosevelt’s health became bad. He died the following year on January 6, 1919.
Roosevelt was the first "accidental" president to later win outright election to the office. During his presidency, he expanded the reach of the U.S. government into such areas as industry, labor, the environment, consumer rights, and foreign affairs. He’s been called by many historians the first modern president and is generally remembered fondly.
From the Nat Geo Kids book Our Country's Presidents by Ann Bausum and Brianna Dumont, revised for digital by Avery Hurt