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Spotlight: Presidents' Day

Presidents’ Day as we know it today evolved from celebrations surrounding George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd. The first United States Presidential election was held over a period of weeks, from December 1788 through January 1789. Revolutionary War hero George Washington was unanimously elected. He took the oath of office on April 30, 1789 in New York City. Since that day, 46 men have served as President of the United States.

Washington’s Birthday (February 22) was designated by Congress as an official federal holiday in 1879. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Law to increase the number of holiday long weekends. The federal observation of Washington’s Birthday was set on the third Monday of February each year beginning in 1971. As a result, the holiday will always fall between February 15th and 21st.Given that Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is February 12th, this led many States to adopt a combined observation for the two men, and Presidents’ Day was born. In Illinois we celebrate both Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12th and Washington’s Birthday on the third Monday of February.

Four U.S. Presidents have birthdays in the month of February - George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan (February 6), and William Henry Harrison (February 9). William Henry Harrison, our 9th President, is known for serving the shortest time in the office (March 4 - April 4, 1841). He died just 31 days after his inauguration. Our longest serving President was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served 3 full terms and 3 months of his fourth term before dying in office on April 12, 1945.

William Henry Harrison also delivered the longest inaugural address in U.S. history, containing 8,445 words and lasting nearly 2 hours. In contrast, George Washington’s second inaugural address was the shortest, consisting of only 135 words. Lincoln was the tallest president, standing 6’4” tall. James Madison, the shortest President, was a foot shorter at 5’4”. Joe Biden is the oldest President; he was 78 when he was inaugurated in 2021. Teddy Roosevelt was the youngest person to serve as President. He was just 42 years old when he was elevated from Vice President to President after the assassination of President William McKinley in September 1901.

Four U.S. Presidents are from Illinois – Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, although only one was actually born in Illinois. Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois and played football at Eureka College. While Reagan was known as a successful actor, one of his most impactful jobs before becoming Governor of California and then President was during his time in Illinois. Starting at the age of 16, Reagan worked as a lifeguard for 7 years on the Rock River in Dixon, Illinois where he saved an estimated 77 swimmers from drowning.

Both Virginia and Ohio claim the title “Mother of Presidents.” Virginia’s claim is based on the record eight U.S. Presidents who were born in that state. However, one of those Virginia born U.S. Presidents, William Henry Harrison, moved to Ohio before becoming President. Therefore, Ohio claims him too along with the seven U.S. Presidents born there, bringing their total to eight. We’ll call it a tie - they can both claim the title.


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