Theodore Roosevelt: A Timeline of the 26th President's Life

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The first season of our new podcast, History Vs., is all about Theodore Roosevelt: author, rancher, naturalist, and 26th president. (Make sure to subscribe if you haven't already!) As you're listening, follow along with this timeline.

Sources: Timeline of Theodore Roosevelt's Life, Library of Congress; Timeline, Theodore Roosevelt Center; Timeline, Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.

1855

January 18, 1855

TR's oldest sister, Anna Roosevelt, a.k.a. Bamie or Bye, is born.

1858

October 27, 1858

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. is born to Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (Thee) and Martha Bulloch Roosevelt (Mittie) at 28 E. 20th Street in New York City.

1860

February 28, 1860

TR's brother, Elliott Roosevelt, is born.

1861

September 27, 1861

TR's sister, Corinne Roosevelt, is born.

1865

April 25, 1865

Theodore and Elliott watch Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession from the window of their grandfather’s New York City mansion.

1869

May 1869

The Roosevelt family—including the kids, Anna (Bamie or Bye), Theodore, Elliott, and Corinne—take a trip to Europe.

1870

March 1870

The Roosevelts return from their trip abroad.

Thee issues a challenge to his son to build his body; Theodore accepts and gets to work.

Thee helps found the American Museum of Natural History.

TR begins "The Roosevelt Museum of Natural History."

1871

TR receives his first pair of glasses.

1872

The Roosevelts travel to Egypt and the Holy Land.

TR receives a gun for his 14th birthday.

1873

Theodore, Elliott, and Corrine live with a family in Dresden, Germany, for five months.

November 5, 1873

The Roosevelts return home to New York.

1874

The Roosevelts spend their first summer in Oyster Bay, the future location of TR's Sagamore Hill Estate.

1876

Theodore enters Harvard.

1877

President Rutherford B. Hayes nominates Thee for the position of Collector of Customs to the Port of New York. The Senate rejects the nomination.

July 1877

TR writes The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks.

1878

February 9, 1878

Thee dies of stomach cancer.

September 7, 1878

Roosevelt spends time with Bill Sewall in Maine.

October 18, 1878

Theodore meets Alice Hathaway Lee, his future wife.

1880

June 30, 1880

Theodore graduates from Harvard (magna cum laude).

October 27, 1880

Theodore marries Alice Hathaway Lee (whose nickname is “Sunshine”) on his 22nd birthday.

December 1880

Theodore enters law school at Columbia. (He later drops out.)

1881

August 1881

Roosevelt summits the Matterhorn while honeymooning with Alice.

November 9, 1881

Theodore is elected to the New York State Assembly, representing the 21st district.

1882

TR’s first book, The Naval War of 1812, is published.

August 1882

TR joins the National Guard; is a second lieutenant.

1883

January 1, 1883

TR is elected Speaker of the Republican Assembly.

September 1883

Theodore travels to the Dakota Badlands to hunt bison and purchases a stake in a ranch there.

November 1883

TR is re-elected to the NY State assembly.

1884

February 12, 1884

Alice gives birth to a healthy baby girl and names her Alice Lee.

February 14, 1884

Mittie dies of typhoid fever; a few hours later, Alice Hathaway Lee dies of Bright’s disease.

February 16, 1884

Alice and Mittie have a double funeral and are buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

February 17, 1884

TR and Alice’s daughter is christened.

March 1884

TR commissions a home to be built in Long Island for his daughter Alice; it will become Sagamore Hill.

June 1884

Roosevelt serves as a delegate at the Republican National Convention in Chicago.

Late 1884

TR sells his home in New York City and leaves for the Dakotas, leaving Alice—whom he calls “Baby Lee”—in the care of his oldest sister, Bamie. He establishes Elkhorn Ranch in the Dakotas.

October 1884

TR briefly returns to New York to work on the Blaine presidential campaign; heads back to Elkhorn in November.

December 1884

TR helps to organize the Little Missouri River Stockmen’s Association, but returns to New York for Christmas.

1885

March 1885

TR’s book, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, is published.

April 1885

Returns to the Dakotas; has a bar fight in Mingusville (now Wibaux, Montana).

May 1885

Participates in the spring cattle roundup, which lasts 32 days.

June 1885

Returns to New York, where Sagamore Hill is completed.

November 1885

Secretly begins courting his childhood sweetheart, Edith Kermit Carow.

1886

TR becomes secretly engaged to Edith, after which he returns to the Badlands.

Spring 1886

Roosevelt, along with Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow, pursue—and apprehend—three thieves who had stolen TR's boat from his Elkhorn Ranch. After he caught the bandits, he marched them overland, though extremely rugged areas, to face justice in Dickinson, North Dakota.

September 1886

TR returns to New York.

TR is nominated for mayor of New York on the Republican ticket, but later loses the election to Abram S. Hewitt.

December 2, 1886

TR and Edith marry in London.

A terrible winter—one of the worst in recorded history—begins in the Dakotas.

1887

March 1887

TR and Edith return to New York after their European honeymoon.

TR’s book on Thomas Hart Benton is published.

April 1887

TR visits the Dakotas to determine how much cattle he lost over the winter; half of his herd is gone. He begins to sell off his interests.

May 1887

Baby Alice comes to live with TR and Edith in Sagamore Hill.

September 13, 1887

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (Ted) is born.

1888

Three books of TR’s are published: Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, Gouverneur Morris, and Essays on Practical Politics.

1889

May 1889

Roosevelt is appointed to the Civil Service Commission and moves to Washington, D.C.

The first two volumes of TR’s four-volume series, The Winning of the West, are published.

October 10, 1889

Kermit Roosevelt, TR and Edith’s second child, is born.

1891

August 13, 1891

Ethel Carow, TR and Edith’s third child, is born.

1893

The Wilderness Hunter is published.

1894

The third volume of The Winning of the West is published.

April 10, 1894

Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt, TR and Edith’s fourth child, is born.

August 14, 1894

TR's brother, Elliott, dies.

1895

TR and Henry Cabot Lodge’s book, Hero Tales from American History, is published.

TR accepts a position on New York City’s board of police commissioners.

June 23, 1895

TR deploys 2000 officers to enforce the Excise Law in saloons across New York.

September 1895

Thirty thousand mostly German or German-Americans parade down Lexington Avenue to oppose TR’s enforcement of the Excise Law.

1896

The fourth volume of The Winning of the West is published.

1897

American Ideals and Some American Game are published.

April 1897

President William McKinley appoints TR Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy.

November 19, 1897

Quentin Roosevelt, TR and Edith’s fifth child, is born.

1898

May 1898

T. R. resigns his post as assistant secretary of the Navy to fight in the Spanish-American War. He is lieutenant colonel of the first U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment to fight in the war.

June 22, 1898

T.R. and the Rough Riders land in Cuba.

June 30, 1898

TR is given command of the Rough Riders and is made a colonel.

July 1, 1898

TR and the Rough Riders charge up Kettle Hill.

August 15, 1898

The Rough Riders come back to New York and are quarantined in Montauk.

November 8, 1898

TR is elected governor of New York.

1899

TR’s book The Rough Riders is published.

1900

TR publishes two books: A biography of Oliver Cromwell and The Strenuous Life.

November 1900

William McKinley is elected for a second term; TR is his vice president.

1901

March 4, 1901

McKinley and TR are inaugurated.

September 6, 1901

President William McKinley is shot in Buffalo, New York.

September 14, 1901

McKinley dies after being shot; TR is sworn in as president in Buffalo, New York.

October 16, 1901

Booker T. Washington dines with TR and his family in the White House. It was the first time a black person had eaten at the same table as a president, and it caused a scandal.

1902

February 18, 1902

TR orders the Justice Department to bring an anti-trust suit against Northern Securities; the court rules in 1904 that Northern Securities must dissolve.

May 1902

TR authorizes the creation of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

September 3, 1902

TR bruises his leg in a carriage accident and develops an infection that would lead to emergency surgery.

October 1902

TR mediates a labor dispute between mine workers and the coal industry, threatening to send troops to take over the mines if a resolution isn’t reached. (Thankfully, one is.)

November 14, 1902

Roosevelt goes on a hunting trip in Mississippi, where he refuses to shoot a bear tied to a tree. The event leads to the creation of the Teddy Bear.

December 1902

The president tells Germany that the United States will take action if Germany invades Venezuela to collect on debts. Later, he helps settle the dispute.

1903

March 14, 1903

Via an executive order, TR establishes Pelican Island in Florida, a bird reservation and the first time the government set aside land devoted to protecting wildlife.

May 1903

TR and John Muir go camping in Yosemite.

November 18, 1903

Panama Canal Treaty is signed.

1904

November 8, 1904

TR wins his reelection bid for president, defeating Democratic nominee Alton B. Parker by a wide margin. Roosevelt had 336 electoral votes to Parker’s 140.

December 6, 1904

Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.

1905

February 1, 1905

TR signs the act that facilitates the creation of the National Forest Service.

March 4, 1905

TR’s second presidential inauguration ceremony is held.

March 17, 1905

TR attends the wedding of his niece, Eleanor Roosevelt, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

June 2, 1905

TR creates the first federal game preserve in Wichita Forest, Oklahoma.

July 8, 1905

TR’s daughter Alice sets sail for Asia with Taft and other diplomatic delegates.

August 9, 1905

TR publishes Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter.

August 25, 1905

TR takes a ride in the USS Plunger off Long Island.

August 29, 1905

TR’s attempts to mediate talks between Russia and Japan to bring peace between the two countries are successful.

September 5, 1905

Signing of the Portsmouth Treaty, which ends the Russo-Japanese War.

1906

January 1906

TR brokers successful talks between Germany and France over their respective influence in Morocco.

February 17, 1906

TR’s daughter Alice marries Republican Congressman Nicholas Longworth on the White House lawn.

June 8, 1906

TR signs the Antiquities Act.

June 30, 1906

TR’s push to regulate the meatpacking and food industries culminates with the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, which oversee quality standards for consumer goods.

August 1906

TR dishonorably discharges a regiment of black soldiers accused of killing a white bartender and wounding a white police officer in Brownsville, Texas. An investigation later revealed they had likely been framed and 14 men were allowed to reenlist.

November 1906

TR becomes the first president to travel to a foreign country while in office, visiting Panama to check on the construction of the Panama Canal.

December 1906

TR wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the conflict between Russia and Japan. He is the first American to win a Nobel Prize of any kind.

1907

TR publishes Good Hunting.

January 1, 1907

TR sets a world record when he shakes 8513 hands.

December 16, 1907

TR’s notion to impress the rest of the world with military power results in the Great White Fleet, a naval spectacle with 16 ships and 14,000 sailors that spends the next 14 months touring the globe.

1908

January 11, 1908

TR designates the Grand Canyon in Arizona as a National Monument.

June, 1908

After TR decides not to pursue a third term, the Republican party nominates William Howard Taft as their presidential candidate.

1909

March 1909

TR joins the editorial staff of the small weekly news magazine The Outlook.

Roosevelt leaves the White House as William Howard Taft is sworn in as president.

April 1909

Roosevelt begins a yearlong safari in Mombasa in British East Africa accompanied by his son Kermit. By the end of the expedition, he has killed 296 animals.

April 1909

Roosevelt publishes Outlook Editorials.

1910

March 1910

TR publishes African Game Trails, American Problems, The New Nationalism, and African and European Addresses.

March 1910

TR embarks on a tour of Europe, including Budapest, Paris, and Brussels.

August 1910

TR visits 16 states on a speaking tour to promote his New Nationalism, which argues against special privileges for businesses in government and advocates equal rights for all citizens.

December 1910

Roosevelt travels to Norway to accept his Nobel Peace Prize.

1911

October 27, 1911

William Howard Taft’s Justice Department accuses J.P. Morgan’s U.S. Steel of violating the Sherman Act, breaking TR’s promise to Morgan that U.S. Steel wouldn’t be prosecuted.

1912

February 1912

TR throws his hat in the ring, announcing that he's running for president as a Republican.

June 1912

Republicans nominate incumbent President William Howard Taft as their party candidate.

August 5, 1912

The new National Progressive party, which is nicknamed the “Bull Moose” party, makes its official debut at a convention in Chicago.

August 7, 1912

TR is nominated to be the National Progressive party’s candidate for president.

October 14, 1912

John Schrank shoots TR in the chest when he comes to Milwaukee to deliver a campaign speech. Roosevelt finishes the speech before seeking medical treatment.

November 1912

TR receives the largest number of votes of any third-party candidate, but loses the presidential election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

1913

Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography, History as Literature and Other Essays, and Progressive Principles are published.

October 1913

TR travels to South America for lecture tour.

Late 1913

TR sets off on a harrowing expedition to chart the River of Doubt in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest; the first part of the expedition takes place over land.

1914

February 27, 1914

The expedition starts down the River of Doubt.

April 1914

TR completes the journey in the Amazon and the river is dubbed Rio Roosevelt or Rio Teodoro after him.

May 1914

Roosevelt returns home to New York and publishes the books Through the Brazilian Wilderness and Life-Histories of African Game Animals.

September 1914

Following the start of World War I, TR calls for "a world league for the peace of righteousness," foreshadowing the League of Nations.

1915

America and the World War by Theodore Roosevelt is published.

April - May, 1915

TR is the defendant in a libel suit brought by Republican machine boss William Barnes. TR wins.

1916

TR publishes Fear God and Take Your Own Part and A Booklover’s Holidays in the Open.

1917

TR’s four sons join the military to fight in World War I, and his daughter Ethel becomes a Red Cross nurse.

May 19, 1917

Wilson refuses TR's request to take a volunteer force—the Rough Riders 2.0—to the Western front of WWI.

1918

July 14, 1918

TR’s son Quentin dies after his plane is shot down over France.

November 1918

The Great Adventure by Theodore Roosevelt is published.

TR spends more than a month in the hospital being treated for recurring abscesses.

1919

January 3, 1919

TR dictates an editorial to the Kansas City Star on the proposed League of Nations.

January 5, 1919

TR dictates an article to the Metropolitan voicing support for women’s suffrage.

January 6, 1919

Theodore Roosevelt, 60, dies in his sleep at 4:15 a.m. after a pulmonary embolism.

January 8, 1919

Theodore Roosevelt is buried at Youngs Memorial Cemetery in Oyster Bay.

How to Baffle a Bull Moose: The Time Harry Houdini Tricked Theodore Roosevelt

Harry Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt aboard the SS Imperator.
Harry Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt aboard the SS Imperator.
Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

When the SS Imperator set sail for New York City in June 1914, it had on board bigwigs of both politics and entertainment—namely, former president Theodore Roosevelt and acclaimed illusionist Harry Houdini. Houdini was returning from a performance tour across the UK, and Roosevelt had been busy with a tour of his own: visiting European museums, meeting ambassadors, and then attending the wedding of his son, Kermit, in Madrid. Though the two men hadn’t crossed paths before, they soon became fast friends, often exercising together in the morning (at least, whenever Houdini wasn’t seasick).

The ocean liner hadn’t booked Houdini to perform, but when an officer asked Houdini if he’d give an impromptu performance at a benefit concert on the ship, he agreed, partially at the insistence of his new companion.

Little did Roosevelt know, Houdini had spent weeks plotting an elaborate ruse especially for him.

Houdini Hatches a Plan

ss imperator in 1912
The SS Imperator circa 1913.
George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Earlier in June, when Houdini was picking up his tickets for the trip, the teller divulged that he wouldn’t be the only celebrity on the SS Imperator.

“Teddy Roosevelt is on the boat,” the teller whispered, “but don’t tell anyone.”

Houdini, knowing there was a good chance he’d end up hosting a spur-of-the-moment show, started scheming immediately. The story was recounted in full in a 1929 newspaper article by Harold Kellock, which allegedly used Houdini’s own words from unreleased autobiographical excerpts.

Having heard that The Telegraph would soon publish details about Roosevelt’s recent rip-roaring expedition through South America, Houdini paid his editorial friends a surprise visit.

"I jumped into a taxi and went to The Telegraph office to see what I could pick up," he said. They readily obliged his request for information, and even handed over a map of Roosevelt’s journey along the Amazon.

What followed was a combination of spectacular cunning and good old-fashioned luck.

Houdini hatched a plan to hold a séance, during which he would employ a particular slate trick common among mediums at the time. In it, a participant jots down a question on a piece of paper and slips it between two blank slates, where spirits then “write” the answer and the performer reveals it.

He prepared the slates so that one bore the map of Roosevelt’s entire trail down Brazil’s River of Doubt, along with an arrow and the words “Near the Andes.” In London, Houdini had also acquired old letters from W.T. Stead, a British editor (and spiritualist) who had perished on the RMS Titanic in 1912. Houdini forged Stead’s signature on the slate to suggest that the spirit of Stead knew all about Roosevelt’s unpublicized escapades.

Upon boarding the ship, Houdini faced only two obstacles. First, he had to finagle his way into performing a public séance with Roosevelt in attendance. Second, he would have to ensure that the question his “spirit” answered was “Where was I last Christmas?” or something very similar.

Houdini cleared the first hurdle with flying colors, saying he “found it easy to work the Colonel into a state of mind so that the suggestion of séance would come from him.” Though the master manipulator doesn’t elaborate on what exactly he said about spiritualism during their conversation—later in his career, Houdini would actually make a name for himself as an anti-spiritualist by debunking popular mediums—it sufficiently piqued Roosevelt’s interest. When the ship’s officer requested that Houdini perform, Roosevelt apparently goaded, “Go ahead, Houdini, give us a little séance.”

Just like that, Houdini had scheduled a séance that Roosevelt wouldn’t likely miss—and the illusionist wasn’t going to leave a single detail up to chance.

A Back-Up Plan (Or Two)

theodore roosevelt on the ss imperator
Roosevelt relaxes aboard the SS Imperator.
George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Rather than bank on the shaky possibility that Roosevelt himself would pen the perfect question, Houdini prepared to stuff the ballot, so to speak. He had copied the question "Where was I last Christmas?" onto several sheets of paper, sealed them in envelopes, and planned to make sure that only his own envelopes ended up in the hat from which he’d choose a question. (It seems like a problematic plan, considering the possibility that Roosevelt would speak up to say something like "Wait, that wasn't my question," but Houdini doesn't clarify how he hoped this would play out.)

The morning of the séance, Houdini devised yet another back-up plan. With a razor blade, he sliced open the binding of two books, slipped a sheet of carbon paper and white paper beneath each cover, and resealed them.

As long as Roosevelt used one of the books as a flat surface to write on, the carbon paper would transfer his question to the white sheet below it—meaning that even after Roosevelt had sealed his question in an envelope, Houdini could sneak a glance and alter his performance accordingly.

A Little Hocus Pocus

Theodore Roosevelt poses with a map of the roosevelt-rondon expedition
Sometime after his voyage on the SS Imperator, Roosevelt posed with a map of his expedition through the Amazon.
Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

That night, Houdini kicked off the show with a series of card tricks, where he let Roosevelt choose the cards. “I was amazed at the way he watched every one of the misdirection moves as I manipulated the cards,” he said, according to Kellock’s article. “It was difficult to baffle him.”

Then, it was time for the séance.

"La-dies and gen-tle-men," Houdini proclaimed. "I am sure that many among you have had experiences with mediums who have been able to facilitate the answering of your personal questions by departed spirits, these answers being mysteriously produced on slates. As we all know, mediums do their work in the darkened séance room, but tonight, for the first time anywhere, I propose to conduct a spiritualistic slate test in the full glare of the light."

Houdini distributed the slips of paper, gave instructions, and then solicitously passed Roosevelt one of the books when he saw him start to use his hand as a surface. As Roosevelt began to write, composer Victor Herbert, also in attendance, offered a few shrewd words of caution.

"Turn around. Don't let him see it," Houdini heard him warn Roosevelt. "He will read the question by the movements of the top of the pencil."

"The Colonel then faced abruptly away from me and scribbled his question in such a position that I could not see him do it," Houdini said, adding, "Of course that made no difference to me."

After Roosevelt finished, Houdini took the book and slyly extracted the paper from the inside cover while returning it to the table.

In an almost unbelievable stroke of luck, Roosevelt’s question read “Where was I last Christmas?” Houdini wouldn’t need to slip one of his own envelopes between the slates after all.

"Knowing what was in the Colonel's envelope, I did not have to resort to sleight of hand, but boldly asked him to place his question between the slates himself," Houdini said. "While I pretended to show all four faces of the two slates, by manipulation I showed only three."

Then, after Roosevelt stated his question aloud to the audience, Houdini revealed the marked-up map, bearing the answer to Roosevelt’s question signed by the ghost of W.T. Stead.

In a 1926 article from The New York Times, Houdini describes Roosevelt as “dumbfounded” by the act.

“Is it really spirit writing?” he asked.

“Yes,” Houdini responded with a wink.

In Kellock’s account, however, Houdini confessed that “it was just hocus-pocus.”

Either way, it seems that Houdini never explained to Roosevelt exactly how he had duped him, and Roosevelt died in 1919, a decade before Kellock’s detailed exposition hit newsstands.

To fully appreciate the success of Houdini’s charade, you have to understand just how difficult it would’ve been to pull one over on a sharp-witted guy like Theodore Roosevelt. Dive into his life and legacy in the first season of our new podcast, History Vs. podcast, hosted by Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy.

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