Birthplace of Presidents

Published 10:06 pm Saturday, February 14, 2009

We call it Presidents Day in honor of the 44 men who have served or are serving this country as commander in chief of the armed forces and head of state. But, in a sense, the day is a reflection not only of the nation’s heritage but also of Ohio’s legacy.

Of those 44 men, eight have called Ohio home: Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, Warren G. Harding and William H. Taft.

Some states have never contributed a president. Others have seen more than one. Ohio and Virginia have produced the most — 15 combined, although both claim William Henry Harrison, who was born in Virginia but became president while living in Ohio. Why has Ohio been so proliferate in the presidential timber department?

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“We were the center of population for the country for about 80 years,” Symmes Valley history teacher Bob Goodall explained. “And we are a hugely populated state, too, so we have a lot of influence.”

Goodall has a point — actually two of them. Of Ohio’s eight contributions, all of them served within a roughly 80-year period between 1841 and 1923, beginning with William Henry Harrison and ending with the death of Harding. In fact, three of Ohio’s presidents served back to back: Grant, Hayes and Garfield.

Point two: Seeking the state’s 20 electoral votes, present-day presidential candidates stump here regularly in hopes of going to or staying in the White House.

Kim Schuette, communications and media relations manager for the Ohio Historical Society, made a different point: Some of the Civil War’s best known leaders were from Ohio — Ulysses S. Grant and James A. Garfield among them.

Many of our presidents became commander in chief by rising through the ranks of the military, and if Ohio produced more than its share of military might, it stands to reason it also contributed more than its share to the White House.

In fact, six of the eight Ohio presidents, Schuette pointed out, had military service. Five were generals.

In his book, “Buckeye Presidents,” Kent State professor Phillip Weeks credits Ohio’s presidents with doing much to shape the nation’s future during their administrations.

“During the nation’s formative periods (1780-1850), more than half of the presidents were from Virginia,” Weeks wrote.

“However, in the six decades following the end of the Civil War, seven of the nation’s 12 leaders were Ohioans. It was during their presidencies that the U.S. was transformed from a rural, agrarian, diplomatically isolationist society into a wealthy and powerful commercial and industrial nation.

“And Ohio’s dominance in politics from the Civil War through World War I was particularly evident in the 1920 presidential election, in which the two candidates — Republican Warren G. Harding and Democrat James Cox —were both Ohio natives.”

OHIO’s U.S. Presidents

William Henry Harrison

9th U.S. President, served March 4-April 4, 1841. Born on Feb. 9, 1773, in Berkeley, Va. Died on April 4, 1841.

Party: Whig

Claim to fame: Former Indian fighter, served only one month after catching cold, then pneumonia giving longest inaugural address in history.

Ulysses S. Grant

18th U.S. President, served 1869-1877. Born on April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant. Died on July 23, 1885.

Party: Republican

Claim to fame: He was known as one of the greatest generals of his time and one of the worst presidents in the country’s history due to almost constant scandal and corruption.

Rutherford B. Hayes

19th U.S. President, served 1877-1881. Born Oct. 4, 1822 in Delaware. Died Jan. 17, 1893.

Party: Republican

Claim to fame: He won office by one electoral vote. Southern Reconstruction ended during his term.

James A. Garfield

20th U.S. President, served March 4, 1881 to Sept. 19, 1881. Born Nov. 19, 1831 in Moreland Hills. Died Sept. 19, 1881.

Party: Republican

Claim to fame: He was the first president whose election was decided by a congressional committee after no candidate received enough electoral college votes for a win. He was wounded four times during the Civil War.

Benjamin Harrison

23rd U.S. President, served 1889-1893. Born Aug. 20, 1833 in North Bend. Died March 13, 1901.

Party: Republican

Claim to fame: Harrison helped shape the U.S. foreign policy and a number of infrastructure improvements were created in his administration.

William McKinley

25th U.S. President, served 1897-1901. Born on Jan. 29, 1843, in Niles. Died Sept. 14, 1901.

Party: Republican

Claim to fame: He led the country into the Spanish-American War, eventually bringing new land holdings under U.S. control.

William Howard Taft

27th U.S. President, served 1909-1913. Born on Sept. 15, 1857, in Cincinnati. Died March 8, 1930.

Party: Republican

Claim to fame: Served as both president and then chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court As president, he helped create the U.S. Department of Labor and the federal income tax system. He was the largest U.S. President, weighing in at more than 300 pounds

Warren G. Harding

29th U.S. President, served 1921-1923. Born on Nov. 2, 1865, in Corsica (now Blooming Grove). Died Aug. 2, 1923.

Party: Republican

Claim to fame: Administration filled with scandal and turmoil including the Teapot Dome scandal. First president to speak on the radio.