Fun Presidential Facts: William H. Taft and his Appetite
I’m sure you’ve hear about ol’ Taft being so fat that he got stuck in the White House Bathtub and had it replaced with one big enough for four men, but he’s another story that I ran across that illustrates Taft’s main weakness…This account is taken from Ira Smith, who handled mail for 9 U.S. Presidents:
The troubles of William Howard Taft, however, were not the usual presidential woes that became familiar to me. One of Mr. Taft’s troubles was food. He loved it, and the more food he could get, the more he loved it. The rub was that after he moved into the White House, his doctor and Mrs. Taft were constantly on the alert to enforce a diet that would get rid of some of his surplus poundage. Mrs. Taft might be reasonably described as a strong-minded woman. She took dieting seriously — for the President — and this led to a lot of talk that in a less famous household might have been called nagging.
The President dieted, all right, but not when he could escape supervision. I remember once when I accompanied him on a journey to Ohio. When we got on the train, leaving the doctor and Mrs. Taft behind, the President began to perk up. He also apparently began to think about food, although it was ten o’clock in the evening. Wilbur Hinman, a stenographer, and I were in the observation section of Mr. Taft’s special car going through telegrams and letters when the President appeared at the door of his sitting room. A pleasant smile turned the corners of his mouth. I took one look and knew what was on his mind.
“Anybody seen the conductor?” he asked.
The conductor came a-running.
“The dining car…” Mr. Taft began shyly. “Could we get a snack?”
The conductor looked surprised. “Why, Mr. President, there isn’t any dining car on this train.”
The President’s sun-tanned face turned pink, with perhaps a few splashes of purple. His normally prominent eyes seemed to bulge.
“Norton!” he called in a cold voice. “Mr. Norton!”
Charles D. Norton, a tall, good-looking, and well-dressed man, appeared from the next compartment. He was Mr. Taft’s secretary, and he probably had been given special instructions by Mrs. Taft in regard to the President’s diet on the trip.
“Mr. Norton,” the President said, “there is no diner on this train.”
Norton agreed that there was no diner. He reminded Mr. Taft that they had had dinner at the White House, and assured him that they would not go without breakfast. He recalled that the President’s doctor had warned him about eating between meals. The President brushed him aside, turning back to the conductor.
“Where’s the next stop, dammit?” he asked. “The next stop where there’s a diner?”
The conductor believed it would be Harrisburg. Mr. Taft glared at Norton and addressed the conductor:
“I am President of the United States, and I want a diner attached to this train at Harrisburg. I want it well stocked with food, including filet mignon. You will see that we get a diner.” He silenced the secretary’s protests with a roar. “What’s the use of being President,” he demanded, “if you can’t have a train with a diner on it?”
Norton gave up. The diner was attached at Harrisburg in the middle of the night, and the President had the newspapermen advised that it was open to them. He sat in his own car for a long time, partaking of refreshments.
Another little Taft tibit:
William Howard Taft once found himself stranded at a country railroad station and was told that the express train would not stop for a lone passenger.He wired the conductor: STOP AT HICKSVILLE. LARGE PARTY WAITING TO CATCH TRAIN.When the train stopped, Taft got aboard and told the conductor, “You can go ahead. I am the large party.”