THEODORE ROOSEVELT was born in New
York City on October 27, 1858. He was the second of the four children of wealthy
banker, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. and his wife, Martha Bullock Roosevelt, a
southern belle from a prominent Atlanta family. During the Civil War, Mrs.
Roosevelt’s brothers fought for the South and for this reason, the elder
Roosevelt did not enlist in the Union Army, which he strongly supported. Young
Theodore was a nearsighted, asthmatic, frail child who was tutored at home. He
loved to read and read everything and he read quickly despite his eyesight.
Because of his frequent asthma attacks, he also loved the outdoors and fresh
air. He had a strong interest in natural history that fascinated him all his
life and he always took numerous hunting and camping trips. When Roosevelt was
twelve, his father challenged him to develop his physical stature and a gym was
built at their home where the young man spent hours developing his arms and
chest. In 1875, the family purchased a summer home at Oyster Bay on Long Island
that became a treasured retreat for the entire family.
Roosevelt entered Harvard College at eighteen, originally majoring in
science, but during his last two years there he turned to history and
literature. He engaged in club and literary pursuits, but he also was very
athletic, rowing, boxing, horseback riding and camping. In 1878, he met Alice
Hathaway Lee, the daughter of a prominent Boston family and they fell in love.
He started his first book, The Naval War of 1812, while he was a senior and he
graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1880. After graduation, Roosevelt started Columbia
Law School, but found he did not enjoy it, deciding in the summer of 1881 to
take his new bride on a tour of Europe and while there, he climbed the
Upon returning home from Europe in the fall, Roosevelt found himself
thrust into politics, becoming the nominee of his local Republican club for the
state legislature. He had joined the club the previous year and they were a
disruptive group that met over a saloon. He easily won his first election at the
age of twenty-three and taking his seat in Albany, he soon made his mark.
Despite his youth, his Harvard accent and his high squeaky voice, he won the
respect of his fellow legislators by calling exposing a corrupt Supreme Court
justice that involved railroad magnate Jay Gould. Roosevelt was reelected in
1882, but rejected reelection in 1884.
On February 14, 1884, Roosevelt’s world fell apart when both his wife
and his mother died. His mother died of typhoid fever and his wife died of
Bright’s disease following the birth of their only child, Alice. Roosevelt
plunged deeper into politics, leaving his daughter in the care of his older
sister, Anna. He attended the Republican National Convention in Chicago as
chairman of the New York delegation and although opposed to the nomination of
James Blaine to oppose Grover Cleveland for President, he campaigned heartily
In 1883, while visiting the West, Roosevelt had purchased a ranch in the
Dakota Territory that became the Elkhorn Ranch on the Little Missouri River.
After the Convention, still suffering from his grief, he moved to the ranch to
try the life of a cowboy. For the next several years, he became a sheriff, took
part in the capture of three thieves and spent time writing books and magazine
articles. In 1885, he once again fell in love and was secretly engaged to Edith
Kermit Carow, a life-long friend. In October 1886, he agreed to run as the
Republican candidate for mayor of New York City. He lost, coming in third out of
three candidates. After losing most of his cattle in the blizzards over the
winter of 1886-1887, Roosevelt abandoned his cowboy experiment and returned to
One month after the mayoral election, Roosevelt went abroad. On December
2, 1886, he married Edith in London and remained with her in Europe until spring
of 1887. The couple returned to a new home he had built on Sagamore Hill, in
Oyster Bay, Long Island. They eventually had five children: Theodore Roosevelt
(1887 – 1944); Kermit Roosevelt (1889 – 1943); Ethel Carow Roosevelt (1891
– 1977); Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt (1894 – 1979) and Quentin Roosevelt
(1897 – 1918). They also raised Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice.
Discouraged over his loss in the mayoral election, Roosevelt turned to
literary and family pursuits. He wrote Essays on Practical Politics, a biography
on Gouvernor Morris, and The Winning of the West, which was published in four
volumes and became his most famous book.
Roosevelt once again became active in politics during the presidential
campaign of 1888. He campaigned for Benjamin Harrison, speaking actively for the
Republican candidate. When Harrison was elected, Roosevelt was rewarded with an
appointment to the U. S. Civil Service Commission, an office in which he served
for six years. He resigned his civil service post to accept the invitation of
Mayor William Strong to become commissioner of the New York City police force.
His vigorous reforms of the corrupt police force and his tendency to get himself
into the headlines gained him a national reputation, which led to his being
appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President William McKinley in 1897.
In April 1898, two weeks after Congress declared war against Spain,
Roosevelt resigned from his Navy post to lead the “Rough Riders” a volunteer
cavalry unit composed of cowboys, Indians and football players. On July 1, 1898,
the unit charged up Kettle Hill in the face of severe enemy fire, losing one
forth of its men. The newspapers reported stories of many American heroes of the
Spanish-American War, but Roosevelt became the best known, and they began to
call him “Teddy” in cartoons and articles.
Roosevelt returned to New York City on August 15 and soon accepted an
invitation to run for Governor of New York. He won by a small majority by
overcoming great political odds and tireless campaigning. However, he quickly
alienated his party and by the time of the Republican National Convention of
1900, his nomination as McKinley’s running mate put him in a position that
would no longer trouble his Republican state machine. He campaigned vigorously
and a huge majority elected the McKinley-Roosevelt ticket.
On September 13, 1901, while on a mountain-climbing expedition in the
Adirondacks, Roosevelt learned that McKinley had been shot and was dying. He
hurried on to Buffalo, New York and in the house where McKinley’s body lay,
the forth-three year old was sworn in as President. He proved to be a powerful
and effective leader in a time of national expansion and easily gained
reelection in 1904, declaring that he would not run again. He had become know as
“Teddy” a name he hated, but which he endured for public purposes. His
family ran the White House as a home in which their children played and friends
were warmly received. Always the naturalist, he publicized the conservation of
natural resources and set aside 125 million acres of western land as national
forests. He pioneered government regulation of big business and oversaw passage
of the Pure Food and Drug Act.
In 1908 Roosevelt reluctantly promoted William Howard Taft in a successful
presidential campaign. When he left the White House in 1909, he was only fifty
years old. He sailed to Africa with his twenty-year-old son Kermit to hunt big
game. After this yearlong adventure, he embarked on a tour of Europe with his
family, being wined and dined by kings and queens and cheered by crowds wherever
He returned to the United States in June 1910 and he became clearly
unsatisfied with the conservative direction of the Taft government. He made an
unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1912 with his Progressive “Bull
Moose” party and on October 14, 1912; a deranged assailant fired a bullet
at him in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The bullet entered his chest, just missing his
right lung. Roosevelt delivered his scheduled speech before entering the
hospital, and within two weeks he was back on the campaign trail.
During the winter of 1913-14, Roosevelt received a proposal to explore the
River of Doubt in Brazil. Although an even more strenuous expedition than his
earlier African safari, he and his son Kermit explored the river that was later
renamed the Roosevelt. He came down with a tropical fever and seriously injured
his leg on this trip, pulling through, but the ordeal contributed to his
When war was declared against Germany, Roosevelt made a strenuous effort
to get involved, offering to raise two divisions. His offer was turned down but
he proudly announced to the country that all his sons and his son-in-law were on
their way to the front. Both Kermit and Archibald were wounded and his
son-in-law was gassed. However, the most severe blow was when his youngest son
Quentin was shot down and killed while flying over Cambrai.
Roosevelt complained of being old, had been sick and hospitalized late in
1918 and had lost the hearing in one ear. Early on the morning of January 6,
1919, he died of an arterial blood clot at his home Sagamore Hill, in Oyster
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