Fact or fiction: Taft got stuck in a tub?
circa 1910: American Republican politician and the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft (1857 - 1930). (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
February 6th, 2013
04:48 PM ET
10 years ago

Fact or fiction: Taft got stuck in a tub?

(CNN) - With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie poking fun at his own weight and questions about its impact on a possible presidential bid, the nation's heaviest president–William Howard Taft–and a story about the his getting stuck in White House bathtub comes up.

But that got us thinking–does the Taft tub story really hold water?

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It's true that weight was an issue for Taft, who weighed in at 340 pounds on a 5'11.5" frame. In preparation for Taft’s trip to inspect construction of the Panama Canal in 1909, the captain of the USS North Carolina requested an oversized bathtub to accommodate the new president-elect.

According to a letter found at the National Archives, the captain requested the following for Taft's visit:

– 1 brass double bedstead, of extra length;
– 1 superior spring mattress, extra strong;
– 1 bath tub, 5 feet 5 inches in length, over rolled rim, and of extra width.

However, according to information provided by the National Archives, newspaper reports stated at the time that the tub was built on a larger scale, one that had "pondlike dimensions" and could hold "four ordinary men."

But did he ever get stuck?

Details on the incident–if it actually happened–can be slippery. Some legends say it took multiple men to pull him out of the jam. Others claim butter was used to slide him out.

According to Ray Henderson with the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Cincinnati, the story comes from Ike Hoover, the chief White House usher during the Taft presidency. Hoover wrote a book, titled "42 Years in the White House," which published in 1932 and made mention of Taft getting stuck in the White House tub.

Other than that, Henderson said, he has "never found anything definitive that he actually got stuck in a bathtub. I've been here for 25 years and that is the only written (primary source) documentation that I have seen of William Howard Taft being stuck in a bathtub."

That is not to say, however, that the questions don't come up. In fact, they come up so frequently that Henderson has kept a file on all the questions he has received.

Henderson also said the story about Taft getting stuck in a bathtub builds upon common anecdotes and jokes from his presidency.

"There were stories of Taft getting stuck in chairs," Henderson said. "The common theme was that Taft's size caused problems."

There are poignant accounts of the health problems Taft experienced as a result of his obesity: he would often fall asleep at public functions, "pant for breath at every step," as a close aide privately observed, and not appear to be mentally alert, particularly after meals.

READ MORE: Christie calls out former White House physician, doctor unmoved

After Taft was ousted in the 1912 election, President Warren Harding appointed him to Chief Justice of the United States, where he served until weeks before his death in 1930. He died at the age of 72. Taft, according to the National Archives, is the only person to hold the highest office in both the executive and judicial branches.

But he didn't go out a heavyweight. Taft lost 70 pounds the year after leaving the White House and maintained the weight loss for the rest of his life.

How did he do it? He cut out potatoes, bread, pork and other fatty meats. He refused to drink more than two glasses of water at each meal and he abstained from wine, liquor and tobacco "in every form."

"I can truthfully say that I never felt any younger in all my life. Too much flesh is bad for any man," Taft was quoted as saying in front page article of the New York Times, nine months after he left office.

- CNN's Ashley Killough, Dan Merica, Robert Yoon and Keating Holland contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2016 • Chris Christie
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Lynda/Minnesota

    "But that got us thinking–does the Taft tub story really hold water?"

    No doubt I missed of value of this article?

    February 6, 2013 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    Ha. Obama should order an even bigger one, just to get the GOP/Teatrolls to turn their mindless tantrums up to 11.

    February 6, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  3. Bob

    Not looking good for Christie; he already fell asleep at a Bruce Springsteen concert.

    February 6, 2013 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  4. dreucalypt

    He may not have gotten stuck in a bathtub. But he was the most polite President, because when he would offer is seat to a lady on the streetcar three ladies would sit down.

    February 6, 2013 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  5. ted

    This must be George Bush's fault somehow.

    February 6, 2013 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  6. scottm

    Taft went from 340lbs to 270lbs... Good on him that he lost weight but 270lbs still put him at needing to drop another 100.. 🙂

    February 6, 2013 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |