In History Vs., a new podcast from Mental Floss and iHeartRadio, we’ll explore how larger-than-life historical figures faced off against their greatest foes. In this inaugural season, we’re looking at Theodore Roosevelt’s incredible life using a convention that he, as a boxer, would have appreciated. Each episode, we’ll analyze how Roosevelt took on a particular challenge, from his debilitating childhood asthma and conflict within his family to conquering the hours of the day and preserving the world for the next generation.
Between all of his writing, ranching, and governing, Theodore Roosevelt made time to maintain close relationships with his many family members—all of whom led vibrant, adventurous lives of their own, and also helped establish TR’s legacy. From sister Bamie’s restoration of TR’s birthplace to son Ted Jr.’s heroic efforts on D-Day, this episode explores the stories of the Roosevelts that we didn’t get to cover in season 1.
History Vs. TR
Theodore Roosevelt was a man who never stopped fighting. He grappled with his own physical deficiencies, railed against corruption, and always fought to move the nation forward in the way he thought best. One hundred and one years after his death, where can we still see the spirit of Roosevelt in our nation? Which of his policies do we still view favorably, and where did he fall short? And what is his ultimate legacy? Find out in the final episode of the first season of History Vs.
TR Vs. Death
At age 55, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on an Amazonian jungle trek along the River of Doubt, where he very nearly lost his life. It was, in many ways, the icing on the cake of a life brimming with near-death experiences. He had close encounters with wild animals on hunting trips, chased down dangerous boat thieves, and quit his secretarial post in the Navy to fight in the Spanish-American War. So did Roosevelt die as he lived? Decide for yourself after this week’s History Vs.
TR Vs. Christmas Trees
Theodore Roosevelt loved Christmas, but the Roosevelt family never had a Christmas tree. If you believe the stories, it's because TR, an avid conservationist, had banned them—and that ban is supposedly what led his son, Archie, to sneak a tree into the White House, a stunt that reportedly earned him a stern lecture. That's what the stories say, but what actually happened? In this episode, we'll reveal the fact, and fiction, behind this pervasive Theodore Roosevelt Christmas tale.
TR Vs. The World
Theodore Roosevelt was the first American to win a Nobel Prize, which he clinched in part for brokering peace between Japan and Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. During his presidency, he also paved the way for the construction of the Panama Canal. He got so far by “speaking softly and carrying a big stick,” as he famously advised to others. But how did that Big Stick Energy go over with his fellow politicians, the press, and the people? Find out all that and more in this episode.
TR Vs. Alice
Like parents and children often do, Theodore Roosevelt and his daughter Alice butted heads in part because they were so similar—both passionate, curious, strong-willed, and intelligent. Throughout her upbringing (tag-teamed by TR’s sister and his second wife), her teenage years in the White House, and her marriage to a congressman, Alice never, ever made things easy for herself or her father. Did TR ever master the art of handling his fiercely spirited daughter? Maybe not, but he definitely had some creative ways of trying.
TR Vs. Other Presidents
Theodore Roosevelt revered Abraham Lincoln so much that, during his second inauguration, he wore a ring containing a lock of Lincoln’s hair. His feelings toward other presidents, however, were a little less warm and fuzzy. TR thought William Howard Taft was a “puzzlewit,” Woodrow Wilson was a “lily-livered skunk,” and Benjamin Harrison was a “cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.” And these weren’t even necessarily his sworn enemies—in fact, he was sometimes campaigning for them. How did Roosevelt juggle this lack of faith in his contemporaries with the knowledge that he often needed them in order to effect change on a national level? Letting off steam through dazzlingly creative insults, for one thing. Find out more in this week’s episode.
TR vs. Corruption
Long before Batman and Commissioner Gordon fought corruption under cover of darkness in Gotham, Theodore Roosevelt, president of the police commission, was prowling around New York City in plainclothes at night to make sure his policemen were doing their jobs. It was just one battle in a long war against corruption, during which TR fought against the spoils system, trusts, and lax food safety standards. In short, Roosevelt certainly tried his best to change the nation for the better. Did it work?
TR Vs. Language
Shakespeare might be the most prolific English phrase-maker, but Theodore Roosevelt coined a few iconic phrases of his own, including “like nailing jelly to a wall.” He could read in French, German, Italian, and Latin, but thought English should be the only language taught in schools. He also advocated for simplified spelling—altho instead of although, for example. In this episode, we’ll explore TR’s complicated relationship with language.
TR Vs. Nature
Roosevelt studied wildlife as a child, shot wildlife as a young adult, and saved wildlife as president (and beyond). How did he reconcile his passion for hunting with his deep belief in conservation as our national duty? In this episode, we’ll analyze TR’s multifaceted relationship with nature and emphasize just how much he did to preserve it in the United States.
TR Vs. Tragedy
Theodore Roosevelt’s reputation as a bull moose didn’t exempt him from the emotional desolation of losing a family member—and he lost several. First the death of his father, then his mother and first wife on the same day, followed by his brother, and finally his favorite son, Quentin, in World War I. Erin explores how each death affected Roosevelt’s state of mind, sometimes in surprising ways. Why did he omit his first wife, Alice, from his autobiography? Why did he sob unabashedly after the death of his brother, with whom he often clashed? Did Quentin’s death catalyze Roosevelt’s own death, just six months later? All of this and more on this week’s episode.
TR Vs. Time
When he was president, Theodore Roosevelt could fit eight meetings in an hour—that’s 7.5 minutes for each one. By the time he entered office, Roosevelt had had a fair bit of experience racing against time and coming out ahead: From studying under tutors to attending Harvard to campaigning for William McKinley, TR was a master at making every minute productive. We might not all have TR-level time management skills, but this episode will inspire you to try.
TR Vs. Weakness
In 1912, after Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest, he proceeded to deliver a 90-minute campaign speech before allowing someone to take him to the hospital. Was it for patriotism’s sake, or a bull-headed refusal to show weakness? Given his history, perhaps the latter. Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy traces Roosevelt’s battle against weakness back to his childhood as an asthmatic, wildly energetic boy determined to overcome his poor health with a commitment to “the strenuous life,” which essentially became his life philosophy.
Coming Soon: History Vs. Theodore Roosevelt
In the podcast History Vs., we’ll explore how larger-than-life historical figures faced off against their greatest foes. In this inaugural season, we’re looking at Theodore Roosevelt’s incredible life using a convention that he, as a boxer, would have appreciated. Each episode, we’ll analyze how Roosevelt took on a particular challenge, from his debilitating childhood asthma and conflict within his family to conquering the hours of the day and preserving the world for the next generation.