Theodore Roosevelt was born to Theodore Roosevelt Sr. and Mittie Bulloch on October 27, 1858 in New York City. His parents were living in a four-story brownstone at the address of 28 E 20th St. He was the second of their four children, including an older sister Anna, younger brother Elliott, and younger sister Corinne.
His family was fairly wealthy, due to his father's work. His father was a partner in the family firm Roosevelt and Son, which dealt in imported glass. His mother was from the south and had confederate sympathies, but her husband was a strong supporter of Lincoln.
As a child, Theodore was often sick and suffered from asthma. This forced him to sleep in a propped up position or in a chair for much of his youth. His father helped him to overcome his conditions by encouraging him to exercise and learn boxing. He also took the family on a trip to Europe in 1869 and the Middle East in 1872. Theodore had a great deal of respect for his father, saying of him "My father, Theodore Roosevelt, was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness."
Theodore also quickly showed an interest for zoology. When he was seven, he purchased a dead seal's head from a market, then tried preserving it with taxidermy techniques. He started the "Roosevelt Museum of Natural History" with two of his cousins, preserving animals for the makeshift museum in the family home. At the age of nine, he wrote a paper based on his observations of insects, entitled "The Natural History of Insects".
During his youth, he was home schooled by a tutor, with most of his knowledge concentrated in geography, biology, history, and the languages of French and German. In 1876, he enrolled at Harvard University. Unfortunately, his father died in 1878, and it had a great impact on him. However, he was able to continue his studies and participate in organizations. He was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi and Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternities, as well as the boxing and rowing clubs. He graduated in 1880 magna cum laude with a class rank of 22 out of 177.
After graduating, he enrolled in Columbia Law School, but he dropped out shortly after to pursue a political position as New York Assemblyman. He managed to win the election on the Republican ticket and took no time in making a name for himself. During his term, he wrote more bills than any other legislator in New York. In 1884 he attended the Republican National Convention, supporting the Mugwump reformers and their nominee James Blaine.
In 1880, he married a woman named Alice Hathaway Lee. They had a daughter, Alice Lee Rossevelt, but unfortunately his wife died of Bright's Disease two days after her birth. Making things worse, Theodore's mother died the same day, making February 14, 1884 one of the worst days of his life. An emotionally stricken Theodore decided that he needed to escape.
He left for the badlands, where he built a ranch that he named Elk Horn, north of Medora, North Dakota. Although he was regarded with some amusement as a city slicker, he did his best to learn how to ride a horse, rope cattle, and hunt. He was also appointed deputy sheriff and managed to capture three outlaws that stole his boat and take them to Dickinson for trial.
After a harsh winter wiped out his herd of cattle and $60,000 investment, he decided to move back to New York. He had a house built in 1885 in Oyster Bay, New York, which he named Sagamore Hill, where he would live for most of his life. In 1886, he ran for mayor of New York City on the Republican ticket, but came in third. After losing the election, he traveled to London and married his childhood sweetheart, Edith Kermit Carow. While they honeymooned in Europe, he led a party to the summit of Mont Blanc and was summarily inducted into the British Royal Society.
In 1888, Roosevelt campaigned for Benjamin Harrison in the presidential election. He helped his campaign a great deal in the Midwest and Harrison thanked him by appointing him to the United States Civil Service Commission. He served in that position until 1895, working hard to ensure that the civil service laws were enforced and that people appointed to office were done so based on qualifications and not political favors or bribery. In the 1892 election, he campaigned for Harrison again and, despite Harrison's loss, he was re-appointed to the same position by winner Grover Cleveland.
In 1895, he decided to leave the federal government to serve as the president of the board of New York City Police Commissioners. When he started, the police in New York were regarded as some of the most corrupt in the United States. He immediately started working on eliminating corruption by establishing discipline rules for officers that misbehaved. He also set up a bicycle patrol squad to help with traffic control, made pistols standard equipment, opened the department to ethnic minorities and women, implemented annual physicals, introduced the awarding of medals for service, and installed telephones in police stations. He even made a habit of walking around at night to make sure that officers were on duty and not sleeping or doing other things. His leadership transformed the New York Police Department into a much more respected and organized force.
In 1897, Roosevelt was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President William McKinley. He was very happy to take this position and, since the Secretary of the Navy, John Long, was largely inactive, he was basically given free reign over the United States Navy. He spent his time preparing the Navy for the Spanish-American War and showed his enthusiasm for battle by saying, "I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one."
In 1898, the Spanish-American War was declared and Roosevelt quickly resigned from his position to join the battle. He worked with U.S. Army Colonel Leonard Wood to organize a motley group of Ivy League friends and cowboys into the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. The media latched onto the group and dubbed them, "The Rough Riders". Wood initially commanded the group, with Roosevelt serving under him with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, but Wood was promoted and Roosevelt was summarily promoted to Colonel and given command. He took the rank with great eagerness and encouraged his friends to refer to him using it.
In 1898, the regiment served in Cuba, participating in several battles. They gained notoriety for charging up Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill in July. He famously dismounted and led his men forward into enemy fire, overtaking their positions and securing the hills. For his actions, he was nominated for, but not awarded, the Medal of Honor. Historians suspect that the denial might have been due to his criticism of the war's management, but he was officially awarded the Medal of Honor anyways in 2001. This made him the first and only United States President to have received this award.
After the war ended, Roosevelt returned to New York, where his new fame helped him win the election for governor in 1898. As governor, he spent much of his time trying to end corruption and was made William McKinley's running mate for the presidency in the 1900 election. Their ticket beat opponent William Jennings Bryan easily and in March 1901, he officially took office as Vice President. On September 2, 1901, he gave a speech at the Minnesota State Fair in which he uttered the famous words, "Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far."
On September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot by a man named Leon Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Roosevelt immediately left a speech in Vermont to return to New York, but after he was assured that the President would recover, went on a family camping trip to Mount Marcy. While he was there, he learned that McKinley had died and he returned to Buffalo. There, he took his oath of office in a friend's home and became the country's youngest President at the age of 42.
In 1902, Roosevelt showed his skill as a mediator by addressing the problem of a strike by the United Mine Workers of America. The strike had been going on for over a hundred days, threatening the availability of coal in the winter. This threat prompted Roosevelt to invite the mine owners and union leaders to the White House and negotiate a compromise. The 163-day strike ended, with owners agreeing to pay miners 10% more and reduce their work day to 9 hours from 10.
Roosevelt also took aim at big companies that were abusing their power. In December of 1901, he addressed Congress, asking them to keep the power of trusts within reasonable limits. His administration then issued 44 lawsuits against large corporations deemed to be abusing their powers. In 1906, he led the passage of the Hepburn Act, which gave the Interstate Commerce Commission the power to set maximum rates for rail travel and outlaw free passes. It also gave the ICC power to set a standard for accounting practices and inspect bank accounts for railways, as well as the power to impose penalties on railroads that did not comply.
That year, he also pushed for the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and Meat Inspection Act of 1906. These acts required clear labeling of food and drugs and allowed inspection of livestock used in the food industry. It also allowed the government to set minimum sanitary requirements for meatpacking plants to help fight unsanitary conditions exposed in Upton Sinclair's 'The Jungle'.
One of Roosevelt's most famous projects was the Panama Canal, a naval passage through Central America that made it much easier for ships to move between the Atlantic and Pacific. France had been attempting to build the canal since 1881, so Roosevelt's administration sought to buy the land and equipment from the Colombian government, which had control of Panama. In 1902, the Colombian government demanded $10 million more than they had originally agreed upon and sought to cut the French company that started it out of the deal. After the talks fell through and the United States refused to pay more for the deal, Roosevelt hatched a plan to help Panama declare independence and secure his interest in the proposed canal.
The Panamanians declared independence and within a few hours the revolution was over. The Colombian soldiers were easily bribed to lay down their arms and leave, at a price of $50 each. On November 3, 1903, the Republic of Panama was officially created, with a constitution that had been written by the United States. The United States also signed a protection pact to discourage Colombian interference in Panama. For a sum of $10 million, the United States secured rights to the Canal Zone and began construction in 1904. It would not be completed for another ten years, becoming one of the largest construction projects in history.
In the election of 1904, Roosevelt won the Republican nomination easily. His opponent was the obscure Democrat Alton Parker and Roosevelt won with 56% of the votes. After winning, he promised not to run for re-election in 1908, a statement that he would later regret.
On March 14, 1903, Roosevelt created the first National Bird Preserve in Pelican Island, Florida. He also led Congress in establishing the United States Forest Service in 1905, with his conservation adviser Gifford Pinchot managing it. He also set aside an unprecedented amount of land for preservation, including 194 million acres, which created 42 million acres of national forests, 53 national wildlife refuges, and 18 miscellaneous areas such as the Grand Canyon. The amount of land preserved by Roosevelt was more than all of the land preserved by every preceding President combined.
In 1906, he also led the passage of the Antiquities Act, which allowed him to, with Congressional approval, designate sites of national historic or scientific interest for preservation. The first site preserved under this act was Devils Tower in Wyoming. Roosevelt was reportedly so concerned about conservation that he even forbid his family from having a Christmas tree in their home, unless it was from a commercially farmed source.
In late 1907, Roosevelt decided to show the United States people and the world that the United States Navy was a force to be reckoned with. On December 16, 1907, a fleet of four battleship squadrons departed for a trip around the world that would last until February 22, 1909. With their hulls painted white, the ships became known as the Great White Fleet. Upon the fleet's return, Roosevelt told the officers, "Other nations may do what you have done, but they'll have to follow you."
After leaving office, Roosevelt helped push his former Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, into the Republican nomination for President. In the election of 1908, Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan without difficulty, largely thanks to Roosevelt's backing. Roosevelt originally saw Taft as a man who would lead much like he had, but it became clear over time that this was not the case. Taft's passage of the Payne-Aldrich tariff in 1909 made him unpopular in the Republican Party and with many of his former supporters. Taft also initiated an antitrust suit again U.S. Steel over an acquisition that Roosevelt had previously approved. Taft also fired Gifford Pinchot, the man that Roosevelt had appointed head of the Forest Service, when he accused Taft's Secretary of the Interior of taking bribe's from lumber companies.
In March of 1909, after leaving the second term of his Presidency, Roosevelt joined a safari to Africa financed by Andrew Carnegie. The expedition was intended to gather specimens for the Smithsonian Institution and American Museum of Natural History. The party was led by Frederick Selous and they managed to collect about 110,400 animals, including everything from insects to elephants. Over 51,000 of these animals were big game and included six white rhinos. After the many tons of animal skins were shipped back to the United States, it took years to preserve and mount them all. In response to criticism of the number of animals taken, Roosevelt said "I can be condemned only if the existence of the National Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and all similar zoological institutions are to be condemned."
In late 1911, Roosevelt decided to run for the presidency again in the election of 1912, competing against Taft. Unfortunately, Roosevelt had waited too long to announce his candidacy and Taft had already secured support from most of the party leaders. At the Republican Convention in Chicago, Roosevelt asked his supporters to leave the hall with him and move to the Auditoriou Theatre, where he created the Progressive Party. It was nicknamed the 'Bull Moose Party' after Roosevelt told reporters, "I'm as fit as a bull moose."
While Roosevelt was campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 14, 1912, a man named John Schrank attempted to assassinate him. The bullet struck his steel eyeglass case and speech, which were in his pocket, before entering his chest. Despite requests that he go to the hospital, he continued with his speech, which lasted ninety minutes. His opening statement was, "I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose." The bullet was left inside of him for the rest of his life, since it was not in a dangerous location.
Although Roosevelt managed to get 27% of the votes and beat Taft, he still lost to Woodrow Wilson, who received 42% of the votes. The loss was an embarrassment to Taft, and a disappointed Roosevelt watched as Wilson took the Presidency. He immediately began criticizing Wilson's administration, calling its foreign policy weak. When World War I started in 1914, Roosevelt pushed for the United States to support Britain and France against Germany. When the United States finally joined in 1917, Roosevelt sought Wilson's permission to lead a volunteer infantry division, but was refused.
In 1913, Roosevelt decided to join Brazilian explorer Candido Rondon on an expedition into the Brazilian jungle. He was able to get funding from the American Museum of Natural History, with the promise of bringing back animal specimens for their collection. They also set the goal of finding the headwaters of the Rio da Duvida and follow it north to the Amazon River. The river was later named Rio Teodoro in his honor.
The expedition consisted of Roosevelt, his 24-year-old son Kermit, Colonel Candido Rondon, a naturalist sent by the American Museum of Natural History named George K. Cherrie, Brazilian Lieutenant Joao Lyra, team physician Dr. Jose Antonio Cajazeira, and sixteen native paddlers. They started the expedition on December 9, 1913 and didn't find the headwaters of the River of Doubt until February 27, 1914.
Tragedy struck the expedition when Roosevelt caught malaria and suffered an infection in his leg from a minor wound. Over the next several weeks, his condition worsened to the point where he had to be watched day and night by the physician and his son Kermit. At one point, it was so bad that he tried to convince the expedition to leave him behind, but they refused. Despite chest pains, a fever, and losing over fifty pounds, Roosevelt continued with the expedition, eventually returning home to New York. His friends were shocked by his appearance and he said that the trip had shortened his life by ten years. He would continue to suffer complications from his ailments, including malaria and leg inflammation, for the rest of his life.
He died on January 6, 1919 at the age of 60 in Oyster Bay, New York. The cause of death was a coronary embolism and he was buried in the nearby Youngs Memorial Cemetery. Vice President Thomas Marshall said, "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight."