Theodore Roosevelt was one of the United States' most iconic presidents, an instrumental figure in shaping the nation we now know. Thanks to his celebrity as much as to his vision, T.R. helped bring the United States fully into the twentieth century. As America became a modern country, Roosevelt self-consciously created the role of the modern president.
The scion of a powerful and wealthy New York family, Roosevelt was heavily influenced by his father's views. As a child, he was taught to be suspicious of civilization's corrupting influences, and was encouraged to value rugged jaunts through the natural environment as manly and morally purifying. Later, after the untimely deaths, in short succession, of his father, wife, and mother, T.R. fled to the West where he discovered firsthand the rejuvenating power of the wilderness. Returning East in the 1880s, he dedicated himself to rejuvenating society as the West had done for him. As his boundless energy and colorful personality propelled him up through the political ranks—from civil service commissioner to police commissioner, from governor to vice-president and, finally, in 1901, to President of the United States—he refined his understanding of what it would take to save the nation, becoming more attuned to what he saw as the corrupting influences of unregulated businesses and inadequate social services. When he became convinced, four years after retiring from the presidency, that his Republican Party was no longer interested in meaningful reform, Roosevelt founded his own new party, the Progressive Party, and waged the most successful third-party campaign for president in American history. Although he lost the election, Roosevelt refused to leave the public eye, continuing to spread his vision of a more just and vigorous American until his death in 1919. A Nobel Peace Prize winner, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, and the inspiration for the Teddy Bear, he remains one of America's most beloved and influential historical figures.