Study Guide

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt Introduction

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Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt Introduction

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.

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt Trivia

T.R. was responsible for Teddy Bears! His refusal to shoot a trapped bear on a presidential hunting expedition received major newspaper coverage, inspiring some savvy marketers to create the stuffed bears to capitalize on Roosevelt's popularity.

After the death of his first wife, T.R. was so distraught he was unable to speak his wife's name. T.R. thus called his daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt, by her middle name, Lee, until the age of three.

T.R. had a bad heart. From the time he was in college, he took daily nitroglycerin pills for his health, a common remedy at the time. Those pills, combined with his gallon-a-day coffee habit, may help explain the source of his unstoppable energy.

T.R.'s penchant for exercise knew almost no bounds, not even propriety. As president, Roosevelt would lead visiting dignitaries and high-ranking government officials on dangerous hikes and rocks scrambles. On these expeditions, the president had only one rule: no matter what obstacle they encountered, they were never allowed to go around it. "Over, under, or through—but never around."

Frustrated with archaic and illogical spellings left over from Old English, T.R. became the highest-profile member of a campaign to reform English orthography. In 1906 he instructed the Government Printing Office to switch to "simplified spellings" for three hundred common but strangely spelled words—"thorough" became "thoro," "kissed" became "kisst." Despite public outcry which forced the government to reverse course, some of the new spellings are now accepted—"center" for "centre" and "catalog" instead of "catalogue," for instance.

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt Resources


Kathleen Dalton, Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life (2002; 2004)
Kathleen Dalton, a high school history teacher, has dedicated her entire life to the study of Theodore Roosevelt. This scholarly biography is on its way to becoming the new one-volume standard. As far as "standard bios" go this one's not that long—over 500 pages—but it'll take you some time to get through.

William Harbaugh, Power and Responsibility (1975)
This is the book that Dalton's book is replacing. Almost from its publication, William Harbaugh's biography of Roosevelt has been the one book on Roosevelt to read. It's good, and just about as long as Dalton's. You're not going to get much from reading Dalton and Harbaugh, but if you really want to know about T.R., reading one or the other isn't a bad idea.

Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979, rev. 2001); Theodore Rex (2001)
If you really want to learn about T.R., these are the books to start with. Edmund Morris is writing what is already being called the definitive study of Theodore Roosevelt, and he's not even done yet. Two of the projected three volumes have already appeared, covering T.R.'s life from his birth through the end of his presidency. The first volume won the Pullitzer Prize. Both books are well written and thoroughly researched.

David McCullough, Mornings on Horseback (1982)
David McCullough is a consummate story-teller, and, in this study of the young T.R., he puts all his gifts on display. McCullough focuses on T.R.'s coming of age. Although more than a quarter century old, the book is still widely read. It won the National Book Award back when it first came out.

T.J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace (1983)
Throughout his life, T.R. was guided by some pretty strange ideas about muscular Christianity, the corrupting influence of modern society, and the need to recapture virile American masculinity. In this groundbreaking book, historian T.J. Jackson Learns explores where those ideas came from, why they emerged when they did, what they meant, and what kind of power they had. It's a modern classic of social and intellectual history. Make sure to read the first chapter carefully.

Candice Millard, The River of Doubt (2005)
What can we say? Roosevelt still makes great copy. In this New York Times Notable Book, Candice Millard tells the story of T.R.'s ill-fated and deadly 1912 Brazilian expedition. It's a best seller, and with good cause: the story is gripping, unbelievable, and completely true.


T.R.'s Birthplace
A photograph of the house where T.R. was born, preserved by the National Park Service

T.R. at four

College boy
A portrait shot of T.R. in college, before he saved his mutton chops

A young assemblyman
1883 silver print of T.R. as a New York City assemblyman

Alice Hathaway Lee
A picture of T.R.'s first wife, a notorious beauty

Badlands Hunter
T.R. had this photograph of himself taken to complement his first book of Western adventures, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman

Rough Rider
T.R. on horseback after returning from the Spanish-American War

Rough Riders
T.R. and the Rough Riders after the battle of San Juan Hill

Crazy Cowboy
1898 editorial cartoon satirizing T.R. as governor of New York

T.R.'s shadow
An 1898 political cartoon dramatizing T.R.'s fame

T.R. and the World
Early photograph of T.R. as president

Drawing the Line
The editorial cartoon, inspired by the President's 1902 hunting expedition, that in turn inspired the Teddy bear

Teddy Bear
One of the first Teddy bears

T.R. in riding attire
A 1903 photograph of President Roosevelt, dressed for one of his regular horse rides

Roosevelt Family
The 1903 official portrait shot of the entire First Family

White House Portrait
John Sargent's 1903 official presidential portrait

Roosevelt and Muir
Photograph of T.R. and noted conservationist John Muir

T.R. Bust
James Fraser's bust of T.R., commissioned by the senate

Editorial Cartoon
A 1904 Democratic editorial cartoon attacking T.R.'s presidency during his reelection campaign

Roosevelt operating a crane during the construction of the Panama Canal

Presidential Portrait
A reproduction of Hungarian Philip Alexius de Laszlo's 1908 portrait of T.R. at the end of his second term

T.R. and his son on Safari in Africa

Bull Moose
A Harper's Weekly comic celebrating the founding of the Progressive Party in 1912

T.R. about to embark on his exploration of the River of Doubt, in Brazil

Movies & TV

American Experience: T.R. The Story of Theodore Roosevelt (2006)
PBS's American Experience special on Theodore Roosevelt is long, but meticulous. It's the kind of biography special you've channel-surfed through a thousand times. It includes actual footage of T.R., interviews with family and friends, scholarly commentary, and plenty of extracts from primary documents. The whole paints a clear, accessible portrait of the man and his policies.

NOVA: A Man, A Plan, A Canal—Panama (1987)
In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt unilaterally began constructing the Panama Canal. It was no mean feat, requiring not just massive financial investment and engineering planning, but diplomatic wrangling, political horse-trading, and violent revolution. In this NOVA special, author David McCullough explains the history of the Panama Canal, one of the most consequential and problematic parts of T.R.'s legacy.

Rough Riders (1997)
Relive T.R.'s crowded hour! John Milius directs Sam Elliott and Tom Berenger in this Hollywood reimagining of T.R.'s volunteer cavalry regiment. Tremble as Roosevelt decides to leave the security of D.C. for the danger of war. Watch the epic battle of San Juan Hill which will make him into a national hero. Thrill at the camaraderie, the bravery, and all those well-groomed mustaches.


The Theodore Roosevelt Association
Chartered by Congress in 1920, the Theodore Roosevelt Association (TRA) preserves and perpetuates T.R.'s memory. His own children were heavily involved in its organization and founding. Their website, although short on presentation, offers lots of useful information, including essays exploring Roosevelt's legacy, on-line access to the Theodore Roosevelt Encyclopedia, and links to other T.R. resources.

Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt
This website has a boatload of material, including speeches, essays, books, photographs, cartoons, and all sorts T.R. memorabilia. Basically, it's your one-stop shop for all things Teddy.

TR: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt
This website complements the PBS American Experience episode on Theodore Roosevelt. It includes helpful timelines, analyses of different aspects of Roosevelt's presidency, and access to selected primary sources, including the platform of the Bull Moose Party.

American President: An Online Reference Resource. Theodore Roosevelt
The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia offers a snapshot of T.R.'s presidency through short biographies of his administration and links to his speeches and papers. Also includes research guides for further study.

Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film
Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to of age in the era of visual and audio recording. This website makes the Library of Congress's extensive recording of T.R. available online. It also includes helpful timelines and analytical essays discussing T.R.'s relationship to recording technology.

Theodore Roosevelt: Icon of the American Century
As this exhibit of the National Portrait Gallery shows, it's difficult to overestimate just how much of an icon T.R. was. Put together by the Smithsonian Institution, this stunning website explores Theodore Roosevelt as an image. It includes photographs, paintings and drawings of T.R. and related subjects. Intelligent commentary places the images in context.

Video & Audio

Roosevelt's Rough Riders
Some video footage of T.R. and the Rough Riders during a practice charge before their departure for Cuba

McKinley's Funeral
The first part of President McKinley's 1901 funeral

Terrible Teddy the Grizzly King
Thomas Edison Studio's 1901 burlesque, inspired by one of T.R.'s many hunting trips

Fourth of July
President Roosevelt's 1903 Independence Day oration

Hunting in Africa
A clip of a 1909 recording of T.R. during his African safari

The River of Doubt
Scenes from T.R.'s exploration of the headwaters of the River of Doubt in Brazil

T.R.'s Funeral
A movie of T.R.'s funeral at Oyster Bay, after his death in 1919

"The Right of the People to Rule"
A recording of a speech given by T.R. during his 1912 presidential campaign

"Social and Industrial Justice"
A recording of a different speech from the 1912 campaign

Richard Norton Smith on T.R.
An entertaining lecture delivered by presidential historian Richard Norton Smith at the Hauenstein Center in 2006

Roosevelt at Reno
Presidential impersonator Clay Jenkinson portrays T.R. in speech about the Spanish-American war

T.R in the East Room
Critically acclaimed Teddy Roosevelt impersonator Joe Wiegand portrays T.R. in the East Room of the White House on the occasion of T.R.'s 150th birthday

The Trust-Buster
A Histeria! Episode explaining T.R.'s trust-busting reputation

Primary Sources

Theodore Roosevelt Papers
The largest trove of T.R. papers is housed at the Library of Congress; some of the material has been digitized.

Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Houghton
A complement to the papers housed at the library of Congress, the Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Harvard Univerity's Houghton Library hosts the bulk of T.R.'s family manuscripts.

Theodore Roosevelt's Books
The bulk of T.R.'s books are now in the public domain. You can read them here.

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