10 Lesser-Known Facts about John F. Kennedy

35th President of the United States (January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963)

While many details of John F. Kennedy’s life are well-known due to the intense public and scholarly interest in him, there are still lesser-known or overlooked aspects of his life and presidency:

Speed Reading

JFK took a speed-reading course, increasing his reading speed significantly. He was known to read about six newspapers every morning, cover to cover.

James Bond Fan

Kennedy was an avid reader and particularly enjoyed Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. His endorsement of “From Russia With Love” in a 1961 interview helped boost the book’s sales in the U.S.

JFK in the US Navy

Lieutenant (junior grade) Kennedy (standing at right) with his PT-109 crew, 1943

Gifted Mementos

JFK kept coconut husks in his Senate office and later in the Oval Office. It was a reminder of his PT-109 experience, where he’d carved a rescue message into a coconut after the boat was destroyed.

First Irish-Catholic President

Not only was he the first (and thus far only) Catholic president, but he also traced his roots back to Ireland and celebrated that heritage.

Kennedy’s motorcade through Cork, Ireland on June 28, 1963

Avoided Hats

While it’s known that he popularized the trend of men not wearing hats, what’s less known is that he avoided them because he believed his head looked too big when wearing one.

Difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day

Smuggled Cigars

Just before signing the Cuban embargo in 1962, JFK asked his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to get him 1,000 Cuban cigars. Salinger delivered about 1,200 Petit Upmanns the next morning.

Silent Pain

JFK experienced chronic back pain for most of his adult life and wore a back brace. It was this brace that held him upright after the first bullet struck during his assassination, making him an easier target for the fatal second shot.

JFK Facts

The Kennedys and the Connallys in the presidential limousine moments before the assassination in Dallas

First Boy Scout President

Kennedy was the first president who had been a Boy Scout. He was a member of Troop 2 in the Bronxville, NY, from 1929 to 1931.

A young JFK in a football uniform at Dexter School (Massachusetts), 1926

Lifelong Animal Lover

The Kennedy White House was known for its many pets. Among the lesser-known were Pushinka (a dog gifted by Soviet Premier Khrushchev) and a horse named Sardar (a gift from the leader of Pakistan).

The Kennedy family in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, with JFK, in his early teens at the time, at top left in the white shirt, 1931

Marilyn Monroe Performance

It’s widely known that Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to JFK. What’s less discussed is that it was for his 45th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, even though his birthday was 10 days away.

JFK and Marilyn Monroe

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy talk during the president’s May 19, 1962, early birthday party, where Monroe publicly serenaded Kennedy with “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”

Conclusion

Many of the aforementioned facts offer a more intimate look at a president who is often seen through the lens of his significant achievements and the tragic manner of his death. They remind us that, like all people, JFK had idiosyncrasies, personal tastes, and private moments that contributed to his overall character.

JFK's swearing-in ceremony

US Chief Justice Earl Warren administers the presidential oath of office to JFK at the Capitol, January 20, 1961.

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