Theodore Roosevelt: Man of Action and Big Ideas

Theodore Roosevelt, or “Teddy” as he was often called, lived life at full throttle. He was a man of boundless energy, a whirlwind of ideas, and a president who changed America forever.

A Boy With Big Dreams (and Bigger Health Problems)

Born in New York City to a wealthy family, little Teddy Roosevelt didn’t have the easiest start. He suffered from severe asthma, making it hard to breathe, let alone be a rambunctious kid. But Teddy didn’t let that stop him. He dove into books, becoming a voracious reader and a lover of the natural world. He also decided to fight back against his illness, pushing himself with exercise and developing a love for boxing and outdoor adventure.

Cowboy, Politician, and a Whole Lot in Between

Young Teddy was a whirlwind! He graduated from Harvard, became a New York State Assemblyman, and then dramatically changed course to become a rancher in the Dakotas. He even captured boat thieves once! The lure of politics drew him back East, where he would serve as New York City’s Police Commissioner, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and then the Governor of New York.

Along the way, he found personal tragedy and triumph. Losing his mother and first wife on the same day was devastating, but finding new love and starting a big family brought him joy.

Rough Rider to President

When the Spanish-American War erupted, Roosevelt jumped into action. He led a ragtag volunteer cavalry regiment known as the Rough Riders and their famous charge up San Juan Hill became a legend. He returned home a war hero…and was soon elected Vice President of the United States.

Then tragedy struck. President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, and at age 42, Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest president in American history.

Shaping a Nation

As president, Roosevelt seemed to be everywhere at once! Whether busting up unfair business monopolies (“trustbuster”), ensuring our food and medicine were safe, or setting aside vast stretches of land as national parks, he transformed America.

  • The “Square Deal”: Roosevelt believed in protecting average Americans, promising everyone a “square deal” – fairness and opportunities to succeed.
  • The Environmentalist: He deeply loved nature and protected millions of acres of wilderness for future generations to enjoy.
  • Bigger and Bolder on the World Stage: Roosevelt believed America should play a stronger role in world affairs. He famously said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”—he expanded the Navy, built the Panama Canal, and wasn’t afraid to use force when he thought it was justified.

An Enduring Legacy

Theodore Roosevelt was complicated. He was bold, brilliant, and sometimes overly aggressive. He wasn’t perfect, but he was fascinating. He pushed the US to become a major world power and left a lasting legacy of protected wildlands. Even his larger-than-life personality continues to inspire, reflected in the massive stone faces of Mount Rushmore where he stands alongside Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.

Did You Know?

  • Roosevelt was an award-winning author and historian, writing about everything from naval battles to his African safaris!
  • He carried a pet badger named Josiah while he was in the White House!
  • Even a bullet couldn’t stop him! He was shot while giving a speech in 1912 but kept on talking!

Theodore Roosevelt crammed more living into 60 years than most people do in twice that time. His life reminds us that even a sickly child can achieve great things with determination, an open mind, and a love of adventure.

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