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William Howard Taft 

Years Served as President: 1909-1913

Vice President: James Schoolcraft Sherman

Party: Republican

Age at Inauguration: 51

Home State: Ohio

William Howard Taft

Date of Birth: September 15, 1857

Died: March 8, 1930

Married: Helen Herron

Children: Robert, Helen, Charles

Nickname: Big Bill

What is William Howard Taft known for?

William Howard Taft is best known for being the only president to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court after leaving office.

supreme-court
US Supreme Court

He is the only man in history to hold the highest position possible in both the executive and judicial branches of government.

Early Life

William Howard Taft was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1857. His father Alphonso Taft was a prominent attorney who had served as secretary of war, attorney general, and ambassador to AustriaHungary and Russia.

russia-flag

Growing up, William excelled in sports and in school. He was especially talented at baseball and math. He attended Yale University and graduated second in his class.

Taft then studied law at the University of Cincinnati and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1880. Like his father before him, he opened his own private law practice.

Family Life

Six years after beginning his law career, Taft married Helen “Nettie” Herron. Nettie was the daughter of another local lawyer who, like Taft’s father, was active in the Republican Party.

Helen Herron Taft
Helen Herron Taft

She was ambitious and had dreams of becoming the First Lady of the United States. The couple had three children: Robert, Helen, and Charles.

Political Career

While Nettie dreamed of life as the First Lady, Taft focused on earning a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1887, he became a judge in Ohio Superior Court.

In 1890, Taft was appointed the U.S. solicitor general, the third-highest position in the justice department. He then became a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, presiding over Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, and Ohio.

William McKinley biography
William McKinley

Nearly a decade later, President William McKinley asked for Taft’s help in setting up a civilian government in the Philippines. Taft improved the island’s infrastructure and economy, and he gave the people a voice in creating and representing their government.

Taft had been hesitant about the job in the Philippines at first, but he grew to enjoy the work. In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he twice rejected offers from President Theodore Roosevelt for a Supreme Court appointment.

Theodore Roosevelt circa 1902
Theodore Roosevelt

Eventually, in 1904, Taft agreed to serve as Roosevelt’s secretary of war if he could continue supervising affairs in the Philippines.

Roosevelt had promised not to run for a third term. He began promoting Taft as his successor. With encouragement from his wife, Taft agreed to make a presidential run.

Taft won the election of 1908 by promising to continue Roosevelt’s progressive reforms.

presidential vote

Presidency

At first, Taft was a “trust-buster” like Roosevelt, breaking up large corporations and limiting monopolies. Soon, however, he began working with more conservative members of the Republican Party.

Although Taft angered progressive Republicans, he had several achievements, such as:

  • Establishing a parcel post service that improved trade and commerce
  • Creating the Department of Labor
  • Overseeing the passage of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, which created a federal income tax and declared that U.S. Senators would be elected by the people
  • Adding New Mexico and Arizona to the United States
  • Empowering the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to set railroad rates

New Mexico seal

By the end of Taft’s presidency, Roosevelt was so angry at his departure from progressive policies that he formed his own party (the Progressive Party) and ran for a third term.

In that year’s general election, the divide between Republicans handed the election to the Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Taft received only eight electoral votes, demonstrating the progressive spirit sweeping the nation.

After the Presidency

Taft was happy to leave the White House. He began teaching constitutional law at Yale University.

judge

In 1921, Taft got his dream job. He was appointed chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President Warren Harding.

As chief justice, Taft wrote about 250 decisions and improved the Supreme Court’s efficiency and organization.

Taft also became the only former president to swear in a new president. He administered the presidential oath to both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

the heart diagram

He remained chief justice until shortly before his death in 1830. Taft died of complications from heart disease at the age of 72. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Fun Facts About William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft was the last president to have a cow at the White House and the first to have a presidential car.

President Taft's cow
President Taft’s cow

Taft weighed as much as 332 pounds at some points during his presidency, making him the heaviest president in history. He had a larger bathtub installed after getting stuck in the White House tub.

He often fell asleep at inappropriate times, including during a parade in which he was the main attraction.

Taft in procession

Taft started the tradition of throwing out the first pitch of the Major League Baseball season. He was also the first president to take up golf.

Helen, Taft’s daughter, helped coordinate the planting of 3,000 cherry trees around the National Mall. The trees are still a popular tourist attraction today.

cherry blossoms on National Mall

Taft’s son Robert went on to become one of the most powerful senators of the twentieth century. He was nicknamed “Mr. Republican.”

US Presidents