For many, Presidents Day is one of those odd holidays that's more a day off for the municipal and government workers than anything else. But did you know Presidents Day doesn't actually exist? Officially, the holiday is called Washington's Birthday.
What we call Presidents Day first became a holiday, albeit just for federal workers in the District of Columbia, in 1879. The holiday—which was celebrated on George Washington's birthday on Feb. 22—was appropriately called Washington's Birthday. By 1885, Congress adopted the holiday for all federal offices.
On Jan. 1, 1971, the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February, which moves the date from Washington's actual birthday to a date that's just sort of around it. Officially, in that act of Congress, the holiday is still called Washington's Birthday.
According to National Geographic we call the day Presidents Day because advertisers in the country during the 1980s, along with a dozen states, started calling it that.
The general idea is that Abraham Lincoln's birthday is Feb. 12, but has never been an official holiday. So to honor Lincoln, more than a dozen states formally changed the name of their holiday from Washington's Birthday to Presidents Day. In addition, advertisers began pushing Presidents Day sales—not just Washington's Birthday sales.
Today, unofficially, the day is a holiday for Americans to remember some of our country's greatest leaders, from Washington and Lincoln and beyond. But there is no such thing as Presidents Day. Go figure.
OTHER FUN PRESIDENTIAL FACTS
- At his inauguration, George Washington only had one tooth. Contrary to popular belief, he never wore false wooden teeth. However, at various times he did wear dentures made of human teeth, animal teeth, ivory and lead.
- Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were the only two presidents to sign the Declaration of Independence. They also both died on the same day—July 4, 1826—the 50th anniversary of the signing.
- James Madison was the first president to wear trousers, as opposed to knee length "breeches." At 5 feet 4 inches, he was also the shortest president.
- Weather permitting, John Quincy Adams swam nude in the Potomac River every day.
- Before he was president, Andrew Jackson was wounded in a duel at the age of 39. The bullet remained lodged in his heart until the day he died.
- Zachary Taylor let his old Army horse, Whitey, graze on the White House lawn. Visitors took horse hairs as souvenirs.
- James Buchanan was nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other. As a result he always cocked his head to the left.
- While he was president, Ulysses S. Grant was arrested for riding his horse too fast and fined $20. He smoked 20 cigars a day and died of throat cancer.
- Theodore Roosevelt had a photographic memory. He could read a page in the time it took anyone else to read a sentence.
- James K. Polk's wife did not allow card playing, dancing or drinking in the White House.
- James A. Garfield could write with both hands. To entertain people he would write in Greek with one hand and Latin with the other.
- Benjamin Harrison was terrified of electric lights. He would ask White House staff to turn them on and off for him.
- Rutherford B. Hayes was the first U.S. president to use a phone at the White House. Alexander Graham Bell personally showed him how to use it and his phone number was 1.
- Calvin Coolidge liked having his head massaged with Vaseline during breakfast in bed. He also rode his own mechanical bull and played "ding-dong ditch 'em"—he would ring the White House doorbell and then run and hide.
- Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, was present at the assassinations of three presidents: his father's, President Garfield's and President McKinley's.
- All presidents receive code names from the Secret Service. Ronald Reagan was "Rawhide," George H. W. Bush was "Timberwolf," Bill Clinton was "Eagle," George W. Bush was "Trailblazer" and Barack Obama is "Renegade."
- Abraham Lincoln was a licensed bartender. He was co-owner of Berry and Lincoln, a saloon in Springfield, IL.
- Herbert Clark Hoover ordered his White House servants to hide from him whenever he passed by. If they didn't, they ran the risk of being fired.