Alcohol and American presidents go way back—all the way back to the original commander in chief, George Washington. Here, the boozingest presidents (and one first lady) to ever control the fate of our nation.
Before the first U.S. president helped secure America’s independence, Washington helped secure his constituents with a stiff drink. In 1758, he clinched his seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses by “swilling the planters with bumbo” (aka swaying voters with 144 gallons of booze). After he retired from the presidency, Washington continued to be a pioneer of presidential boozing when he founded a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon.
While serving as Minister to France in the 1780s, Jefferson became quite the oenophile. By the time he hit the oval office, he was drinking three glasses of vino a day and growing his own grapes at Monticello. Jefferson’s love of wine was so intense that it contributed to his financial ruin. While in office, Jefferson purchased 20,000 bottles of wine for social events at the White House—and his own personal enjoyment—resulting in a debt of $10,000 (about $150,000 today).
Buchanan didn’t mess around. The man could hold his booze, never showing signs of intoxication or ever suffering from hangovers, much to the physical anguish of those who attempted to match him drink for drink. He spent Sundays at Jacob Baer’s distillery, using church services as a cover for his weekly liquor run. Gout and dysentery, possibly induced by heavy drinking, couldn’t even stop Buchanan from putting down two to three bottles of whiskey or cognac in one sitting.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
FDR established Social Security. He imposed a national minimum wage. He led the Allies to victory in WWII. But for our purposes, FDR’s most applause-worthy accomplishment during his presidency was ending Prohibition. He was also a dedicated Martini drinker and was constantly tinkering with his recipe—much to his guests’ chagrine. His own grandson, Curtis Roosevelt, described FDR’s concoctions as “the worst Martinis” he had ever tasted.
An accomplished outdoorsman, Teddy Roosevelt knew the value of a fresh cocktail garnish. He had a mint garden planted on the White House grounds specifically for Mint Juleps. Sadly, President Calvin Coolidge demolished the patch to make way for his chicken coops.
LBJ may not have enjoyed the same affable party guy reputation as his predecessor, JFK, but he knew how to enjoy life. One of his favorite pastimes was cruising his Texas ranch in his convertible with a large foam cup full of Cutty Sark scotch and soda, which he would refill in motion by slowing to a roll, sticking his cup out the window, and waiting for a jogging secret service agent to top him off.
Honorable Mention: Dolley Madison
James Madison may have drank a pint of whiskey a day, but it was his wife, Dolley, who spread the liquor around at her Wednesday night “squeezes.” Over her eight year tenure at the White House, she hosted more ragers—ahem, formal dinners—than any other presidential spouse. She was famous for her whiskey punch, which was potent enough to rival the strongest of punches.