In the first year of his presidency, the press used Theodore Roosvelt’s name in connection with the word “strenuous” over 10,000 times. He was known as “the strenuous president,” and with good reason: from his youth, TR had lived and preached a life of vigorous engagement and plenty of physical activity.
Today on the show Ryan Swanson, professor of sports history and author of The Strenuous Life: Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of the American Athlete, discusses not only how TR was shaped by what was called “the strenuous age,” but how he shaped it in turn by promoting sports, and participating in athletics himself. We begin our discussion with what was going on during the late 19th century that got people interested in what was then called “physical culture.” We then turn to the beginning of Roosevelt’s introduction to vigorous exercise as a boy, and how he famously decided to make his body. We discuss TR’s fitness routine when he went to Harvard, and how his becoming a fan of football there led to him supporting the preservation of the game as president. We then discuss how TR lived the strenuous life while in the White House, and thereby inspired the American public to live vigorously too. We take a fun look at what TR thought of the game of baseball, how he went to a health farm at age 58 to get back in fighting shape, and what kind of exercise and athletics TR would be into if he were alive today.
- The culture and society Theodore Roosevelt grew up in
- How folks would “cleanse” themselves in the early 20th century
- TR’s origin story — how he turned his sickly body into a vigorous machine
- Roosevelt’s college experience at Harvard (and how it turned him onto athletics)
- The “renaissance man” nature of TR
- Roosevelt role is saving football
- TR’s “Tennis Cabinet” and how he got important people to partake in vigorous activities
- How TR’s lifestyle influenced the broader public
- Why didn’t TR like baseball?
- TR’s farm experience near the end of his life
- Roosevelt’s lasting legacy on sports in America
- What sorts of sports and physical fitness would TR be into today?
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Theodore Roosevelt, Writer and Reader
- The Secret of Theodore Roosevelt’s Greatness
- Theodore Roosevelt on Citizenship
- The Field Notes of Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt’s Advice on Reading
- The Fists of Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt’s Reading List
- AoM Comic — I’ll Make My Body!
- How Theodore Roosevelt Saved Football
- The History of Physical Fitness
- A Call for a New Strenuous Age
- William Banting
- Tips and Inspiration on Being a Well-Rounded Man
- “The Strenuous Life” speech
- Take the TR/JFK 50-Mile Challenge
- The Strenuous Life
- Ryan Swanson’s website
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