The Absolutely Weirdest Vice President Facts 

February 10, 2024

By Brian Boone

This Presidents Day let’s look at the best, biggest, and most interesting number-twos of all time—the Vice Presidents of the United States. 

The second cousin of Vice President John Adams (pictured left, 1789-1797): Boston brewer and present-day beer company namesake Samuel Adams. Third cousin of Vice President John Adams: his wife, Abigail Adams. 

Only Vice President for whom English was not his first or primary language: Martin Van Buren (1833-1837). He was raised in a Dutch-speaking enclave of New York.

Henry Wilson served as Vice President under Ulysses S. Grant from 1873 to 1875. His birth name: Jeremiah Jones Colbath. His first two names came from a wealthy neighbor his parents hoped to impress so much that he put their son in his will. He didn’t, and when J.J.C. turned 21, he changed his name to Henry Wilson, after reading a biography of a teacher of that name. 

Chester Alan Arthur (pictured right), Vice President for just a few months in 1881 until he ascended to the presidency upon the death of James Garfield, served during an era when anti-immigrant sentiments were very high. As such, rumors abounded that Arthur wasn’t legally allowed to be president, as he’d supposedly falsified his records to hide the fact he’d been born in Ireland. 

Two Vice Presidents were also inventors. Henry A. Wallace (1941-1945) founded the still extant Hi-Bred Corn Company after he developed a hearty type of hybrid corn called Copper Cross. Hubert Humphrey (1965-1969), a former second-generation pharmacist, created a medicinal product very similar to Vapor Rub. 

In 1911, Chicago banking executive and occasional pianist Charles Dawes (pictured left) wrote and published a composition he called “Melody in A Major.” Dawes would eventually become Vice President (1925-1929), and in 1951, the same year he died, Carl Sigman added lyrics to VP’s tune, calling it “It’s All in the Game.” Seven years later, that song would hit #1 on the American pop chart, as recorded by Tommy James (with a co-writing credit for Dawes). 

After World War II, only two Vice Presidents never later mounted a presidential term: Spiro Agnew (1969-1973) and Dick Cheney (2001-2009). Agnew didn’t run for office because he’d resigned in disgrace—he was implicated in a bribery scandal dating back to his years in Maryland state politics.

The only other Vice President to resign: John C. Calhoun (1825-1832). He blamed fundamental political differences with President Andrew Jackson, but really, he wanted to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate. 

Schuyler Colfax (1869-1873) didn’t resign, but he opted out of serving during President Ulysses S. Grant’s second term. He’d been caught taking bribes in conjunction with the building of the transcontinental railroad. 

Along with John Nance Garner (1933-1941), Colfax is the only Vice President to also serve as the Speaker of the House, or the head of the U.S. House of Representatives. Garner (pictured right) received a “happy birthday” phone call when he turned 95 in 1963, from President John F. Kennedy. That would serve as JFK’s last known phone call. Garner would live to the age of 99, the longest-living VP ever. 

Seven Vice Presidents died in office. The last: James Sherman (1909-1912). Two died during James Madison’s administration: George Clinton (1805-1812) and his successor, Elbridge Gerry (1813-1814). 

Current Vice President Kamala Harris (2021- ) was born in the United States, but attended high school in French-speaking Quebec, at an English-speaking high school. 

The office’s nickname, “Veep,” was coined by the grandson of Vice President Alben W. Barkley (1949-1953). The kid, making a word out of the initials “VP,” suggested “Veep” as an informal alternative to the stuffier “Mr. Vice President.”

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