Roosevelt, Theodore (1858-1919), 26th president of the United States (1901-09), the first president to exploit the public dimensions of his office in an age of mass communications, a reform leader at home and a skilled diplomat abroad. In his lifetime Roosevelt became a personal model, particularly for the country's youth, in a way that no public figure has matched. He was one of the most popular presidents in American history.
The son of a wealthy, socially prominent merchant, Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 27, 1858. He was educated by private tutors and studied at Harvard University, graduating in 1880 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the most prestigious social clubs. Ill health marred his boyhood, and he suffered poor eyesight, attacks of asthma, and nervous digestion, before teenage body-building efforts transformed him into a strong, vigorous young man. After his father's sudden death in 1878, Roosevelt forsook scientific ambitions, developed political interests, and became engaged to Alice Lee of Boston, whom he married in 1880. Alice Roosevelt died in 1884, just after the birth of their only child. Their daughter, also named Alice, as Alice Roosevelt Longworth became a well-known Washington personality in later years. In 1886 Roosevelt married Edith Carow of New York, who became his most valued adviser. They had a daughter and four sons, the oldest of whom, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., was a decorated hero in the two world wars.

Early Political Career

After graduation from college, Roosevelt entered politics and abandoned the study of law when, as a Republican, he was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1881. He attracted immediate attention in the press with his upper-class background, colorful personality, and bold independence. In 1884, after serving three years in the Assembly, he left politics briefly, both from grief at the death of his wife and because he had alienated the reform wing of his party that year by supporting James G. Blaine for the presidency. Roosevelt spent the next two years ranching and hunting in the Dakota Territory, which began his identification with the Wild West. He continued to write histories, biographies, and magazine articles, producing more than a dozen books between 1880 and 1900. Back in politics in 1886, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City, campaigned for the national Republican ticket in 1888, and served as Civil Service commissioner in Washington, D.C., from 1889 to 1895. From 1895 to 1897, Roosevelt renewed political ties and enhanced his fame with his energetic, reform-minded service as New York City's police commissioner. After campaigning for his party's national ticket again in 1896, he became assistant secretary of the navy and worked to expand and modernize the navy and get the United States into war with Spain over Cuba.

War Hero and Vice President

The Spanish-American War made Roosevelt a nationally known figure. His volunteer cavalry regiment, which included both cowboys and aristocrats like himself, was dubbed the Rough Riders and received extensive press coverage. Their charge at the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba (July 1898) was the most celebrated exploit of the war. Roosevelt became a popular hero overnight, and his favorite nickname for the rest of his life was the Colonel. He reaped a swift political reward when his party's New York boss, Senator Thomas C. Platt, chose him to run for governor in the face of scandals that threatened a Republican defeat. Enormous crowds greeted the candidate wherever he appeared in the 1898 campaign, and he carried his ticket to a narrow victory. Those crowds and similar outpourings when Roosevelt traveled west to a Rough Riders' reunion in 1899 propelled him toward the Republican vice-presidential nomination as William McKinley's running mate in 1900. Also favoring his nomination was Senator Platt's desire to get him out of New York. Roosevelt was an activist, independent governor, who did not submit to the Republican organization; he responded to popular disquiet over big business and showed his own concern over conservation of natural resources. Gracefully although unwillingly submitting to the vice-presidential draft, Roosevelt demonstrated his energy and popularity again in the 1900 campaign, as he made whirlwind tours appealing to patriotic memories of the war. He had little to do as vice president, but his inactivity ended with