Did President Taft die by getting stuck in a bathtub?

Uhhh… No.

German Squadron Visit To U.S. Taft
German Squadron Visit To U.S. Taft / Heritage Images/GettyImages

On March 8, 1930, William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, died at age 72. And before you ask the question: no, he did not die by getting stuck in a bathtub.

In fact, despite what – full disclosure – my first thought was when I realized today is the 94th anniversary of his passing, not only did Taft not die in a bathtub… The whole “Taft got stuck in a bathtub” thing isn’t true at all.

So why do we think President Taft got stuck in a bathtub at all? And how did he actually die, if not from bathtub-related injuries? Here’s what we know about Taft’s weird run-ins with bathtubs, the “getting stuck in one” story, and how he really died.

What’s the story about Taft and the bathtub?

President Taft was a big man. Towards the end of his Presidency, he was 5’11” tall, and between 335 and 340 pounds. His weight fluctuated over the years, and after leaving office he went on a health regimen that reduced his weight considerably. But his reputation as one of, if not the, heaviest President remains to this day.

As the story goes, Taft was so big, one time he got stuck in the bathtub in the White House, and it took six strong men to pull him out.

That story, in fact, comes from former White House butler Irwin Hoover, aka Ike. After working at the White House for 42 years, Hoover released a memoir titled, appropriately, 42 Years In The White House. While talking about Taft’s term, Hoover detailed that Taft would often get stuck in his tub and need help to get out. Lillian Rogers Park, who worked at the White House 10 years after Taft left, backed up the account in My 30 Years Backstairs at the White House. But in both cases there’s no mention of six strong men pulling him out, or if this is even true.

Regardless, the story has grown even bigger and wilder over the years as tall tales are wont to do, leading to some people (me) conflating them into “Taft died by getting stuck in the bathtub.” He did not die that way, and chances are he may have just needed a helping hand now and again. Let he who has not needed a little help getting out of a slippery bathtub throw the first bar of soap.

What is President Taft’s real history with bathtubs?

William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft / Library of Congress/GettyImages

So, here’s the thing. The “stuck in the bath” story may not be true, but this dude still had a bizarrely complicated history with bathtubs, which may be why this story arose in the first place.

When he went to inspect the Panama Canal in 1908, he had an oversized bathtub installed on the North Carolina. The tub was 7’ and 1 inch long, 41 inches wide, and weighed one ton. You may have seen it before from the famous picture of four men sitting in a tub. That’s where that comes from!

And that bathtub was taken to the White House and installed there afterward. Is it possible that this large bathtub led to the stories of Taft having trouble getting out? Perhaps! Of note, there is a photo of Taft’s White House tub cracked, which led to rumors he was so big he broke it. But again, unconfirmed.

There are other stories about Taft and tubs. In 1915, the New York Times reported that while attending the Philadelphia Bankers Association’s meeting, Taft stepped into an over-filled tub and caused such a tidal wave it leaked through the floor and dripped down on the heads of the currently dining banking conventioners.

But as far as we’re aware, he never got stuck in one.

How did President Taft die?

The story of how President Taft died is far less whimsical than getting stuck in a tub. Despite following a weight loss regimen and regularly exercising, Taft was plagued with health issues for most of his post-Presidential career. While he did ascend to the level of chief justice of the Supreme Court, he resigned due to these health issues on February 3, 1930.

Taft died a little over a month later on March 8, 1930. While we don’t know the exact cause of death, a bevy of symptoms included inflammation of the bladder, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Got questions about history, trivia, or anything else? Send an email to askeverest@fansided.com and we might answer here on the site!

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