16 Facts About John F. Kennedy You Might Not Know

(Last Updated On: March 9, 2020)
16 Facts About John F. Kennedy You Might Not Know

John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States, serving from January 1961, until his assassination in November 1963. His presidency came near the height of the Cold War, and much of his time spent in office concerned relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba. However, Kennedy also had lofty domestic goals, like increasing funding for education and ending racial discrimination. But these are all things most people already know. So how about some lesser known facts about John F. Kennedy?

Facts About John F. Kennedy

1. John F. Kennedy had many near-death experiences.

Kennedy faced many illnesses and accidents prior to becoming President. In fact, he was administered last rites from a priest on at least four separate occasions in his life, not including his 1963 assination. 

2. He donated his salary to charity.

Kennedy’s father was extremely wealthy, so when he entered Congress in 1947, JFK was earning enough income from his trust accounts, he didn’t need his salary. He donated his entire salary to various charities. This generosity continued when he was president. At the time, he was the richest president to be sworn into office.

3. He loved animals.

In fact, the White House became a small zoo when JFK was in office. During his administration, five horses, two hamsters, five dogs, a cat, a rabbit and two parakeets also called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home.

4. Kennedy attended Princeton University. 

Long before graduating in 1940 from Harvard University, he started at Princeton in 1935. He wasn’t there long before a gastrointestinal illness forced him to leave the school after only two months. After his recovery, he transferred to Harvard.

5. He was a former Boy Scout. 

JFK was the first president who was a Boy Scout in his early years. In Bronxville, New York, he was a member of Troop 2 for two years. He would continue to be a vocal supporter of the Scouts throughout his career. 

6. He was a pretty solid baseball player. 

Kennedy was a right-handed pitcher and third baseman for his high school baseball team. He would remain an avid baseball fan his whole life, even playing in the occasional softball game with his colleagues during his time in the Senate.

7. JFK founded the Peace Corps. 

September 22, 1961, was the date when John F. Kennedy signed the Peace Corps Act. It was his way of making good on a campaign promise to seek Americans who would volunteer their services to developing countries.

8. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Facts About John F. Kennedy

In his book, Profiles in Courage, JFK gives us a glimpse into the pressures of being a politician. His book won a Pulitzer Prize in the History category. You can read excerpts from the book on the JFK Library website.

9. His 1960 campaign song was an edited version of “High Hopes”.

Frank Sinatra recorded a version of the 1959 hit single “High Hopes” with the lyrics changed to support Kennedy in his 1960 Democratic presidential campaign.

10. John F. Kennedy was the youngest person to be elected President.

The youngest president to ever hold office was Theodore Roosevelt, who at the age of 42 assumed the presidency following the assination of William McKinley. But Kennedy was the youngest person ever elected as president. He was 43 when he came into office in 1961.

11. JFK failed his first attempt to enlist in the military.

When JFK first tried to enlist in the military, he was rejected because of his overall health and a bad back. He responded by getting his father to fabricate a medical certificate so he could join the Navy.

12. He would go on to become a war hero. 

Although he had to lie to get into the Navy because of his health conditions, he earned war hero status when he was commander of the PT-109 patrol boat off the coast of Solomon Islands. The boat was attacked, sunk and the crew had to swim about 3.5 miles to reach an island where they were stranded for seven days.

13. And he received a Purple Heart. 

Kennedy is the only elected president to receive a Purple Heart. Although Purple Heart recipients John Kerry and John McCain both ran for president and lost.

14. Kennedy was the last to wear an “Inaugural Top Hat”. 

Prior to his inauguration, all presidents wore a top hat to the ceremony. Kennedy was reluctant to comply with the tradition and he was the last one to follow it.

15. But he was the first to invite an “Inaugural Poet”. 

Robert Frost was asked to recite a short poem “The Gift Outright” for the ceremony. Although he had written a longer poem specifically for the occasion, he couldn’t read it in the bright sun and resorted to reciting the poem JFK had requested.

16. JFK was an avid cigar smoker.

John F. Kennedy loved fine cigars and is said to have smoked more than four of them each day. According to one story, he once asked his press secretary Pierre Salinger to help him get a large supply of Petit Upmanns by the next morning. When 1200 cigars were brought to his office, he pulled out a document from his desk and signed a decree banning all Cuban products in the United States.

So there you have it. Hopefully you enjoyed these interesting facts about John F. Kennedy. The big picture take away is that JFK was much more than just an assassinated president. He should be remembered for his generosity, ingenuity, and of course, his love of animals.


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