William Howard Taft Ate Steak for Breakfast Every Day
But only, like, six ounces. Maybe eight. Sometimes twelve.
Your sixth grade history teacher was working with some alternative facts. There is no concrete evidence that president William Howard Taft ever got stuck in a bathtub, and yet the story persists, with various accounts claiming that two to six strong men were required to release the rotund POTUS from his predicament and that butter was deployed at least once to ease the effort. The documented facts are these: The 27th president was a big man who favored a commensurately sized bathtub, and he was possessed of the authority to will such a thing into existence. Taft also ate steak for breakfast every day, but we'll get to that.
When Taft was to be ferried to inspect the Panama Canal after his 1908 election, Captain W.A. Marshall of the US Navy requested that the captain of the USS North Carolina provide: "1 brass double bedstead, of extra length; 1 superior spring mattress, extra strong; 1 bath tub, 5 feet 5 inches in length, over rolled rim, and of extra width" so the president-elect could travel in comfort. The bathtub was subsequently custom-ordered from the establishment of Jordan L. Mott in New York City, and the so-called "Taft Tank" eventually netted out at 7 feet, 11 inches long by 41 inches wide, and it weighed one ton. A 1909 edition of Ardmore, Oklahoma's The Daily Ardmoreite described the tub's dimensions as "pond like" and a photograph published in Engineering Review showed four adult men lounging about comfortably therein. The tub was moved to the White House in advance of Taft's inauguration and has since been replaced.
Robert S. Pohl, author of Urban Legends & Historic Lore of Washington, maintains that the bathtub myth sticks around as a cautionary tale against overeating. It is not for any of us to determine what constitutes the correct amount of eating for anyone other than ourselves, but Taft's actual menu items are a matter of record. A White House housekeeper known as Mrs. Jaffrey disclosed that President Taft generally tucked into a 12-ounce steak for breakfast each morning, along with two oranges, several pieces of buttered toast, with plenty of milk-and-sugar-fortified coffee. On the advice of his doctor, Taft periodically downshifted to a six or eight-ounce slab of beef while grumbling about the "terrible sentence" that had been imposed upon him. (The doctor also cautioned him about his excess possum intake, but he was loath to listen.)
On one notable trip to Savannah, Georgia, Taft was said to have enjoyed, "grapefruit, potted partridge, broiled venison, grilled partridge, waffles with maple syrup and butter, hominy, hot rolls, bacon, and more venison." At home he was known to indulge in the occasional morning waffle, but harbored an intense dislike for eggs and refused to eat them.
Back to the steak. We may not know the portion size Taft enjoyed for his lunch and dinner steaks as precisely as we do his breakfast beef (he was often a three-times-a-day steak eater), but there's concrete evidence about his preferred preparation. A 1935 recipe for "President Taft’s Broiled Buttery Steak" published in the Washington Post reads:
But even a person of Taft's grand appetites can eventually reach their limit. In 1913, the New York Times reported that the ex-president had lost nearly 70 pounds since leaving office by nixing potatoes, pork, fatty meat, and alcohol from his diet (though he wasn't much of a drinker to begin with)—and, oddly, limiting his water consumption to two glasses per meal.
Well done, Mr. President. Well done.