The Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California is located on what used to be his family’s lemon farm. Here are 37 facts about the 37th President.
President Nixon. Those two words are nearly always followed by the word “Watergate” or “resigned.” They are cold, hard facts that often eclipse anything else the 37th President accomplished during his five and a half years in office. Or his eight years as Vice President. Or his contributions during and after World War II. While I don’t necessarily disagree with this view of Nixon, he did end the Vietnam War.
Started in 1955 by President Eisenhower, the Vietnam War lasted nearly 20 years. Cascading through the presidencies of Kennedy and Johnson, it landed in Nixon’s lap when he was sworn into office in 1969. When all was said and done, more than 58,000 Americans were dead and millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines returned home with life-changing physical or emotional scars.
While Nixon gets credit for ending the Vietnam War, I’m not sure it’s completely deserved. After watching The Post — starring two of my favorites, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks — I wonder if Nixon would have stayed the course set by the three previous administrations if it weren’t for the Pentagon Papers. Yes, The Post is a Hollywood film and not a documentary, so there may have been some creative license applied to the script. But the fact remains, the Pentagon Papers were an embarrassment to the sitting president and eye-opening to the American public.
There is a dark cloud that will forever shadow the Nixon presidency. Yet there is still a lot to learn about the man, his contributions to our country, and American history by visiting Yorba Linda. While President Nixon most certainly made mistakes, mistakes he probably regretted the rest of his life, I believe he was also a peacemaker.
I paid full price for any expenses associated with these experiences at the Nixon Library and Museum and always share my honest opinions.
Here are 37 things I learned about the 37th President at the Nixon Library and Museum:
1 – Straight Outta Yorba Linda
Surrounded by lemon trees in a farmhouse built by his father, Richard Nixon was born on the grounds of what is now the Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California in 1913.
Fun Fact: Along with three of his four brothers, Richard was named after a British ruler. The 37th President was named Richard after Richard the Lionheart.
Pro Tip: Only two other presidential libraries include the president’s birthplace — Herbert Hoover’s Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York.
2 – Milhous, Meet Milhouse
President Nixon’s middle name was Milhous. Actually, I already knew that before my visit. But I didn’t know that The Simpsons creator Matt Groening named his cartoon character, Milhouse, after the 37th President.
Fun Fact: Don’t have a cow, man, but on The Simpsons, Milhouse’s middle name is Mussolini.
3 – He Was a Quaker
The Nixon family farm failed when Richard was nine, so the family moved 16 miles northwest to Whittier. In this Quaker community, Nixon was raised in accordance with the religious observances of the time which means he was expected to not drink alcohol, dance, or curse. I probably wouldn’t have lasted a day in Whittier before being politely asked to leave, and take my wine glass with me…
Fun Fact: Nixon was not the only Quaker president. Herbert Hoover was also a Quaker.
4 – Elected to Office Early in Life
Before running for public office, Richard Nixon was elected:
- President of his 8th grade class,
- Freshman class president in college, and
- Student body president his senior year at Whittier College.
Pro Tip: If you are interested in visiting more than one of the 13 Presidential Libraries, consider purchasing a Passport to Presidential Libraries (currently $5.00). With a dark blue cover embossed with gold letters, it looks just like a US Passport and is a fun keepsake to collect unique passport stamps from each library and document your family’s travels.
5 – Mic Drop
Known as a fantastic debater, Nixon’s debate skills were honed early in conversations around the family’s dinner table. His talent was further developed in high school and college, and his award-winning expertise served him well as an attorney and as a politician.
6 – Declining a Harvard Education
Although Richard Nixon had a scholarship to attend Harvard, his family couldn’t afford the coast-to-coast travel expenses and living costs. Additionally, his brother, Harold, had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and Richard needed to stay close to home to help out with the family business. At Whittier College, a private liberal arts school founded by Quakers, Richard was a champion debater and dedicated student. He graduated second in his class in 1934. In the middle of the Great Depression.
Fun Fact: As of 2018, seven US Presidents have attended Harvard.
7 – A Law Degree from Duke
In the middle of the Great Depression, Nixon was accepted to Duke University’s law school and offered a full scholarship for his tuition. There were far fewer scholarships awarded to second and third year students, so the competition was fierce. Not only did Richard Nixon keep his scholarship all three years, he graduated third in his class in 1937.
8 – Love at First Sight, but Only for Him
Richard Nixon met Pat Ryan when he was cast opposite from her the Whittier Community Players production of The Dark Tower. After turning down several of his invitations, Pat finally agreed to go on a date with Richard. Although he proposed to her on their first date, it took Pat two years to say yes, and the couple married in June of 1940.
One of the things that I found most touching about the Nixons’ relationship was how deeply Richard seemed to love Pat, from their initial introduction until her last breath. When he lost her to a stroke the day after their 53rd wedding anniversary, he didn’t hide his heartbreak and sobbed openly and at times uncontrollably at her funeral.
9 – He Served in the US Navy During World War II
Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Nixons moved across the country to Washington, DC where Richard took a job with the Office of Price Administration. In the tire rationing division, Nixon spent about four months answering correspondence before pursuing greener pastures. He was commissioned into the United States Navy that August and served in the South Pacific.
10 – Pat and Richard had Two Daughters
Their fair-haired, first born, Tricia, arrived in 1946. She earned a degree in English from Boston College and married Harvard-educated lawyer, Edward Cox. (More on that in #24.) Tricia was a stay-at-home mother to their only child, a son born in 1979. Today she serves on several boards including the Richard Nixon Foundation at the Nixon Library and Museum.
Julie was born in 1948 and grew up to be one of her father’s biggest supporters when things got rough during his second administration. While attending Smith College, Julie began dating David Eisenhower, President Eisenhower’s grandson, their freshman year. They were engaged the following year and married in 1968. Julie is the author of several books, including one co-authored with her husband. They have three children.
Fun Fact: Both Tricia and Julie married their civilian escorts to the International Debutante Ball.
11 – Welcome to My House
Nixon was elected to his first political office. Representing California’s 12th congressional district, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1947.
12 – Surveying the Damage to Build a Plan
Within months of being sworn into office, Nixon was selected to join 18 other men on the Herter Committee. The group traveled to post-war Europe in 1947 in order to assess the damage, gather data, and make recommendations for foreign aid. The committee’s work ultimately paved the way for the Marshall Plan, a $13 billion economic assistance package to help Western Europe rebuild.
13 – Seeing Red
The newly-minted congressman from California served on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Dedicated to eradicating Communist beliefs and activities in the US, the HUAC often used questionable interrogation techniques. At the center of one of HUAC’s most famous investigations was Richard Nixon. At the end of weeks of dramatic hearings, he was successful in demonstrating that Alger Hiss, a former, high-ranking State Department official, had lied about his involvement in Communist activities. Decades later, Post-Cold War examination of Russian documents proved that Nixon was correct.
14 – One of Six Crises
While running in the 1952 presidential election as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, a campaign fund of Nixon’s was questioned. Established by Nixon’s backers, the fund was used to reimburse the candidate for postage, travel, and other campaign expenses. While the fund wasn’t illegal, it cast a shadow of suspicion over Nixon, and Eisenhower was pressured to replace him with another candidate.
Committed to sharing his side of the story, Nixon made a 30 minute televised speech to more than 60 million Americans, the largest television audience in history up to that point. Nixon connected with voters by sharing about his upbringing (modest and hardworking), Mrs. Nixon’s coat (“a respectable Republican cloth coat” instead of a fur), and the family pet (a cocker spaniel). Nixon said that the one gift he would not give back was the puppy sent to his daughters by a supporter in Texas. Tricia named the black and white spaniel, Checkers, and the speech was later referred to as the Checkers speech. Hopefully, Tricia uses a different security question than “first pet” to secure all of her online accounts.
In addition to defending himself, Nixon urged viewers to contact the Republican National Committee (RNC) and ask them to keep him on the ticket. It worked. The RNC ultimately received more than four million phone calls, letters, postcards, and telegrams supporting Richard Nixon. Checkers also felt the love, receiving food donations to last a year, and hundreds of toys, collars, and leashes.
When Nixon penned his first book in 1962, Six Crises, the Fund Crisis was one of six.
15 – A Young Veep
Shortly after celebrating his 40th birthday, Nixon was sworn in as Eisenhower’s vice president in January 1953. To date, he is the second youngest Vice President in US history.
#onthisday in 1953 Richard Nixon was sworn in as Vice President to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Pictured: Vice President Richard Nixon, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Harry Truman and President Herbert Hoover) 📸 : Herbert Hoover Presidential Library #POTUS #Inauguration #OTD #RichardNixon #HerbertHoover #DwightEisenhower #HarryTruman #fromthearchives @ikelibrary @truman.library
Fun Fact: The youngest vice president was John C. Breckinridge who was sworn in as James Buchanan’s vice president at the age of 36.
16 – A Different Kind of Kitchen Debate
Remember the debates held at the Nixon family dinner table way back in #4? Well, a different type of kitchen took place when Nixon visited Moscow in July 1959. While touring the American National Exhibition, an exhibit designed to share the average American’s life with the Soviets, Nixon and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had a spontaneous exchange. Surrounded by the latest kitchen appliances, Nixon defended capitalism while Khrushchev defended communism.
Fun Fact: The Soviets set up a similar exhibit in New York that provided Americans with a look into the average Soviet’s world.
17 – A New Media (Not Social)
As the 1950s became the 1960s, about 10% of the American households had a television. It was also at this time that Eisenhower’s second term in office came to an end, and his vice president, Richard Nixon, ran for office. Nixon’s opponent was a Senator from Massachusetts named John Kennedy. The two participated in the first televised presidential debate in history where the images shared via this new media shaped the outcome. Americans listening to the debate on the radio felt the debate was either a draw or that Nixon won. But the 70 million Americans watching the TV thought Kennedy won by a wide margin.
18 – Lost by a Hair
When Richard Nixon lost the election to John F. Kennedy in 1960, it was by one of the smallest margins in history at just 0.2% of the popular vote.
19 – Five More Crises
After losing the 1960 election, the Nixon family moved home to California. More than 2,500 miles from Washington, DC, Nixon wrote his first book, Six Crises, inspired by JFK’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage.
In addition to #13, #14, #16, and #18, Six Crises also discussed Eisenhower’s heart attack and being mobbed in Venezuela. Published in 1962, it was a best-seller at the time.
20 – A Run at the Governor’s Mansion
At home in California, which was a red state back in the early 1960s, Republican leaders encouraged Nixon to run for governor in 1962. Nixon was reluctant to join the race at first but did. Unfortunately, he lost again. This time, by five percentage points to a Democrat in a Republican state that he’d carried during the 1960 presidential election. Ouch!
In his concession speech, a bitter Nixon blamed the media for his loss and announced, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”
21 – A Second Shot at the White House
At the end of 1967, Richard Nixon informed his family that he wanted to run for president again. Nixon joined forces with Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew in a three-way race against Democrat Hubert Humphrey (who was currently serving as Lyndon B. Johnson’s vice president) and Independent George Wallace.
In what was another close race, Nixon defeated Humphrey by just 0.7% of the popular vote. Nixon knew what it felt like to lose a close race (see #18). When he won, the new president-elect said, “I have received a very gracious message from the Vice President, congratulating me for winning the election. I congratulated him for his gallant and courageous fight against great odds. I also told him that I know exactly how he felt. I know how it feels to lose a close one.”
Fun Fact: Richard Nixon was the first native-born Californian elected president.
Pro Tip: While many Presidential libraries have a replica Oval Office, most are observed from the doorway. You can actually walk into the Oval Office in Yorba Linda.
22 – Lasting Words
In his inaugural address, which received almost uniformly positive reviews, Nixon remarked that “the greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.” More on these lasting words in #37.
Fun Fact: Camp David, the presidential retreat in the wooded hills of Maryland, is named after President Eisenhower’s father and grandson. Both are Davids.
23 – Man on the Moon
After completing the first manned mission to the moon, the Apollo 11 astronauts returned to earth in a capsule that splashed down in the Pacific Ocean about 950 miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. A helicopter from the USS Hornet pulled the capsule out of the ocean and safely deposited it in the aircraft carrier’s cavernous hull. To ensure nothing from the moon wreaked havoc back on earth, the trio was quarantined in a silver Airstream. From a microphone just outside the Airstream, President Nixon welcomed Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin back to Earth and congratulated them on a job well done.
24 – White House Wedding
Between being elected president and taking office, Nixon’s younger daughter, Julie, was married. She and her husband-to-be, Dwight Eisenhower’s grandson, David, decided that they didn’t want the spectacle of a White House Wedding. In June 1971, Nixon’s older daughter, Tricia, was married in the White House Rose Garden. The wedding gowns of both women are on display at the Nixon Library and Museum.
Fun Fact: Grover Cleveland was the only US President married in a White House ceremony.
25 – First US President to Visit China
When the People’s Republic of China (AKA Communist China) was established in 1949, the United States broke off all ties with the world’s most populous nation. In 1972, Nixon was the first president to visit China, an official visit that played a pivotal role in improving the relationships between the two countries. During a seven-day trip, that Nixon called “a week that changed the world” the president visited the Chinese cities of Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai and shook hands with Premier Zhou Enlai.
26 – Won by a Landslide
After losing to JFK in one of the closest elections in history and only narrowly defeating Humphrey in 1968, Nixon was elected by a landslide when he ran for his second term in 1972. He earned nearly 25% more votes than his opponent, George McGovern, the senator from South Dakota.
27 – Steps Toward Nuclear Peace
After his successful trip to China in February, Nixon visited the Soviet Union in May 1972. Known as the Moscow Summit, his meeting with Leonoid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, was a significant step toward thawing Cold War relations between the two nations. By the end of the official visit, the US and the Soviet Union had signed a treaty that greatly slowed the nuclear arms race.
More than a decade after his presidency ended, Nixon visited the Soviet Union in 1986 as a US citizen. When he returned, he sent a detailed report sharing his personal observations and foreign policy recommendations to President Regan. Nixon’s trips to the Soviet Union, in both the 1970s and 1980s, were instrumental to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Fun Fact: After Nixon’s 1986 trip to Moscow, a Gallup poll listed him as one of the ten most admired men in the world.
28 – Voluntary School Desegregation in the South
When President Nixon was sworn into office, nearly 15 years had passed since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that declared dual school systems unconstitutional. Yet separate schools for blacks and whites remained common throughout the south. In the fall of 1968, nearly 70% of black children in the south were still attending all-black schools.
Nixon tasked Secretary of Labor, George Schultz, and his Attorney General, John Mitchell, with improving school desegregation in the South. By reaching out to key community leaders in the southern states, forming biracial committees, and exercising what I’m sure was a metric ton of patience and diplomacy, the Nixon Administration made tremendous progress. When Nixon left office in 1974, less than 10% of black children in the south remained in all-black schools.
Related Article: Six Must-See Destinations to Learn About Black History
29 – Ended the Vietnam War…and the Draft
When Nixon took office in January 1969, about 300 Americans were dying in the Vietnam War each week. When the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January 1973, the two-decade-old war was finally over.
Nixon also kept a campaign promise by ending the draft in early 1973.
30 – POW Party
In the spring of 1973, nearly 600 American prisoners of war (POW) were released in Vietnam. To celebrate their safe return, Nixon hosted a formal dinner for 1,300 guests on the White House’s South Lawn. It remains the largest sit-down dinner ever held at the White House.
One of the guests of honor dining on sirloin steak, fingerling potatoes, and strawberry mousse was naval pilot John McCain. After being tortured for five and a half years as a POW, he would spend several months seeking the medical treatment and physical therapy he needed before returning to the Navy for several more years. In the early 1980s, McCain redirected his service to America by donning a business suit instead of a naval uniform and serving as a Congressman and Senator for several decades.
Fun Fact: In 2013, on the 40th anniversary of the original celebration, the Nixon Library and Museum recreated the POW party, hosting approximately 600 guests of honor.
31- Is This Thing On?
When it comes to President Nixon, it seems like the entire world knows about Watergate. But at the Nixon Library and Museum, I learned that Nixon was far from the first president to record conversations in the White House. As it turns out, that began with Franklin Roosevelt, AKA FDR. After FDR felt the New York Times misquoted him, he installed a hidden microphone in a lamp that connected to a recording device in the basement below the Oval Office. Once in place, he used this hidden system to record all news briefings.
32 – Vice President Resigns
After an investigation by the US Attorney’s office on charges of extortion, bribery, conspiracy, and tax fraud, Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, was formally charged with accepting more than $100,000 in bribes. That’s about $500,000 in today’s money. He remains the only US Vice President to resign due to criminal charges.
To replace Agnew, Nixon selected Gerald Ford, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives.
33 – A Few Words about Impeachment
Impeachment is the first step toward removing a president from office. But it’s only the first step. Simply put, if a president is impeached, he (or she) has been charged by the House of Representatives with committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
A president can be impeached but remain in office. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to the two presidents who have been impeached — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither was removed from office because neither was also convicted by the Senate.
Nixon was actually never impeached. However, he is the only US president in history (so far) to resign. Recognizing that he had lost considerable support and would likely be both impeached and removed from office, Nixon resigned the presidency in August 1974.
34 – Boarding Marine One
One of my favorite experiences at the Nixon Library and Museum was boarding Marine One. This is the same “flying Oval Office” that Nixon boarded, flashing peace signs, when he resigned from office and left the White House.
Pro Tip: Photographs are not allowed inside Marine One.
35 – I Beg Your Pardon
As Nixon departed the White House, Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th president. He remains the only person who has served as both vice president and president without being elected to either office.
A few weeks later, Ford pardoned Nixon saying that this would “write an end” to the Watergate scandal.
36 – Regaining America’s Respect
For the next 20 years, Nixon worked hard to regain America’s trust. His first two years were spent largely out of the public eye while he dealt with a medical scare and wrote his memoirs. In 1977, he sat down with English television host David Frost for a series of 12 interviews. The two men discussed Watergate, the Vietnam War, and Nixon’s diplomatic travels.
He made additional trips to China and the Soviet Union (see #27), dispensing foreign policy advice to all who would listen. Fortunately, his audience included President Carter, the only president whose time in office was war-free, and President Regan, the president credited for ending the Cold War.
Related Article: A Visit to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum
37 – A Full Circle
After suffering a stroke, the same condition that took his beloved Pat, President Nixon died in 1994. Nixon didn’t want a full state funeral, but for approximately one day prior to his burial, mourners were able to pay their respects at the Nixon Library and Museum. Despite stormy weather, more than 42,000 people waited in a three-mile-long line to pass by Nixon’s casket.
Nixon’s funeral was attended by every living US president. When President Clinton delivered his eulogy, he focused on Nixon’s accomplishments, particularly his success in foreign affairs, remarking “May the day of judging President on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close.”
President Nixon and his beloved Pat are buried next to each other at the Nixon Library and Museum only a few steps away from his birthplace and boyhood home. Engraved on his headstone are the words, “the greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.”
Please note: Photos not watermarked with my name or courtesy of the Nixon Library and Museum (in compliance with my understanding of their sharing policy) are courtesy of the community of talented photographers over at Pixabay.