Today is October 1, 2020, retired President James Earl “Jimmy” Carter’s 96th birthday. Happy birthday, Mr. President! (Chief Justice William Rehnquist was born the same day, though he died in September 2005.)
President Carter is the longest-lived president in US history. He is the first to reach this milestone birthday (actually, he was also the first to reach the milestone birthday of 95, but I didn’t write this piece last year). He has been the oldest living president since the death of George H.W. Bush on November 30, 2018, and the longest lived president since March 21, 2019 (Bush, who was president eight years after Carter, was born 111 days before him). At the other end of that spectrum, Jimmy Carter was the youngest living president from the date of his inauguration (January 20, 1977) for 16 years (until Bill Clinton was inaugurated, on January 20, 1993).
Jimmy Carter is also the longest-retired president in US history. We elected him our 39th president in 1976, and turned him out of office in the election of 1980, so he has been a retired president for nearly 40 years (from January 20, 1981). Before 2012, the longest-retired president was Herbert Hoover, who served from 1929 to 1933, and died October 20, 1964.
His marriage, to Rosalynn Smith Carter, is the longest presidential marriage. They married on July 7, 1946, and eclipsed George H.W. and Barbara Bush’s record of 73 years, 102 days on October 17th of last year. Rosalynn was born in August of 1927. She is the senior living, and fifth longest-lived, First Lady.
To mark President Carter’s birthday, I want to mention a few things that are younger than he is. I think he has enough of a sense of humor to appreciate it:
Commercially available sliced bread (beyond which many things are “the greatest since”) first came on the market in 1928, four years after Jimmy Carter. Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, built a prototype of the first single loaf bread-slicing machine in 1912, but it was destroyed in a fire. In 1928, he finally got a working machine into production, and its first commercial use, by the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri, came on July 7, 1928. Betty White, to whom the machine has been frequently compared of late, was born January 17, 1922 (nearly three years before President Carter).
On the day of his birth (five years before the onset of the Great Depression), in the Roaring ’20s, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 104.08 (on September 30, 2020, the DJIA closed at 27,781.70). For a closer comparison, using a simple inflation adjustor, $1.00 in 1924 is worth approximately $14.85 today (meaning that 104.08 in today’s dollars would be approximately 1,545.59).
Jimmy Carter is older than nearly half the companies that make up the 30 stocks of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (though those component companies have changed more than 50 times since the Average was first calculated in 1896). Those companies include: Amgen (founded in 1980), Apple (1976), Caterpillar (founded about six months after Jimmy Carter was born, on April 15, 1925), Cisco (1984), Home Depot (1978), Intel (1968), McDonald’s (1940), Microsoft (1975), Nike (1964), Salesforce (1999), UnitedHealth (1977), Visa (1958), and Walmart (1962). Dow component The Walt Disney Company was founded on October 16, 1923, less than a year before Jimmy Carter was born.
In 1924, the price of a gallon of gasoline was about 11 cents. A loaf of bread, about 9 cents. And a first class stamp (remember, no email or texting back then) was 2 cents. Today, gasoline is about $2.00 a gallon, a loaf of bread is $2.99. And first class postage is 55 cents.
Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, was born April 21, 1926, a year and a half after Jimmy Carter. She has been Queen since 1952 (since the administration of Harry Truman). She is the longest-lived, longest-reigning English monarch. Her husband, Prince Philip, was born June 10, 1921.
In 1924, the US cent had the same portrait of Abraham Lincoln that we see today on the obverse, making it the only coin design that is still in use. The reverse, however, has gone through two redesigns; in 1924, it was two stalks of wheat surrounding the large words ONE CENT. The nickel had an Indian on the obverse, and a bison on the reverse. The dime had Mercury on the obverse, and a fasces on the reverse. The quarter had a standing image of Liberty on the obverse, and a flying eagle on the reverse. The half dollar had a walking Liberty image on the observe, and a standing eagle on the reverse. The dollar coin, known as the Peace Dollar, had the Goddess of Liberty on the obverse, and an eagle at rest on the reverse. At the time, the US was also minting gold coins for general circulation, in the denominations of $2.50, $5.00, $10.00, and $20.00 (the last was the classic St. Gaudens double eagle). Gold coinage ceased in 1933.
In 1924, a few months before Carter’s birth, the first Winter Olympics were held, in Chamonix, France. George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” premiered. On April 1, 1924, Adolf Hitler was sentenced to five years in jail, for his participation in the Beer Hall Putsch (though he would serve only eight months).
First Lieutenant Russell L. Maughan earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for a flight that took place on June 23, 1924. According to the commendation, he “departed from Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, at 2:58 a.m. Eastern standard time, in a modified service type pursuit airplane on [a] dawn-to-dusk flight, and landed at Crissy Field, San Francisco, California, at 9:47 p.m. Pacific time, the same date. He flew over 2,540 miles in 21 hours and 48 and a half minutes, thereby making the fastest time ever made by man between New York and San Francisco.” Commercial flight time today from New York’s JFK Airport to San Francisco International is about 5 hours and 45 minutes.
In November, 1924, Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming was elected as the first woman governor in the United States.
The top grossing movies of the year were The Sea Hawk, Girl Shy, The Thief of Bagdad, and Secrets. The first Academy Awards were handed out in 1929.
Six months after Jimmy Carter was born, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of televised silhouette images in motion. Television was not yet a thing when Carter was born.
Yuri Gagarin, the first man to fly in space, was born in 1934. His trip took place in April 1961.
At the time of Jimmy Carter’s birth, there were only 48 stars on the US flag. Alaska and Hawaii didn’t become states until 1959 (their stars were added to the flag, one in 1959, one in 1960).
Jimmy Carter is older than 124 of the 193 member nations of the United Nations. Carter is also older than the UN itself, which was formed in 1945.
At the time of his birth, there was no Vice President. A year before he was born, in August, 1923, President Warren Harding died, and Vice President Calvin Coolidge assumed the presidency (the 25th Amendment, providing for filling a vacancy in the Vice Presidency, was not adopted until 1967). A month after his birth, the election of 1924 gave Coolidge his own term as president.
In 1924, 67-year-old William Howard Taft was the senior living president, having served from 1909 to 1913. But at the time, he was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (which still met in the Capitol Building; the Supreme Court building wouldn’t be built until 1935).
President Woodrow Wilson had died in February, eight months before Carter’s birth.
Herbert Hoover (1929-33) was the US Secretary of Commerce.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45) was recovering from losing the Vice Presidential election of 1920, and from an attack of Guillain–Barré syndrome, which at the time was assumed to be polio, and which cost him his ability to walk.
Harry Truman (1945-53) was serving as County Court judge of Jackson County, Missouri (about to lost his bid for re-election and begin selling auto club memberships), and taking night courses at the Kansas City Law School.
Dwight Eisenhower (1953-61) was a major in the US Army, serving in the Panama Canal Zone, and about to attend the Command and General Staff College.
John Kennedy (1961-63) was 7 years old. Lyndon Johnson (1963-69) was 16. Richard Nixon (1969-74) was 11. Gerald Ford (1974-77) was 11. Ronald Reagan (Carter’s successor, 1981-89) was 13. George H.W. Bush (1989-93) was 111 days old.
President John Tyler, the earliest serving president (by far) to still have living grandchildren, had been dead for 62 years. But his youngest grandchildren, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. (also born in 1924), and Harrison Ruffin Tyler (born in 1928), are still living today. President Tyler was born in 1790, served as president from 1841 to 1845, and died in 1862.
Jimmy Carter’s successors in the Oval Office, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, predeceased him (Reagan in 2004, Bush in 2018). Three of his living successors were born in 1946 (the first year to see the births of three US presidents), nearly 22 years after Carter (Bill Clinton on August 19, 1946; George W. Bush on July 6, 1946; and Donald Trump on June 14, 1946). Barack Obama is the youngest living president; he was born on August 4, 1961.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have four children, 11 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Once again, happy birthday, President Carter!
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