US Presidents As Children, Described By People Who Knew Them

Have you ever wondered what presidents were like as youngsters? Presidents' children can sometimes cause trouble, but how were US presidents themselves described as kids? Stories from when these leaders were children and teenagers remind us that, although they seem larger than life, they're really just people who grew up like the rest of us. Well, maybe not exactly like the rest of us. Much of what's been said about young US presidents is both relatable and telling when you look at what they went on to accomplish.

Photo: Cezary Piwowarczyk / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

  • Donald Trump Was "Headstrong And Determined"
    Photo: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    As a young boy, Trump, known as Donny, "impressed classmates with his athleticism, shenanigans and refusal to acknowledge mistakes, even one so trivial as misidentifying a popular professional wrestler... He [insisted] wrestler Antonino Rocca’s name was 'Rocky Antonino.'"

    From military school to the business world, he left an impression wherever he went. Ann Trees, a teacher at the school Trump attended in 7th grade, remembered him as "headstrong and determined. He would sit with his arms folded with this look on his face—I use the word surly—almost daring you to say one thing or another that wouldn't settle with him."

    • Age: 76
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York
  • Barack Obama Was "Always Open To Learning Something New"
    Photo: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Barack Obama moved to Indonesia with his mother and stepfather in 1969. Obama was a loyal friend according to his schoolmate Rully Dasaad. Dasaad recalled a story from their youth: 

    There was a naughty young boy who missed Barry with the ball so he took a small stone from the playing field and threw it and hit Barry's head, which started bleeding. I remember Barry just went quiet—his mum had taught him not to fight. He was one of those kids you could tell was brought up with a lot of love and affection and so he was never angry or nasty.

    The cultural adjustment to Indonesia was difficult, but Obama learned the language quickly. He received a lesson in local cuisine one day at lunch. Dasaad remembered: 

    Barry was the only one in the class who had bread in his lunch box—the rest of us had traditional Indonesian snacks. There's one called kepan... [It's] sticky rice and desiccated coconut, which you have to dip in this very strong chili sauce. It's hot even for us. But Barry was very curious. He tried it and burned his mouth, and he was saying: 'It's hot, it's hot.' You can see he was always open to learning something new.

    • Age: 61
    • Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • George W. Bush Was "Jokey, Affable.. [And] Genuinely Nice"
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    A member of Yale University's class of 1968, George W. Bush wasn't the most popular guy, but he was apparently a memorable one. Charles McGrath was a student at Yale at the same time as Bush. McGrath didn't know Bush personally, but he said,

    I knew who he was. Everyone did. He was just as his biographers have said: jokey, affable, a genuinely nice guy. I used to see him on the rare occasions I visited his fraternity, Deke—where the main attraction was the weekend fistfights that used to erupt with almost clockwork regularity between two testosterone-addled, football-playing brothers.

    There are a number of wild stories from George W. Bush's fraternity days. He branded pledges with coat hangers, may have been arrested for using cocaine, and was once booked for drunk driving.

    • Age: 76
    • Birthplace: New Haven, Connecticut
  • When Bill Clinton attended Hot Springs High School in Arkansas, his schoolmates were annoyed that he never broke the rules. One of Clinton's friends, Carolyn Wilson, remembers getting frustrated with Clinton. She yelled at him, "Don't you ever do anything wrong? You're a teenager... you're supposed to do things wrong!"

    Described as "disgustingly responsible," Clinton was beyond straight-laced, never doing anything worse than throwing acorns at cars, according to friend David Leopoulos. Their antics were short-lived, however, when one man stopped his car and chased the boys away. The only other mischief Leopoulos recalls were a few prank phone calls to the local brothel.

    • Age: 76
    • Birthplace: Hope, Arkansas
  • Jimmy Carter Was Pretty Forgettable
    Photo: Department of Defense. Department of the Navy. Naval Photographic Center / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    When asked about Jimmy Carter as a young man, none of his former classmates could remember anything particularly interesting about him. He was liked, helpful, and had a good smile, but they didn't recall any political, religious, or personal details about his life, nor could they remember anyone he dated or befriended. Even when he married Rosalynn in 1946, soon after his high school graduation, none of his classmates were present. 

    • Age: 98
    • Birthplace: Plains, Georgia
  • Gerald Ford Was "Hard-Working And Totally Dependable"
    Photo: David Hume Kennerly / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    As a young man, Gerald Ford demonstrated a lot of athletic ability, something that came to characterize his entire life, although it wasn't always clear during his political career. One of Ford's coaches, Clifford Gettings, recalled Ford as a "hard-working kid and totally dependable." Ford, the center on the football team, knew every player's assignment on the field. When he played defense, he made a large number of tackles. According to Gettings, when Ford played it was like "having a coach on the field." 

    • Age: Dec. at 93 (1913-2006)
    • Birthplace: Omaha, Nebraska