Teddy Roosevelt’s Fight Club

Bar Room Banter
Teddy Roosevelt’s Fight Club

There’s a difference between book smart and bar smart. You may not be book smart, but this series can make you seem educated and interesting from a barstool. So, belly up, mix yourself a glass of LMNT Recharge, and take notes as we look at how TR’s fight club prevented an assassination. Powered by LMNT.

Teddy Roosevelt could have wrote a pretty damn good autobiographical Dos Equis commercial for their “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign.

He spared a black bear’s life in Mississippi, inspiring a shopkeeper to create a stuffed animal that’s now in the National Toy Hall of Fame—the “Teddy Bear.”

He advocated and undertook aggressive foreign policy and was the father of the modern U.S. Navy, but still won the Nobel Peace Prize.

He led a secret boxing club that caused him to go blind in one eye, which later saved his life during an assassination attempt.

He is the most interesting man in…

Wait. Yes, you read that correctly. A fight club saved him from an assassination.

TR famously loved combat sports. He was on Harvard’s boxing team and once finished runner-up at an intramural tournament. He kept sparring after his college days as a way to stay fit. Before taking up residence at Pennsylvania Avenue, he formed boxing clubs and trained with professional fighters during his stint as commissioner of the New York City Police Department. Years later while TR was serving as New York’s governor, his state comptroller refused to OK a bill for a wrestling mat because it was considered “un-gubernatorial.”

Roosevelt’s shirt after the assassination attempt.

TR continued boxing well into his presidency, regularly challenging military aides and friends to join him in the ring. Most of his bouts as commander in chief were under control and rarely exceeded friendly sparring—or at least that’s what Teddy wanted people to believe.

“I do but little boxing because it seems rather absurd for a President to appear with a black eye or a swollen nose or a cut lip,” Roosevelt wrote in a letter to an Olympic games coordinator in 1903.

But a match between the 50-year-old president and 31-year-old aide Dan Tyler Moore in 1908 tells a different story. While “sparring” in the White House, Moore caught TR with such a strong blow to the head that it caused severe hemorrhaging, a detached retina, and eventually blindness.

“His doctors ordered him to stop at that point, but he kept it a secret,” said John Gable, executive director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, in an interview with The Chicago Tribune. “Only three or four of his closest confidants were ever aware that he had been blinded. They wanted to protect the identify of the other boxer as much as anything.”

Teddy already had poor vision that necessitated glasses, but the loss of sight from one eye amplified problems. Some historians credit this boxing accident for later saving his life.

As Roosevelt was campaigning for a third presidential term in 1912, saloon owner John Schrank had been planning his assassination. Schrank decided to strike in Milwaukee where TR would be delivering a speech just a month before the election. When Teddy stepped out of his hotel to head to the auditorium, Schrank fired a .38-caliber revolver that sent a bullet into the president’s chest.

Roosevelt’s speech after the assassination attempt.

It didn’t get far, though. The round got lodged in Roosevelt’s fourth rib after slowing down significantly as it passed through the president’s metal glasses, glasses case, and folded 50-page speech. Because Teddy’s eyesight was so poor, the oration was printed in larger-than-normal typeface, which added extra pages and bulk to his speech.

Roosevelt went on to deliver his 84-minute speech as planned, despite chest pain and a bloodied shirt. He opened the rally like this:

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet—there is where the bullet went through—and it probably saved me from it going into my heart.”

Doctors later determined it’d be too risky to remove the bullet, so Roosevelt carried it in his chest until he died in 1919. And although TR lost the election that year, he’d absolutely win our vote as the most interesting man in the world.

Feature graphic via Hunter Spencer.

Sign In or Create a Free Account

Access the newest seasons of MeatEater, save content, and join in discussions with the Crew and others in the MeatEater community.
Save this article