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Five Interesting Facts About John F. Kennedy (aka JFK) That You Probably Didn't Know

Updated on June 3, 2012

John F. Kennedy -- also known simply as JFK -- is often regarded as one of the most charismatic figures of the 20th Century. The high points of his short but eventful life are well-known. Beng born into a prominent Boston family in 1917. Graduating from Harvard University. Joining the Navy and having his PT boat sunk in World War II. Becoming the youngest man elected President of the United States. The Bay of Pigs. The Berlin Crisis. The Cuban Missile Crisis. And of course his tragic assassination on November 22, 1963.

What follows are some fun and interesting facts about JFK that are less well-known..


1. His First Public Debate with Nixon Took Place Thirteen Years Before Their Presidential Match-Up

Though often portrayed as one of American history's great rivalries, the relationship between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was actually quite friendly. Both had been Navy men, and they were about the same age. They both entered Congress at the same time, in 1947.

In April of that year, both Congressmen traveled to McKeesport, Pennsylvania, to debate the Taft-Hartley Act at the request of the local Chamber of Commerce. The venue was the Penn-McKee Hotel (set to receive a state historical marker in 2012). When the debate was over, they talked about sports over a meal of burgers at a local diner. On the way back home they shared a compartment on the Capitol Limited, with Nixon winning the coin toss for the lower berth. According to Nixon, they ended up spending most of the night talking about politics, and he joked that the coin toss was one of the few match-ups against Kennedy he ever won.

2. He Failed to Carry Hyannis Port -- or Cape Cod -- in 1960

Though long associated with Cape Cod and Hyannis Port in particular, JFK was really only a summer resident there. His main home was in Boston. And even though the Cape was glad to receive the national attention when he ran for president, its claims of him as a local boy made good were tenuous at best.

Barnstable County, furthermore, which encompasses all of Cape Cod, was also traditionally Republican. It had voted for Wendell Willkie in 1940 and for Thomas E. Dewey twice. While Kennedy did manage to win Provincetown, Nixon took most of the other areas of the Cape, among them the precinct that included Hyannis Port, which Nixon won by over 300 votes. Overall, Nixon carried the county, winning 20,000 votes to Kennedy's 12,000.

3. He Studied at Princeton and Stanford in Addition to Harvard

JFK was, of course, a Harvard man. But before that, after studying briefly at the London School of Economics, he entered Princeton University in October of 1935. One of the reasons that he did so was that his father had been pushing Harvard and JFK wanted to demonstrate his independence. He also knew some buddies there from his prep school, Choate.

He did not do well at Princeton. His grades were poor, no doubt in part due to the university's proximity to New York City, where JFK and his friends often went looking for a good time. He may also have failed to do well because he didn't particularly like the place and was sick much of the time. He eventually pulled out due to health reasons (and ultimately getting misdiagnosed as having leukemia) after having been a Princeton man for a mere six weeks.

JFK eventually graduated from Harvard, of course, and shortly afterward, in September 1940, entered the Stanford Business School in Palo Alto, California, with the idea of going into business law. He told a reporter for the Stanford Daily that his plan was to go to Stanford for a year, then enter Yale Law School. The plan ultimately got scuttled when he got drafted late in October and joined the Navy.

4. He Worked Briefly as a Newspaper Reporter

JFK's political writings are well known. He published Profiles in Courage, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1955. Before that, his Harvard senior thesis became Why England Slept, which sold 80,000 copies.

Less well-known, however, is the fact that he was actually employed as a newspaper reporter for a while, having a byline and being expected to file stories. After his discharge from the Navy in 1945, JFK got a job working for the Chicago Herald-American, covering the negotiations in San Francisco that led to the formation of the United Nations. The idea, according to his editor, was to report on the proceedings from the point of view of an ex-military man. Kennedy covered the meetings capably, providing his insights into, among other things, the behavior of the Russian delegation. But several of his friends doubted that he truly wanted to go into newspaper work as a career. Rather, they saw his reporting as a vehicle for sharpening his political acumen..

5. He Was Not That Big of a Fan of the Arts

Even though he has a performing arts center named for him, JFK was not a huge fan of the arts. He was more of a sports guy who loved playing football with his family, and enjoyed yachting and golf. As for classical music, he didn't really like it all that much and didn't really know very much about it. After Pablo Casals' celebrated performance at the White House, JFK admitted to a colleague that he had to be told what the fabled cellist had played.

Jackie was the real arts-lover in the family. She spoke French fluently and had been educated at the Sorbonne. But JFK respected her tastes and when she wanted to do something classy or cultural Jack gave his approval. One artsy thing he did apparently enjoy, however, was Broadway music, which is part of the reason why his name is associated with Camelot. Most of that association, however, was Jackie's attempt at building a legacy for him in the weeks after his assassination.

Johnny, we hardly knew you.


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