Did William Howard Taft Really Get Stuck In A Bathtub?

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William Howard Taft was the 27th president of the United States and held office from 1909 until 1913. Taft followed the legendary Theodore Roosevelt as president. Roosevelt had served as Taft's mentor and been his good friend but was so disappointed in his former protege's presidency that he broke away from the Republican party to form the short-lived Bull-Moose party in order to oppose Taft's reelection, as reported by the University of Virginia's Miller Center. This had the unintended effect of creating an opening for Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who ended up winning the 1912 election. 

Another interesting fact about William Taft is that it was actually his lifelong goal to serve as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, a position he filled from 1921 until 1930. To this day, he is the only person to have served as both president and chief justice and it's hard to imagine anyone else ever repeating such an achievement. However, despite these unusual pieces of history, William Taft is best known for being the fattest president ever elected to the office and for an apocryphal story in which he got stuck in a bathtub. 

In 2014, Mac Barnett published the children's book "President Taft Is Stuck In The Bath." Despite glossing over the fact that the story isn't true with the line "Of course, many people say Taft never got stuck in the bath," per The New York Times, the tale is widely accepted as fact and has been for a long time. On the book's Amazon page, the tub incident is compared to actual historical events such as Washington crossing the Delaware and Lincoln saving the Union.

William Howard Taft's tub incident: historical slapstick or fatphobic nonsense?

As discussed in The New York Times, constantly pointing out William Howard Taft's weight and repeating the story of how he got stuck in the bathtub teaches people that it's fine to laugh at fat people. The book "President Taft Is Stuck In The Bath" even doubles down on the absurdity and humiliation of the imaginary predicament by inventing such details as the secretary of agriculture suggesting Taft be smeared with butter in order to facilitate his removal from the tub. 

So how did this rumor get started in the first place? Apparently, Taft, who weighed 354 pounds at the time of his inauguration, was a fan of taking baths and had an extra-large one installed at the White House as well as on several ships he used to travel internationally. Not only was a photograph of four men who installed the White House tub sitting inside it comfortably circulated widely, but in 1915, the Times published a story reporting that "the portly ex-President" had made a tub overflow after stepping into it during a stay in New Jersey. Furthermore, Taft was known for breaking up a porcelain price-fixing ring during his presidency; the ring was given the nickname "Bathtub Trust," further cementing Taft's affiliation with bathtubs. 

Finally, per historian Jeffrey Rosen, jokes about and references to Taft's weight were common during his time in the public eye; in fact, Taft often worked them into his own speeches. However, there are no historical archival references or newspaper articles to any sort of incident in which Taft got stuck in a bathtub.