When we look back at moments in history, many of us look at the leaders who empowered us and shaped our culture. We also look at things like the wars we fought, diseases that plagued us, or any other large ripples in time that “defined” the history of our country. However, we seldom learn about the joy and the entertainment that everyday people experienced. Time has changed a great deal about the lifestyle of an American citizen, but the fun has never gone out of style. In celebration of Presidents' Day, we’d like to give a shout out to some of the most influential U.S. presidents and also celebrate the different events that brought us jubilance during each of their presidencies.
George Washington: 1789-1797
America was still in infancy when George Washington became the first president of the United States. The citizens of the newly formed America worked hard to build the country from the ground up, but there weren’t any established events during this time. The few leisure hours Americans had were filled with social gatherings and music. Many enjoyed social dancing in their communities. At night, members of the community would join together to practice traditional colonial dances, often held in taverns. Taverns became a popular place for people to socialize and they remain popular today in America. The nightlife scene has since evolved. Most nightclubs have replaced colonial jigs with twerking, whips, and nae naes but the truth remains the same: people love to drink, dance, and be merry!
Colonial Dancing at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Abraham Lincoln: 1861-1865
Abraham Lincoln’s presidency will always be thought of in conjunction with the Civil War. It was a hard time for America as the country was divided over issues of civil rights, slavery, and secession. However, even in these dark times of war, there were still a few events that filled the leisure time of Americans. Social dancing remained popular in cities across the U.S. as a way to bring people together. The circus was a huge hit for families as it traveled from town to town. In 1863, P.T. Barnum of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus promoted the wedding of his two attractions, Tom Thumb and Lavina Warren, who both stood at about 2 feet 9 inches tall. State and county fairs had also become popular. These fairs were similar to those we see today with vendors, carnival games, and performers scattered across the fairgrounds. The theatre was a very popular form of entertainment during Lincoln’s presidency. Even Lincoln himself would often attend performances during his leisure time. Unfortunately, as we were taught in history class, President Lincoln was assassinated during a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre by popular actor John Wilkes Booth.
Tom Thumb and Lavina Warren
Theodore Roosevelt: 1901-1909
The advances in the industrial revolution gave Americans much more leisure time. During Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency, events became more and more prevalent as people were looking for ways to fill their time with experiences. During this time, sporting events became more and more popular. The first Rose Bowl, World Series, and Tour de France all took place during Roosevelt’s term as president. It was a great time to experience sporting events as many world records were set, including one in 1904 set by Cy Young. Cy Young pitched a perfect game against the Philadelphia Athletics, ensuring that no opposing players stepped on base. The crowds went wild! In the world of college football, 18 players died in the 1905 season from injuries. Theodore Roosevelt met with the presidents of colleges including Yale and Harvard to encourage them to reevaluate and reform the game. This helped to shape football into the sport we know and love today. Strides were made in boxing as Jack Johnson became the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion. “The Galveston Giant” knocked Tommy Burns out of the top spot in 1908. The entertainment industry flourished during Roosevelt’s presidency. Barnum and Baileys and the Ringling Bros circuses combined to created “The Greatest Show on Earth.” This provided a fun experience for the whole family to enjoy as it traveled through America. Vaudeville performances started to pop up all over in clubs and venues. Vaudeville featured a wide variety of talented performers mostly specializing in dancing, singing, comedy, and often burlesque. Also taking the stage for the first time during this era were performances from the Ziegfeld Follies and the Babes in Toyland operetta. Two of the largest events during this time were the summer Olympics and the St. Louis World Fair. These two events actually happened at the same time in the same city! St. Louis hosted both of these massive events in 1904. Officially named The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the St. Louis World Fair was held from April 30, 1904 to December 1, 1904. This multi-month exposition showcased international manufacturers, the newest in automobiles and travel, and advances in science. The ice cream cone also made its debut at the St. Louis World Fair (thank goodness). The Olympics were held the summer of 1904 in St. Louis Missouri where 651 athletes from 12 countries came to compete. Unfortunately, because the Olympics and World Fair were held during the same time, the events of the Olympics became somewhat overshadowed by the chaos of the World Fair.
Automobile Parade at the St. Louis World Fair
John F. Kennedy: 1961-1963
Unfortunately, Kennedy’s presidential term was cut short during a parade in Dallas, TX. However, in the three years as president, there were many events for people to experience. The early sixties laid a lot of the groundwork for the pop culture we know and love today. The number of music concerts began to increase as popular music became more available to the general public. Bands like The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, and The Animals were all formed during Kennedy’s presidency. Bob Dylan made his debut at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 as a guest of Joan Baez. He would later become one of the most influential folk singers of all time. The music industry was evolving to support different genres and artists. Motown music was also very popular in the early sixties with performances popping up all over in clubs and theatres as singers and musicians like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Dave Brubek took the stage. The Motor Town Revue left its residency in Detroit during 1963 to tour the east coast featuring popular Motown artists including The Supremes, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and The Marvelettes. In the world of sports, basketball games had become popular events as the NBA had been established about a decade earlier. During Kennedy’s presidency, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single game for the Philadelphia Warriors, creating a 169-147 victory against the New York Knicks. In 1963, Sonny Liston floored Floyd Patterson 3 times in the Las Vegas Convention Center and Patterson was counted out at 2 minutes and 10 seconds into the fight. Patterson was allowed a rematch within the same year, but the rematch only lasted 4 seconds longer than the first fight. Liston remained victorious.
Bob Dylan at Newport Folk Festival
The early sixties were also a time for civil rights and political movers and shakers. Protests, peaceful marches, and sit-ins began to spread across the country as citizens joined in the fight for equal rights for all races and genders. These short years helped to provide a foundation for the world we know and love today.
Barack Obama: 2009-2017
Obama’s presidential term occurred during an exciting time. Advances in technology have given us more leisure time, made it possible for us to easily find, share, and promote events, and have given us the tools to put on better events. In this day and age, there are countless events for you to attend. The lists of summer festivals, sporting events, educational events, conferences, expositions, concerts, theatre performances, etc. are endless. Events are where we connect with others over similar interests and experiences. These experiences help to shape our culture and allow us to have FUN in this crazy world we live in. I could try to list all the events that occurred during Obama’s presidency but most of you reading this lived through that time and have a good idea of what events were popular. Instead, I’ll list a few of the events that I’ve had the pleasure of attending during Obama’s presidency. In 2009 I experienced Bite of Las Vegas, which is a large food and music festival showcasing the best in Las Vegas restaurants. This was my first real experience with a music festival. This is also where the band Imagine Dragons had a big break in Las Vegas as they took the stage to sub in for Train, who had gotten sick before the show. I love music festivals and try to attend as many as possible. Extreme Thing was another one of my favorite events to attend when I lived in Las Vegas. Extreme Thing is a music festival featuring different subgenres of rock bands plus they also feature extreme competitions for skate, BMX, and wrestling. During Obama’s presidency, I was also able to attend many theatrical performances including The Nutcracker, The Crucible, A Christmas Carol, Swan Lake, Phantom of the Opera, and Mystere by Cirque du Solei. Each performance was magnificent in its own way. My all time favorite event that I went to during Obama’s presidential term was, however, the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing. The atmosphere, the activities, and the competitions they have on Huntington Beach for that event are the perfect way to spend a week of your summer. Over the years I’ve also loved attending town celebrations and fairs, art exhibits, and expos. The number of events available to attend has been so numerous, that I haven’t been able to go to all the ones I’ve wanted to go to, simply because there is not enough time. This is truly an exciting era for events and experiences.
Vans U.S. Open 2015
Events help to shape American history and culture! Don’t spend your days sitting on your couch. Instead, find events near you and create experiences with your friends, family, or even complete strangers. Experiences are greater than things! So, be a part of history and go do something.
We’d love to hear about your favorite event! Comment below and tell us your experience!