The only 20th-century president carved into Mount Rushmore, Teddy Roosevelt turned the presidency into his "bully pulpit," significantly expanding federal executive power. A progressive Republican, he used his popularity to launch the modern conservation movement, build the Panama Canal, and broker a treaty in the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese War, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The second child in an old New York Dutch family, Teddy suffered from asthma and was extremely near-sighted. He responded with a strenuous exercise regime that included hunting and ranching in the Dakotas. His legendary triumph over ill health shaped his lifelong energetic masculinity.
A stand-out at Harvard University, Roosevelt studied law but soon turned to politics. A year after marrying Alice Lee, the brash young Republican was elected to New York's assembly and joined the National Guard.
Plunged into depression by the deaths of his mother and wife on the same day in 1884, Roosevelt took time to write a well-received history of the War of 1812 and then, as commissioner of the new U.S. Civil Service, won appointments from presidents of both parties.
Soon happily remarried to childhood friend Edith Carrow, Roosevelt reconnected with his political base as New York City's police commissioner but quickly returned to Washington as assistant secretary of the navy in William McKinley's first administration.
When the Spanish-American War erupted in 1898, Roosevelt, already an outspoken imperialist, quit his navy post to muster 1,000 fighters for his 1st Volunteer Cavalry. These "Rough Riders" won a crucial battle at Cuba's San Juan Hill in which Lt. Col. Roosevelt suffered minor wounds but became this "splendid little war's" national celebrity.
Months later Roosevelt narrowly won New York's governorship. As McKinley's reelection campaign approached, state political enemies were happy to propose Roosevelt's promotion to the harmless job of vice president.
McKinley strategist Mark Hanna considered Roosevelt a "madman" but reluctantly agreed. In September 1901 McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz at Buffalo's Pan American Exposition. When he succumbed on September 14, Roosevelt became the 26th president and youngest ever at 42.
"TR" soon put his own stamp on the presidency. That October he invited African-American leader Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, drawing a storm of protest. Facing a 1902 coal strike, Roosevelt made labor history by insisting that owners and mine workers negotiate. He followed his secret acquisition of Panama Canal territory with his Roosevelt Corollary, restating the 1823 Monroe Doctrine to justify military intervention in the hemisphere.
Promoting a "Square Deal" for all Americans, Roosevelt easily won his own term in 1904. Even Democratic cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, husband of Teddy's niece Eleanor, voted for him. Roosevelt created the National Forest Service and placed 230 million acres, including the Grand Canyon, under federal protection. In 1906 he signed the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act.
Acclaimed as a trustbuster, Roosevelt used the long-ignored Sherman Anti-Trust Act to rein in dishonest business practices, but historians still argue over whether he effectively brought big business to heel.
Disappointed in his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, Roosevelt sought the Republican nomination in 1912, creating his own Progressive (Bull Moose) Party when rebuffed. Roosevelt placed ahead of Taft by winning a third-party record of 88 electoral votes but thereby assured Democrat Woodrow Wilson's election.
In failing health but still rambunctious, the former president advocated U.S. entry into World War I on the Allied side and offered Wilson his military services. Denied, he considered leading a Canadian unit but settled for promoting War Bonds. Three of Roosevelt's four sons served in the war; his youngest, Quentin, a fighter pilot, died in battle in July 1918.
Generally considered America's first truly modern political figure, Roosevelt died at 60 of a coronary embolism in January 1919. He is buried in an Oyster Bay cemetery near his beloved Sagamore Hill family compound.