Abraham Lincoln: Biography, Facts & Things You Didn't Know

By | February 10, 2021

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President Abraham Lincoln. (Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

If you went to elementary school in the United States, you probably already know the basic facts about Abraham Lincoln, but there was a lot more to Honest Abe than what we learned from our social studies textbooks. History teachers often fail to mention, for example, that Lincoln likely suffered from depression as well as a disorder that made him so tall and lanky, considered sending freed slaves back to Africa, and had a terrific sense of humor.

Lincoln's Early Years

Illinois calls itself the "Land of Lincoln," but Abraham Lincoln was born in a tiny log cabin in Kentucky near Hodgenville. When the young Abe was seven, his father lost much of his land in a title dispute, and the family moved to Perry County, Indiana. Shortly thereafter, when Lincoln was nine, his mother fell victim to "milk sickness," a mysterious illness that swept through the Ohio River Valley in the early 1800s. It was later determined that many cows in the region had eaten white snakeroot, poisoning their milk, but at the time, nobody could explain how Nancy Lincoln died.

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Abraham Lincoln's U.S. patent 6,469 tag. (David and Jessie/Wikimedia Commons)

He Had Some Interesting Hobbies

In 1848, the steamboat on which Lincoln was traveling home from Washington ran aground in shallow water and he had to help unload the cargo from the ship so it could be freed from the low shoals. He must have been really annoyed by this, because he decided to design a system of air chambers that could be attached to the sides of ships to keep them afloat in shallow water. In 1849, Lincoln applied for and received a patent for his invention, Patent No. 6,469. He remains the only U.S. president to have held a patent.

He may not have looked it, but Lincoln was incredibly strong, an attribute he used (in addition to his long limbs) to become an accomplished wrestler in his youth. Out of more than 300 matches, he lost only one. According to legend, Lincoln was once so hyped up after a victory that he taunted the crowd, "If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns!" No one took him up on the offer, and though Lincoln's wrestling career was short lived, he earned a spot in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.