Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

It should come as little surprise that, for the third time in a row, historians agreed that Abraham Lincoln was the best US president.


For C-SPAN’s third Presidential Historians Survey, nearly 100 historians and biographers rated 43 US presidents on 10 qualities of presidential leadership: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision, pursued equal justice for all, and performance within the context of his times.

Scores in each category were then averaged, and the 10 categories were given equal weighting in determining the presidents’ total scores.

Notable top presidents include George Washington at No. 2, Thomas Jefferson at No. 7, and Barack Obama at No. 12.

While some historians weren’t shocked that Obama didn’t rank higher overall on the list — “That Obama came in at No. 12 his first time out is quite impressive,” Douglas Brinkley of Rice University said — others were surprised by his lower-than-expected leadership rankings, including No. 7 in moral authority and No. 8 in economic management.

“But, of course, historians prefer to view the past from a distance, and only time will reveal his legacy,” Edna Greene Medford of Howard University said.

Here are the top 20 presidents, according to historians surveyed by C-SPAN.

20. George H. W. Bush

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: international relations, No. 8

19. John Adams

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: moral authority, No. 11

18. Andrew Jackson

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
Portrait of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States by Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl.

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 7

Related: The 17 most bizarre jobs of American presidents

17. James Madison

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: moral authority, No. 9

16. William McKinley Jr.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: relations with Congress, No. 10

15. Bill Clinton

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: economic management, No. 3

14. James K. Polk

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
(Portrait: George Peter Alexander Healy)

Best leadership quality and rank: crisis leadership and administrative skills, both No. 9

13. James Monroe

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: international relations, No. 7

More: These photos show what our veteran presidents looked like in uniform

12. Barack Obama

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Best leadership quality and rank: pursued equal justice for all, No. 3

11. Woodrow Wilson

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
(Library of Congress)

Best leadership quality and rank: vision, No. 7

10. Lyndon B. Johnson

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: relations with Congress, No. 1

9. Ronald Reagan

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 5

8. John F. Kennedy

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 6

7. Thomas Jefferson

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: relations with Congress, vision, both No. 5

6. Harry S. Truman

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
(United States Library of Congress.)

Best leadership quality and rank: crisis leadership, pursued equal justice for all, both No. 4

Also read: This is how presidents-elect learn about covert operations before they’re sworn in

5. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: moral authority, No. 4

4. Theodore Roosevelt

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 2

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, international relations, both No. 1

2. George Washington

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Best leadership quality and rank: economic management, moral authority, performance within the context of his times, all No. 1

1. Abraham Lincoln

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
Photo taken by one of Lincoln’s law students around 1846.

Best leadership quality and rank: crisis leadership, administrative skills, vision, pursued equal justice for all, all No. 1

MIGHTY HISTORY

The little cruiser with a battleship’s guns

It first entered Navy service in February, 1895, with some doubters mocking its excessive armament while Americans hoped that its speed, steel, and guns would allow it to survive while outnumbered if under heavy attack. Instead, the small but mighty USS Olympia slaughtered an enemy fleet, bombarded shores, and escorted convoys during its 27-year career.


Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

The USS Olympia, a fast cruiser with heavy armament.

(U.S. Navy)

In the late 1800s, the U.S. Navy wrestled with what the service should do and what ships it needed for the 1900s. The battle of the Merrimack and Monitor decisively proved that wooden ships were on their way out, but the rise of steel ships showed that the iron vessels made in earnest during and after the Civil War wouldn’t survive either.

Meanwhile, sails were the efficient and cheap method of propelling a ship, but it was clear that steam gave commanders more flexibility and more options in combat.

And the Navy needed ships to secure American shores even as a constrained budgets made ship-building tough. Some presidents were already looking at using the Navy for power projection as well.

So, the Navy had to decide whether it should have lots of cheap ships, lots of coastal defenses, steam or sail power, all while keeping power projection a feasible option.

USS OLYMPIA “The Ship”

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The Navy figured out a plan address all the changes and requirements: A new fleet of steel vessels that relied on steam power but still had masts for sails for long voyages when the winds were favorable. Because the U.S. couldn’t spend as much on ship hulls as potential European attackers, each ship would be heavily armed and as fast as possible.

This resulted in cruisers that could hopefully run ahead of enemy fleets, pelting the lead of the enemy ship with shot after shot while staying out of range of the rest of the enemy fleet. (Video game players do this today against powerful enemies and call it, “kiting.”)

A jewel of this new fleet was C-6, an armored cruiser scheduled to first float in 1892 and commission a few years later. This ship would become the USS Olympia, named for the capital of America’s newest state at the time, Washington.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

The USS Olympia in front of a column of cruisers circa 1900.

(Francis Christian Muller)

The Olympia fit all the qualifications of the new naval plan. It could steam at over 21 knots while most of its potential enemies topped out at 18. It had four 8-inch guns, two in a single turret forward and two in a turret aft. These big guns were the primary armament, but the ship also had ten 5-inch guns. A few years after launch, it also got Gatling guns and sidearms for potential boarding parties.

Some naval observers around the world critiqued the design, saying that it was either an overarmed cruiser or a too-tiny battleship. But these heavily armed cruisers were designed for their own mission, and they could outrun attackers while picking them off with their larger guns.

The defensive war Olympia was ostensibly designed for never came, though. Instead, it was sent to the Pacific where it became the flagship of Commodore George Dewey before the USS Maine, a larger and even better armed ship, blew up in Havana Harbor. While the explosion was later found to have likely been caused by an ammo handling accident or an overheated bulkhead that touched gunpowder stores, the U.S. blamed it on a Spanish attack at the time.

In response to the Maine’s destruction, Dewey and his squadron were sent to Manila Bay to attack the Spanish fleet there. The hope was that the ships, protected by steel and heavily armed, could rush past the guns of the Spanish coastal defenses and engage the Spanish fleet with the large guns.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

The USS Olympia leads the attack against the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila.

(Murat Halstead, 1898)

Dewey sent his fleet towards the bay in two columns steaming behind the USS Olympia. Dewey was holding his fire until sunlight and reconnaissance revealed the enemy fleet, even though this allowed shore gunners to try to spot and hit the American ships in the darkness. A sudden fire on the revenue cutter exposed it, and a cruiser and the cutter were forced to return fire.

But the rest of the fleet held its fire until Dewey saw the fleet, crept in range, and got the angles right. Spanish rounds were raining against the steel hulls of the American ships, and gunners crouched behind the paltry armor and prayed for safety until Dewey, on the Olympia, calmly told the ship’s captain, “You may fire when ready, Mr. Gridley.”

The American fleet opened up and slaughtered the decrepit Spanish fleet, sinking all vessels and capturing the port in mere hours. America now owned the capital of the Philippines and would get the islands in the peace treaty that came later. Nine Americans had been wounded while the fleet had killed 161 Spanish fighters and wounded 210.

The Olympia and Dewey became famous, and the ship went on to serve in World War I as a convoy escort. And, in 1918, Olympia bombarded the shore during an amphibious assault at Murmansk in the Russian Civil War.

But the era of the Dreadnought had come, and in the years following World War I, it became clear that the Olympia was no longer enough ship to compete with enemy combatants. And America, flush with prestige after World War I and possessing overseas colonies from the Spanish-American War, had the money to build a larger, more powerful fleet.

In 1922, Olympia was decommissioned, and the hull was slated for the scrap heap, but activists pushed for the ship to be turned into a museum. It took decades of wrangling before Philadelphia donors got the money to return Olympia to the 1898 configuration and moored the ship in the city’s waterfront in 1958.

Since then, the ship has hosted visitors who wanted to walk the weathered boards of its deck or see the steam engines that made its speed possible. The Flagship Olympia Foundation is trying to raise the money necessary to dry dock and overhaul the ship. It’s already been on the water since 1892, and could have decades more in it after repairs.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Stormin’ Norman’s Presser about Operation Desert Storm

In 1991, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf knew that victory over Iraq was imminent. Operation Desert Storm lasted just 42 days. Once it ended, Schwarzkopf gave “The Mother of All News Conferences” across the street from his command headquarters in Saudi Arabia. The presser is lauded as being one of the most comprehensive and inviting news conferences ever given by a general of the US Army.

Military History

Gen. Schwarzkopf led the coalition forces during the Gulf War. But that wasn’t his first experience with combat. He was also a battalion commander during the Vietnam War. During Vietnam, Schwarzkopf earned three Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and the Legion of Merit. He also served as a commander during the Invasion of Grenada in 1983. 

Operation Desert Storm

In 1988, Schwarzkopf assumed CENTCOM command. Initially, he was tasked with defending Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression. So, he set out to create and strengthen diplomatic relations with both countries. However, talks failed.

So Schwarzkopf quickly realized something else would need to be done to ensure peace in the region. He planned and led Operation Desert Storm. ODS was an aggressive air campaign that was followed by a grueling 100-hour ground operation. This tactic helped the coalition forces achieve victory over Iraq. Kuwait was liberated and Schwarzkopf decided that the best thing to do would be to explain to the world’s press how the battle was won. Units activated for ODS included the 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne, along with the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Cavalry. These units were positioned behind the Saudi Arabian task force. Forces were deployed to the region on August 7.

As soon as it was clear Operation Desert Storm was a success, Gen. Schwarzkopf led a presser where he made good on his promise to provide information on how he constructed his mission plan and what the strategy was behind it. During the hour-long press conference, Schwarzkopf gave the following rundown of the mission. 

“What we started out against were a couple hundred thousand Iraqis that were in the Kuwait theater of operation,” Schwarzkopf briefed.

Breaking it down battle by battle

By the middle of November, the decision to increase the number of ground troops was made, in part because of an increase in Iraqi forces to the area. 

“We made a very deliberate decision to align all of those forces within the boundary looking north toward Kuwait,” Schwarzkopf briefed, “… so it looked like they were all against directly on the Iraqi positions.”

Adding to that was a very active and very known naval presence in the Gulf. Schwarzkopf said one of the reasons he made sure that the naval presence was so widely known was because it was obvious that the Iraqis were concerned about a water-based attack.

The hour-long brief given by Gen. Schwarzkopf is considered one of the most detailed and comprehensive military news conferences because of the depth and detail that he provided during the presser. 

In his cadet picture from Bordentown Military Institute, a ten-year-old Schwarzkopf isn’t smiling. Apparently, he flat out refused and instead, frowned sternly.

“Some day when I become a general, I want people to know that I’m serious.”

“Someday when I become a general, I want people to know that I’m serious.”

For everyone attending the Mother of All Press Conferences, that message was received loud and clear. 

Gen. Schwarzkopf died in 2012.    

MIGHTY HISTORY

A lame cow sparked a war that ended Native life on the plains

In the last part of the 19th Century, the U.S. Army’s chief enemy was the scores of Native American tribes who still roamed America’s Great Plains and dominated the American Southwest, among other places. As sporadic attacks against settlers in those regions increased, the U.S. government decided it had to act. By the dawn of the 20th Century most of the tribes had capitulated and resigned themselves to their reservations.

And it all started with a lame cow.


Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

Lameness describes an injury to the cows foot that adversely affects its life.

A cow can become lame for any number of reasons, such as a toe abnormality, something getting embedded in its hoof, or even just walking long distances regularly. When a cow’s hoof becomes bruised or worn down, the animal spends more time laying down and tends to eat less, adversely affecting its condition. A cow with this condition passed through Fort Laramie, Wyoming one day in 1855 along with a group of Mormon immigrants.

While the group of settlers rested at Fort Laramie, their lame old cow wandered off by itself. Eventually, it came across a group of Mniconjou tribesmen who were waiting for an annuity from the U.S. government. It was late, the men were starving and had no means to procure food for themselves. Naturally, once the cow was in sight, it became dinner.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

The cow was allegedly worth four dollars, but when the Natives tried to trade a good horse for the lame cow (the one they already ate), the offer was rejected. Instead, the settlers demanded for the cow. At first, the Army was willing to brush the incident off as trivial and stupid, but the officer of the post was no fan of the Indians. He set out with some 30 troops and departed for one of the Indian Camps to confront them about the cow. After brief words were exchanged by a drunken translator that was also really bad at his job, the soldiers began to fire into the Indians.

The Indians fought back. By the end of it, the leader of the Lakota was dead along with all the Army soldiers. The Army retaliated by gathering 600 troops and assaulting the Lakota where they lived. The Plains Wars just began in earnest. The Army struck a number of tribes over the next few years, as President Ulysses S. Grant decided he’d had enough of the natives and it was time to pony up the resources to get them onto reservations.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

All because of one lame cow.

The fighting began with the Lakota, then came the Cheyenne, the Kiowa, Apache, Arapaho, and eventually, even the dreaded Comanche tribe were systematically subdued by the Army and forced onto reservations. One by one the tribes were forced to abandon their traditional lands and ways of life, for life on the reservations. Most of the Indians never received anything promised by the government and fought on until they were forced to capitulate.

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 lesser-known Marine Corps tanks


Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
M1917s lined up for inspection in China. (USMC photo)

1. M1917 Light Tank

Originally referred to as the “Six-ton Special Tractor”, the M1917 was America’s first mass-produced tank. Built under license as a near-copy of the French Renault FT-17, the tank was meant to accompany the American Expeditionary Force to France in WWI. However, production was not fast enough and the first tanks arrived in Europe just days before the armistice.

Armed with either a Browning .30-caliber machine gun or a French 37mm Puteaux one-pounder infantry cannon, the tanks were crewed by the Light Tank Platoon USMC out of Quantico. After extensive training with the tanks in the states, the platoon was sent to China for a tour of duty in 1927.

Officially assigned to protect the Peking-Tientsin railway, the Marine tankers saw no action in China. Instead, they performed limited maneuvers, went on good-will shows and publicity parades, and stood inspections. However, despite limited employment, the M1917 did set the foundation for the Marine Corps’ future amphibious armor doctrine that would be so crucial in the Pacific islands during WWII.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
A Satan on Saipan. (USMC photo)

2. M3A1 “Satan” Flame Tank

Japanese concrete bunkers proved to be imposing obstacles to Marines in the Pacific during WWII. Though flamethrowers were effective at neutralizing the bunkers, the short range of the weapon system meant that the operator had to get as close as possible to his target. As a result, the average life expectancy of a flamethrower operator on the battlefield was just five minutes.

Rather than expose Marines wearing what was essentially a bomb on their backs, the Corps began to experiment with the concept of flamethrowers mounted in armored vehicles in 1943. The first iteration saw the flamethrower mounted in the pistol port of an M3 Light Tank. However, this gave the flamethrower a limited field of fire and the weapon was placed in the bow turret instead.

Still based on the M3 Stuart Light Tank, the Satan was one of the first flamethrower tanks in the Marine Corps arsenal. With the flamethrower in the bow turret, the gunner held the fuel tanks between his knees. While it wasn’t exactly a comfort to have such a volatile piece of equipment in such a sensitive area, the operator was at least behind the armor of a tank, albeit light. Satan Flame Tanks saw action with the Marine Corps on Saipan and Tinian.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
A ramped up M48 Patton tank in Vietnam. (Jack Butcher)

3. Artillery Tanks

Improvise, adapt and overcome; Marines make do. The hard-chargers of the United States Marine Corps are famed for their ability to create clever solutions to otherwise impossible problems on the battlefield, and the tankers are no exception. In Korea and Vietnam, when dedicated indirect fire assets like mortars or artillery guns weren’t available, Marines moved earth and ramped their tanks up to rain fire down on their enemies.

The tanks were driven into the ramped pits on a sharp incline and their guns were raised so that they could fire longer distances between enemy lines. Of course, this method of fire delivery wasn’t terribly accurate. Rather, the tank artillery was used more fore area effect harassing fire. Still, the unconventional use of equipment by the Marines highlights their ingenuity.

That is a point that those who lament the loss of Marine Corps tanks can hold on to. Impressive as they are, the tanks are just equipment. The warfighter, the Marine, is the true lethal tool that makes America’s enemies reconsider a violent course of action. Tanks or no tanks, no one in their right mind wants to be in a fight with a United States Marine.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Relatives of Hamilton and Burr fought the famous duel 200 years later

Hamilton and Burr are now friends. More accurately, the descendants of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr are. Burr shot Hamilton in what has become probably the most famous duel in American history — and now you can watch their five-time great-grandchildren reenact the event.


The two Founding Fathers of the United States drew down on each other on July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, New Jersey. It was rumored that Hamilton, formerly the first Secretary of the Treasury, said some disparaging things about Burr during a society dinner. After a series of strongly-worded letters were exchanged and Hamilton refused to apologize, the two decided to settle it the very old-fashioned way.

Burr wasn’t the same after that.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
Neither was Alexander Hamilton.

Burr, a former Vice-President, fled the site and infamously tried to raise a personal army and cut out a piece of the nascent United States for himself after sparking a war with Spain in Florida. President Jefferson got wind of the scheme and had him arrested for treason. Burr was acquitted and lived in self-imposed exile in Europe for awhile. Alexander Hamilton died the day after the duel.

And Vice-Presidents stopped shooting people.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
Just kidding.

If you’re ever interested in seeing just how the Hamilton-Burr Duel went down, the good news is that now you can. In 2004, 200 years later, Douglas Hamilton, a fifth-great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton and Antonio Burr, a descendant of Aaron Burr’s cousin, met to re-enact the famous duel.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
Hamilton (right) is an IBM salesman from Columbus, Ohio. Burr (left) is a psychologist from New York.

In another fun, historical aside, Alexandra Hamilton Woods, four-time great granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton, and Antonio Burr are also really good friends. They both serve as officers on the board of the Inwood Canoe Club, a club that offers kayaking and tours along the Hudson River.

Burr is the President Emeritus while Hamilton serves as Treasurer. Because of course they are.

Watch the entire duel recreation on C-SPAN.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how you bailed out from a World War II fighter

These days, when things go south while in a fighter, pilots are trained to reach for the loops that trigger their ejection seats. You just give it a yank and the ejection seat takes it from there, launching you from the stricken plane and setting you up for a safe(ish) landing on the ground (hopefully far from people you’ve just bombed or strafed).

Easy as pie — but it’s still something you don’t wanna do.


But in World War II, the process was very different. Today’s ejection seats use technology that didn’t exist in that era, so much of the process had to be handled manually, which was extremely hazardous.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
The pilot of a MiG-15 uses an ejection seat to make his escape from a plane that has been shot down.
(USAF)

 

When future president George H. W. Bush’s Grumman TBF Avenger was hit by enemy over Chichijima, the other two men on board were immediately killed and he had to bail out. In the chaos, Bush ejected improperly and collided with the plane’s tail — luckily, his injuries were minor compared to what could’ve happened. He drifted to the ocean below tethered to a parachute and was eventually rescued.

The method of properly ejecting from a World War II-era fighter varied depending on the plane. What worked for a P-38 Lightning wouldn’t work for a F4U Corsair. But, in general, the procedure was to slow the plane down as much as possible and manually open up the canopy. That’s when things got real tricky.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
This gun-camera footage shows a Nazi pilot trying to bail from a FW190.
(USAF)

A pilot’s natural instinct is to use their foot to jump from the side of the cockpit, but that would expose him or her to the slipstream — and that means a collision with the tail. Instead, pilots must use their hands on the side of the cockpit and roll over the “wall.” Then, the pilot waits to clear the plane (usually with a ten count) before pulling the ripcord, deploying a parachute.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

The surprising and resourceful ways people caught in the middle of World War II reused US military parachutes

Parachutes, manufactured and packed en masse during World War II to accompany Allied aviators on missions, had a very important job to do: open.

Lucky for me, my grandfather’s did. He was a 23-year-old US Army Air Corps pilot shot down over France a month before D-Day. He bailed out over central France, after his seven crewmates and moments before their B-24 Liberator exploded in the sky.


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Chest packs like the above were among the most common American parachutes.

Leo Kerns Collection/National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

They all hit the ground on better terms than their plane, thanks to their parachutes (and, in a longer story, they all survived their respective journeys through occupied France, thanks largely to French patriots and resistants who helped them).

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The author’s grandfather, then-2nd Lt. Murray Simon, top right, and his crew.

801st/492nd Bomb Group/Carpetbagger Association

I never met my grandfather, but I have his “Caterpillar Club” membership and the packing log of the parachute that saved his life.

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Katie Sanders

And last May, I traveled to his crash site in Mably, France, for a beautiful 75th anniversary commemoration event. A Frenchman came up to me and explained that he’d been a baby in a village near the crash site during the war, and that his mother recovered one of the airman’s parachutes and made it into a swaddle and carrier for him.

He recalled converting the material into a hammock — a swing he played in even after the war, when shortages and hardship from the devastation of the battles, air raids, and Nazi occupation persisted throughout Europe. This is one of many examples of how people made use of the life-saving silk, canvas, and nylon canopy contraptions falling from the sky during World War II everywhere from France and Yugoslavia to Japan and the Philippines.

Here are more ways parachutes’ function and form extended beyond the time they hit the ground.

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This nightgown, or “peignoir” — is made from parachute silk.

National WWII Museum

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A silk shirt embroidered with dragon and floral designs.

National WWII Museum

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A woven purse made from US Navy parachute material in the Pacific.

National WWII Museum

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A woven purse made from US Navy parachute material in the Pacific.

National WWII Museum

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A woven skirt made from parachute material from the US Navy.

National WWII Museum

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This parachute silk became a light and airy quilt, with knots of yarn knitted throughout.

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This silk camouflage parachute pajama sets came from the 17th Airborne Division.

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These silk camouflage parachute boxer shorts came from the 17th Airborne Division.

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Hilda Galloway and Robert Ellsworth Wickham at their wedding on October 14, 1945. Ellsworth Wickham flew 22 missions, including one bail out over France in January 1945. He gave pieces of his parachute to the doctors and nurses who helped him after he jumped.

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Galloway’s wedding dress.

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An American sergeant in the China-India-Burma Theater sent a white US reserve parachute to his mother, who sewed the nylon into a communion dress for his younger sister in 1944.

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Albert Williamson was a radio operator/gunner with the 384th BG/545th Bomb Squadron. On December 15, 1945 he married his longtime sweetheart, Ruth Glendinning, who walked down the aisle in this gown her cousin sewed using a parachute Williamson brought home.

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i.insider.com

So began a wave of wedding wear constructed from chutes brought back from war, including ones that fellow American women and men had sewn on the homefront and that had saved their and their enemies’ lives.

There was the commodity in and of itself, along with the meaning and specialness behind it. Used and surplus World War II parachutes were “a wonderful gift to pass along,” Kiser says.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

popular

The last soldier drafted by the US Army retired in 2011

America’s history with conscription is a contentious one at best. Most of the men drafted to fight from the Civil War to the Vietnam War probably sucked it up and served as required. But after years of citizens rioting over the draft, burning draft cards, and running away to Canada to dodge the draft, the U.S. moved its military to an all-volunteer service in 1973.

But there was at least one man who found that Army life suited him well, and he wore the uniform of the United States Army for the next 39 years.


The man who would one day become Command Sgt. Major Jeffery Mellinger was the son of a Marine working as a drywall hanger in his hometown of Eugene, Oregon when he received his draft papers. Thinking they were written by President Nixon personally, he excitedly reported for duty at Fort Ord in California. He was just 19 years old.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

What he found was less than the picture of military discipline that he expected. There was a lack of respect for the military as an institution, both inside and outside of the service. He found himself in West Germany working as a clerk. Around him, he saw rampant drug use, racism, and indifference. He could not wait to get out.

“If somebody told me I’d be in the army for 40 years on that day I would’ve just laughed at them, you know,” Mellinger told ABC News, chuckling.

But the commander of his first unit told him what military service meant – and that lesson stuck with him. The would-be onetime file clerk draftee soon became an Army Ranger, Jumpmaster, Special Forces instructor, jungle warfare expert, freefall expert, drill sergeant, and of course, Command Sergeant Major.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
Mellinger in Army jump school in 1972, left, and on patrol in Baghdad in 2005. (Jeffery Mellinger)

 

Re-enlisting, he once said, was the best decision of his life. He has since made more than 3,700 jumps with 33 total hours in freefall. Although he was drafted during the Vietnam War, he never saw combat there. He deployed to Iraq, spending more than 33 total months in country. His convoys hit some 27 roadside improvised explosive devices, and on two occasions completely destroyed his vehicle. He was uninjured by any of them.

“We lost count of how many times Mellinger’s convoy was hit,” said his boss in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. “He’s a national asset.”

Mellinger was just one of two million men drafted by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War era and says the Army is better off with an all-volunteer force.

“You get people who want to do this work,” he told Time Magazine. “If you had a draft at any other business in the world, you’d get people who maybe weren’t suited to be accountants or drivers or mathematicians. We’re doing just fine, thank you, with the all-volunteer force.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 of the best National Anthem performances in Super Bowl history

Outside of being the most important football game of the year, the Super Bowl gives us the chance to gather with friends and family and also makes for a good excuse why we’re still a little intoxicated the next day.


One of the most exciting parts for many of us, however, is the performing of the National Anthem. It’s a chance for all of us to get patriotic and be awed by some of the best voices in music (most of the time). Here are seven of the best National Anthem performances in the history of the Super Bowl.

7. Jordin Sparks — Super Bowl XLII

Fresh off of her American Idol win, Jordin Sparks showcased amazing pipes while keeping it simple and classy

(muffy223 | YouTube)

6. Luke Bryan — Super Bowl LI

The lone male soloist on this list, Luke Bryan came out and represented country music — and he did it well.

(Atheneum Group | YouTube)

5. Lady Gaga — Super Bowl L

This was a surprisingly great rendition of our country’s anthem. Save for some weird pronunciation (Lady Gaga is from Jersey but found an accent on the way up to the microphone, apparently), Gaga amazed the crowd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv2f5r5O0-c
(Anything Slays | YouTube)

4. Vanessa L. Williams — Super Bowl XXX

Former Miss America, Vanessa L. Williams, showed her versatility with this impressive performance.

(kramertony | YouTube)

3. Mariah Carey — Super Bowl XXXVI

The highest-selling female recording artist ever didn’t disappoint with this performance.

(StarpeemReturns | YouTube)

2. Combined Armed Forces — Super Bowl XXXIX

One of only two performances in Super Bowl history by anyone directly enlisted, commissioned, or committed to service. This combined chorale demonstration showed what military focus and vocal talent add up to: perfect pitch!

(Lunatic Angelic | Youtube)

1. Whitney Houston — Super Bowl XXV

They didn’t call her “The Voice” for nothing.

(CavBuffaloSoldier | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

7 ways your first year in the military mirrors freshman year

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and crust adorns your bright eyes as you open them to your earliest taste of freedom. Your room is decked out according to how you want it and what mommy and daddy say or think is no longer the deciding factor in what you will or won’t do for the day.


This day could easily belong either to Private Joe from Anytown, America or Johnny Freshman in any university dorm. There are some surprising similarities between those earliest days in the military and the typical freshman year of college.

Related: 8 reasons being in the military is like being in a sorority

7. You’re beyond lost

When you first encounter military instructors, as a military member, it is anything but pleasant.

Go this way! Go that way! Pick it up! Put it down!

Add that to the fact that you have zero idea where you’re going (and sometimes even where you’re coming from) and confusion is the only real outcome.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
Pictured: The inside of a first-year service member’s mind (Photo from The Odyssey Online).

6. You have no idea what to do now that you’re away from home

The first time away from home can be extremely frightening for many. Even if your parents and/or guardians empowered you with freedom and responsibility, chances are that going to college or joining the military is your first time being away from home in a real way.

This isn’t taking a break for a few days or weeks, you have left the nest and flying solo can be scary.

Newness is very exciting but it also carries a certain measure of suck.

5. Boot camp is like pledging a fraternity/sorority

No disrespect to any fraternity or sorority, but actual military boot camp is one of the toughest things anyone will ever do, but there are similarities to rushing. There is information cramming, adapting to a new culture, an embarrassing haircut, frowned-upon hazing, and the list goes on.

Truthfully, the brotherhood of arms is very much a fraternity for some and a sorority for others. Our letters aren’t Greek but they do all start with “U.S.”

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

4. Dorm rooms

The only way to avoid time in a dorm room is getting married but, chances are, being fresh to the military means you aren’t ready for marriage. That doesn’t stop many young troops from walking down the aisle, but I digress…

Regardless of which service you join, the early stages of your enlistment will involve some type of dorm life. You simply can’t avoid it.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
The look you make when you thought you got your own dorm room. Should’ve joined the Air Force. ( Photo from YouTube | Jon Richie)

3. The “freshman 15”

Besides the Marines, no other service as a whole just stays in shape. Every single service has physical training programs, sure, but not every branch will ride you and expect you to stay in the same shape you achieved in basic/boot.

This makes gaining weight too easy. Even if you adhere to the same standards training-wise, the availability of good eats can lead to a military version of the infamous “freshman 15.”

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
Trust me, it’s not that hard to get out of shape (Photo from Gawker).

2. Underage drinking

Yes, as a military member, you end up shouldering a lot of weight that most civilian teenagers wouldn’t. There is no denying that.

There is also no denying that a dorm party in the military looks a lot like a dorm party in college. There are kegs, there are guys and girls, there are food platters, and there are a lot of people alternating between throwing up and turning up. You know what there isn’t a lot of, though? Anyone checking identification!

Although it’s a rampant and completely normalized part of early enlisted life, underage drinking is 100% illegal in America and is a punishable offense.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
A little early for a drink, Timmy (Photo from The Telegraph)

Also Read: 6 reasons being E-4(ish) mafia is the best

1. Growing up

Eventually, you learn your way and you become who you’ll be. Now, I’m not saying this happens by the end of that first year, but it does happen after some time. Until then, life is basically a series of hard knocks, adaptations, and semi-pleasant surprises.

It works out for most of us… well, for some of us.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
You’ll get there, hopefully, one day (Photo from Minnesota National Guard).

MIGHTY HISTORY

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II

The Douglas Aircraft Company was responsible for two legends in World War II: The SBD Dauntless dive bomber, famous for turning the tide in the Pacific in a span of roughly five minutes, and the C-47 Skytrain, a version of the DC-3. That same company was responsible for the lesser-known, but no less important, A-20 Havoc.


 

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
Douglas A-20A Havoc – with a glass nose for a bombardier. (USAF photo)

When the plane first flew, it didn’t even get an order from the United States. In fact, what kept this design afloat, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher, was the French. France ordered a total of 270, and received some of the planes before the country fell to the Nazis.

The Royal Air Force took on the undelivered planes, calling them, instead, “Bostons.” Then, they bought more of these planes. The United States, seeing the efficacy of this plane in action, then began to buy the plane as well, calling it the A-20 Havoc. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the United States sent A-20s there.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
RAF Boston during the Dieppe Raid. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The plane saw action in the European, Mediterranean, and Pacific Theaters of Operation. According to MilitaryFactory.com, the plane had a top speed of 339 miles per hour and could fly just under 1,100 miles, carrying up to two tons of bombs.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
Douglas A-20G Havoc at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The A-20 really made its mark in the Southwest Pacific. There, Paul Irvin “Pappy” Gunn began to modify the planes. These bombers started to get as many as six M2 .50-caliber machine guns in their nose. It was here, low-level tactics helped the A-20 live up to its name — “Havoc.”

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
A Douglas A-20 Havoc pulls up during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. (Photo from DoD)

Eventually, word of Gunn’s field modifications made their way back to Douglas Aircraft Company, which began building the A-20s with the nose guns already installed. The A-20 was eventually replaced by the A-26 near the end of the war, but it had held the line against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Learn more about this very aptly-named bomber in the video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7kEXd7XFn4

(Dung Tran | YouTube)

Articles

5 of the world’s strongest fortifications ever

As the saying goes, “a man’s home is his castle.”


While this rings true for people who own a house, it was even more important for the leader in charge of a kingdom, an empire or even a republic. The reason for this is that the man in the “high castle” had much a stake. So to make sure that the country is strong, a king would build a fortress — or a wall with many fortresses — to project the centralized strength and influence of his nation throughout his realm and beyond.

Understand that a fortress is not just a building with a certain amount of walls and towers, but also can be a wall. Below is a list of the strongest fortresses ever built in the history of the world.

5. Masada, Israel

On a rocky plateau situated on a hill in southern Israel near the edge of the Judean desert, one can find the fortress of Masada. Almost all information on Masada and the siege that took place comes from the first-century Jewish Roman historian Josephus.

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The fortress of Masada withstood a year-long siege by Roman Gov. Lucius Flavius Silva. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In 66 AD, the Kingdom of Judea was in upheaval over Rome’s prolonged occupation and revolted. In doing so, a small group of rebels known as the Sicarii captured Masada after slaughtering its Roman garrison. In 72 AD, Lucius Flavius Silva, commander of the Legio X Fretensis, laid siege to Masada.

To reach the top, Lucius gave the order to build a massive ramp that was 375 feet high and 450 feet long. Once the legionaries made it to the top, they rolled the siege engines in and battered Masada’s walls until they fell.

Once inside, the Romans didn’t find an enemy in sight. Rather, they found over 900 dead. Only two women and five children survived.

4. Great Wall of Gorgan, Parthian/Sassanid Empire

The Great Wall of Gorgan is a fortress that remains mostly unknown. Located in northeastern Iran, the wall stretches from the Caspian Sea to the Kopet Dag Mountain Range. In total, the wall was 121 miles long.

Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time
The Great Wall of Gorgan. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The date of its construction is disputed. Some say it is 1,000 years older than the Great Wall of China. While little is known about the wall, the Parthians (247 BCE – 224 AD) who ruled Iran, are said to have built on the original remains of the wall.

The original height and width is unknown, but when the Sassanid Empire (224–651) overthrew the Parthians they repaired, enlarged, and added fortresses to the wall. The height of the Gorgan wall has yet to be determined. The width of the wall was between 20 to 30 feet wide and featured 30 fortresses.

What made this wall significant was that for many centuries it prevented nomads from the north, like the Dahae, Massagetae, Hephthalites and other various nomadic elements from getting in.

3. Hadrian’s Wall, England/Scotland

Hadrian’s Wall is well known to most casual students of history.

The Roman Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD ordered for the construction of the wall along with 16 fortresses garrisoned with static troops. The length of the wall expanded from the Irish Sea to the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea — a distance of 73 miles.

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The author walking on Hadrian’s Wall in Great Britain. (Photo courtesy Cam Rea)

The purpose of the wall is obvious, but as to why it was constructed, remains disputed. The reason for this is that there is no clear evidence that suggests Roman Britain, south of the future wall, was under any real substantial threats — even though there had been some minor rebellions in the province and within the Roman Empire. This was probably the reason why Hadrian built the wall — as a symbol and reminder that it is best to separate one from the barbarians.

Hadrian’s Wall would provide Roman Britain security from the Celtic/Pictish tribes in the north until Rome abandoned Britannia in 410 AD.

2. Walls of Constantinople

In 324 AD, Emperor Constantine I moved the capital from Rome to the small port town of Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople. The reason for this move was to be closer to the eastern portion of the Roman Empire due to its lucrative trade.

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To ensure the safety of this second Rome, Constantine issued an order to build of a wall. The Wall of Constantine was laid out in a series of four rows, with the inner two featuring towers 50 feet apart.

While very effective in repelling invaders, the Roman Emperor Theodosius II decided to expand the walls. The Theodosian Walls consisted of two — an inner and outer wall — which consisted of 96 towers. The inner wall was 40 feet high while the outer wall stood at 30 feet high.

The walls of Constantinople paid off for many centuries and were able to throw back 12 sieges from 559-1203 AD. However, the city was captured in 1204 during the fourth crusade, but afterward was able to withstand five more sieges until that fateful day in 1453, when the Ottoman Turks bashed down the walls and captured the city.

1. Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China needs no introduction. Many assume that the Great Wall was built and finished during the lifetime of a Chinese emperor. Instead it was constructed by multiple emperors over 1,000 years.

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The height, length, and thickness of the wall — or walls — vary, depending on which emperor built it and how much they could afford.

For example, once the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) pushed out the Mongols, they set about to expand and enlarge the Great Wall. The total length of the Great Wall under the Ming was over 5,000 miles long and 25 feet high and 15 – 30 feet thick at the base. If one were to take the wall and line it up, the length would be over 13,000 miles, according to study in 2012.

While the Great Wall looks good, it provided only temporary protection. The problem was that due to its size, it was too cumbersome and too costly to man.

The purpose of the Wall was to keep nomads out from the north. Instead, it kept the people of China isolated within and the wars that came with it.

The Mongols, however, just went around it during their invasion in 1211. The Ming would later enhance the wall, but it didn’t make a difference when the Manchu invaded in 1644.

From that point on, the Great Wall was more of a monument to look upon with amazement.

 

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