Top Ten Least Famous American Presidents

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Posted on July 16th, 2008

The office of the President of the United States of America is almost 220 years old, and is considered to be the most powerful political office in the world. For over two centuries of independence, America has had 43 Presidents that looked over the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Almost everyone can name famous Presidents like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, just to name a few.

Yet there are US Presidents who do not have the same name-recall. It’s not that they are Presidents best left forgotten, but that people just don’t remember who they were. Here are ten of the lesser-known Presidents of the United States:

1. Martin Van Buren

  • Eighth President of the United States (1837-1841)
  • Democratic
  • Re-introduced to the American public in the 1997 film “Amistad”

Martin Van Buren’s Presidency was saddled with many problems, particularly the economic crisis of 1837. It was also during Van Buren’s term that the United States had a brief confrontation with Canada, its neighbor to the north, during the Aroostook War of 1838-1839. The word “OK” was also invented during Van Buren’s presidency, which stood for his nickname: “Old Kinderhook.”

2. William Henry Harrison

  • Ninth President of the United States (March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841)
  • Whig
  • First President to die in office

William Henry Harrison had the background to be an American President. He represented the Northwest Territory (now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota) in the US Congress from 1799-1800. He also served as Governor of Indiana and Senator of Ohio. Nobody will ever know if he would have made a great President, because he died of pneumonia a month into his Presidency.

3. John Tyler

  • Tenth President of the United States (1841-1845)
  • Whig
  • Not an ancestor of Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler

John Tyler was the first President who assumed office by succession, when President William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia a month into the 1841-1845 Presidential term. Tyler’s most important achievement as President was the annexation of Texas (For more information on Texas, read The guide to Texas). While Tyler was kind and very honest to the people, he proved to be unpopular to some members of his own party.

4. Zachary Taylor

  • Twelfth President of the United States (1849-1850)
  • Whig
  • Not Black Ranger in “Power Rangers”

Zachary Taylor was a war hero in several important battles in American history, like the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War. Taylor was not a very political-minded President, although he did successfully win the 1848 United States Presidential election. His legacy as President was the Compromise of 1850, which was a complex collection of bills drafted to answer controversies resulting from the Mexican-American War.

5. Millard Fillmore

  • Thirteeth President of the United States (1850-1853)
  • Whig
  • Most famous forgotten President of the United States

While television sitcoms often poke fun at Millard Fillmore as the most popular lesser-known President of the United States, he has contributed a lot to American history. During Fillmore’s term, California was admitted as a free state in the Union. Fillmore also sent Commodore Matthew C. Perry to Japan in order to convince the empire to open up to free trade.

6. James Buchanan

  • Fifteenth President of the United States (1857-1861)
  • Democrat
  • The only bachelor US President

James Buchanan holds the dubious distinction of being the US President who, because of his own actions, paved the way for a great US President: Abraham Lincoln. During Buchanan’s term, the country was almost in ruin, with Southern states demanding secession from the Union because they advocated slavery. Buchanan’s solution was to do nothing about the secessionist threat, because while he believed secession was illegal, going to war to preserve the Union was also unconstitutional.

7. Rutherford B. Hayes

  • Nineteenth President of the United States (1877-1881)
  • Republican
  • The only US President whose election was decided by Congress

Rutherford Hayes was embroiled in a controversial Presidential election in 1876, where he lost the popular vote to his Democrat opponent, Samuel Tilden. The controversy would rear its ugly head again 124 years later, during the 2000 Presidential elections between Al Gore and George W. Bush. As President, Hayes got criticized for ending Reconstruction after the Civil War, and the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

8. James A. Garfield

  • Twentieth President of the United States (March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881)
  • Republican
  • Served as President for 80 days

James Garfield has the second shortest Presidential term next to William Harrison. He was also the second sitting President to be assassinated, next to Abraham Lincoln. Garfield was shot by a lawyer named Charles Guiteau, who was disappointed for his own failure to secure a government post. During his 80-day Presidency, Garfield’s only official act was to sign an extradition paper.

9. Chester A. Arthur

  • Twenty-first President of the United States (1881-1885)
  • Republican
  • One of the lesser-appreciated Presidents

Chester Arthur is a war general and former Collector of Customs for the Port of New York. Arthur may be known for his fashionable and elegant attire, but his achievements and his ability to go beyond party lines makes him underrated among the many great Presidents of the United States. During his term, the American civil service was extensively reformed, and enacted the country’s first immigration law.

10. Benjamin Harrison

  • Twenty-third President of the United States (1889-1893)
  • Republican
  • First President to have his voice recorded

Benjamin Harrison’s voice was recorded by Giuseppe Bettini in 1889, using a phonograph cylinder. Harrison also has the distinction of being the first President to install electricity in the White House, the first President to travel across the country by train, and the first President to attend a baseball game. His legacy is tainted with federal spending that cost one billion dollars, which is another first in American history.


Now that you know some of America’s lesser-known Presidents, you would probably ace that American History pop quiz. You may also now have a greater appreciation for the leaders, the movers, and the shakers of the Union’s long history. Just because these Presidents are not as popular as the faces and names carved into Mount Rushmore doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also stop, look, and think about them.

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