While President, Ulysses S. Grant was arrested for speeding.
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While President, Ulysses S. Grant was arrested for speeding.

Nearly 25 years after Ulysses S. Grant’s death, a peculiar story hit the pages of the Washington Evening Star. Within the paper’s Sunday edition one day in 1908, retired police officer William H. West recounted how he had caught the 18th President speeding through the streets of Washington, D.C. — and decided the only appropriate course of action was to proceed with an arrest. 

The U.S. government has at times set the maximum speed limit on highways.
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Incorrect.
It's a Fact
President Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act in 1974, dropping highway speed limits to 55 mph. At the time, OPEC’s 1973 fuel embargo had created an energy crisis; Nixon’s move tried to reduce fuel use by cutting down on speeding. The law was repealed in 1995.

West’s tale harkened back to 1872, during a particularly bad bout of traffic issues, when complaints of speeding carriages were on the rise. West had been out investigating a collision when he witnessed Grant — then the sitting President — careening his horse-drawn carriage down the road. The officer flagged down the carriage, issued a warning, and sent Grant on his way. But Grant, who had a reputation for high-tailing horse rides, couldn’t resist the need to speed. West caught him the very next day once again tearing through the city. Feeling he had no other option, the officer placed the President under arrest. At the police department, Grant was required to put $20 (about $490 in today’s money) toward his bond before being released.

Historian John F. Marszalek, who oversaw Grant’s presidential collection at Mississippi State University, says the situation blew over pretty quickly. Grant’s arrest wasn’t the first time he had been cited for speeding. It also wasn’t a political quagmire for either party. At the time, West — a formerly enslaved Civil War veteran who became one of just two Black police officers in Washington, D.C., immediately after the war — was commended for his actions in trying to make the city streets safer. And Grant owned up to his mistake — though he did choose to skip his court appearance scheduled for the following day, which meant he forfeited his $20. He didn’t face any further consequences, however.

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Numbers Don’t Lie
Year President Lincoln appointed Grant general-in-chief of the Union Army
1864
Earnings from Grant’s memoir after his death in 1885 (about $13.8 million today)
$450,000
Grant’s age when he was elected, making him the youngest President of his time
46
Height (in feet) of Grant’s Tomb, the largest mausoleum in North America
150
Ulysses S. Grant’s real first name was _______.
Ulysses S. Grant’s real first name was Hiram.
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Think Twice
U.S. Presidents aren’t allowed to drive on public roads after leaving office.

After their term is up, U.S. Presidents don’t just leave behind the keys to the White House — they effectively hand over their car keys, too. Turns out, the highest government officials in the land are soft-banned from driving in public, a task that’s handed over to their Secret Service detail at the beginning of their presidency, and continues for the rest of their life due to security risks. The Former Presidents Act of 1958 sets out retirement parameters for Presidents (including staffing and pay), and while it doesn’t explicitly say former leaders can’t drive themselves around, several Presidents have alluded to the unwritten rule’s enforcement by the Secret Service. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969) is credited as the last President to routinely drive himself, and was known for sporting a convertible Lincoln Continental, though the President’s car collection also included a German Amphicar — the first mass-produced amphibious automobile made for civilians — and a Jolly 500 Ghia, a gift from the Fiat Company so rare that it couldn’t be restored due to a lack of existing parts.

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