Most of us know a lot about the “big” presidents -- Washington, FDR, Lincoln and Kennedy. But what about those lesser-known presidents in the middle of our young history that we often don't think about? If you’re not a historian, but wondering what there might be to learn from perhaps the 19th president of the United States, here’s your chance.
Here are three of the lesser-known presidents in American history that every entrepreneur could still learn a lesson from today.
The original disruptive marketer: William Harrison, ninth president, 1841. Here are a couple of cool things about President Harrison that you may not know. He was president for only 32 days, making him the shortest serving commander-in-chief in U.S. history. Harrison died of pneumonia in the White House, making him not only the shortest-serving president, but also the first to die in office.
But it’s not his length of service or death that are interesting, it’s his bid for office. Harrison's political opponents ran a smear campaign against him and his age, 68. They made him out to be an out-of-touch old fogey who would rather "sit in his log cabin, drinking hard cider" than serve as an influential or capable president. Harrison proved himself to be a clever old fogey, however, and outsmarted his competitors in a total Don Draper advertising move -- adopting the log cabin and hard cider as his personal campaign symbols. Harrison even commissioned bottles of hard cider to be made for his campaign that were shaped like log cabins. Talk about some cool old-school swag. So what can you learn from Harrison’s life?
Harrison may have been one of the first disruptive marketers. He took the arrows others were flinging against him and adopted them as symbols of his marketing. That’s pretty brilliant. Instead of denying what your competition is throwing your way, how can you make yourself “in on the joke” and transform those challenges into opportunities?
Related: 10 Inspirational Presidential Quotes
He wrote the book on getting back on the horse: Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th president, 1877-1881. Hayes was a soldier before he was president. Like so many military officials who would later go on to be president, Hayes showed courage and bravery under fire. During the Civil War, Hayes was shot and wounded five times. That’s not all. Hayes literally had the horses shot out from underneath him on four separate occasions in battle and lived. What can you learn from President Hayes (other than not to be his horse)?
Get back up. When your entrepreneurial plans feel like it’s being shot to hell, just remember good ol' President Hayes. The saying goes to get back on the horse, whether you caused the fall or your plans got shot out from underneath you. Start over and over again until you achieve your big vision.
The earliest early adopter: William McKinley, 25th president, 1897-1901. McKinley has the unfortunate designation of being one of the few presidents to ever be assassinated in office. For such a sad designation, he’s hardly remembered today by the general public. However, beyond his death in office, there are some pretty unique things about McKinley that every entrepreneur will want to remember and emulate. Before his untimely death six months into his second term, this guy was a lover and early adopter of technology. He was the first U.S. president to use a car and the first to use a telephone to campaign. Also, McKinley’s inauguration was the first to be caught on film.
What can you learn from McKinley’s life? Being an early adopter gives you a competitive edge. Thanks to his progressive acceptance and use of the technology of his day, McKinley will be remembered for some of the country’s firsts with technology. Keeping ahead of today’s trends and practicing early adoption could make your legacy last.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.