Theodore Roosevelt is mostly remembered as the twenty-sixth President of the United States, but this dynamic, multi-talented, charismatic man became a hero to millions of Americans for many other reasons. By the time he rose to the presidency at age 42—still the youngest person ever to hold the office—Roosevelt already had served as a New York State Assemblyman, a deputy sheriff in the Dakota Territory, Police Commissioner of New York City, U.S. Civil Service Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Colonel of the Rough Riders, Governor of New York, and Vice President.
In addition to these official positions, Roosevelt was an original member of the American Institute of Arts and Letters, and a founder of the Boone and Crocket Club and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. As a historian, he served as president of the American Historical Association, and as a naturalist was considered an authority on large American mammals. In the latter role, he led two major scientific expeditions for prominent American Museums, one in South America and one in Africa.
Between these busy enterprises, Roosevelt found time to ranch in the West, hunt on several continents, raise a family of six rambunctious children, read a remarkable number of books (often one a day), write more than thirty-five himself, and develop an extraordinary network of friends and contacts, which he maintained mostly by mail, writing well over 150,000 letters.
Roosevelt left an indelible mark as President, first by establishing the office of chief executive as the center of the federal government, thereby creating the modern presidency. He also reversed the traditional federal policy of laissez-faire and sought to bring order, social justice, and fair dealings to American industry and commerce. His administration led efforts to bust trusts—the large corporate monopolies that controlled much of the economy in the early 1900s—and enacted numerous business regulations like the Elkins Act of 1903, the Hepburn Act of 1906, and the Federal Employers' Liability Act for Labor. Roosevelt also worked with Congress to see numerous consumer protections enacted, including the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which created the forerunner of the US Food and Drug Administration.
Roosevelt also thrust aside the American tradition of isolationism, leading the country into the arena of international power politics. He negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, for which he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. In addition, he successfully mediated international disputes involving Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Morocco. He also was the first world leader to submit a dispute to the Court of Arbitration at The Hague, and the first head of state to call for what became the Second Hague Peace Conference. Roosevelt also took decisive action to see the long-desired Panama Canal built after decades of fruitless efforts. Roosevelt viewed the US Navy not only as essential to America’s defenses, but also a valuable diplomatic tool, and he tirelessly supported modernization and expansion of the fleet and sent 16 battleships on a 14-month around-the-world cruise.
Roosevelt’s greatest legacy is in the field of conservation. He set-aside 150 National Forests, the first 51 Federal Bird Reservations, five National Parks, the first 18 National Monuments, the first 4 National Game Preserves, and the first 21 Reclamation Projects, all-in-all placing under federal protection nearly 230 million acres, a land area equivalent to that of all the East Coast states from Maine to Florida.
After two terms in office, Roosevelt unsuccessfully ran again for President in 1912 as the head of the Progressive or "Bull Moose" Party. While this effort failed, many of the policies he advocated during this time later were adopted by Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt.
Towards the end of his life, Roosevelt was a major voice for military preparedness. He died at the age of 60 on January 6, 1919, at his home, Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, New York. Criticized as a militarist, egotist, and political opportunist, Roosevelt's greatness has been debated, but his importance in American history is as obvious as his face on Mount Rushmore. Much of what he achieved affects Americans everyday and his name and personality have become icons for what America stands for at its best.