His father, Alphonso Taft, moved to Cincinnati as young man to establish his new law firm. Not long after moving to Cincinnati he became involved in local politics that would not only influence his life, but the lives of his son and his descendants. His oldest surviving son William Howard Taft would become the only person to occupy the White House in Washington D.C., but would also become one of the few Chief Justices of the Supreme Court.
William Howard Taft, long known as one of the largest men ever to sit in the White House was born in Cincinnati in 1857. It isn't known how much William weighed, but it is known that Will was a big boy. His mother Louisa Maria mentioned in a letter that at 7 weeks old her son Will couldn't fit in any of the dresses made with belts because of his large waist and that he was "very large of his age."
1870 class photograph. William Taft seated in the center
He would grow up on Auburn Avenue in the neighborhood known as Mount Auburn, a well-to-do area of the city located just north of the downtown. He would graduate from Woodward High School, a local school in Mount Auburn, in 1870. At that time he was over 6' tall. He would go on to school at Yale where he became a heavyweight champion wrestler and weighed 243 pounds.
Helen (Nellie) Taft, 1905
After graduating from Yale, William returned to Cincinnati where he studied law. He also got involved in local politics. However, he always seemed to prefer law over politics. His goal was to become Chief Justice of the United States, but that didn't fit with his wife's idea of success. Helen Herron, or Nellie as her friends called her, seemed to always have an eye on becoming the Chief Lady of the White House. When she was just 16 years old, she actually visited the White House when Lucy Hayes occupied the center of American power with her husband Rutherford. Lucy invited the daughter of her husband's law partner to an afternoon social. After this engagement, Nellie wrote that she would much like to return to the White House someday? as First Lady! Not long after that White House visit, Nellie met the young, but 4 year older, Will Taft, at a sledding party in Cincinnati. They hit it off in many different ways that eventually brought them together as husband and wife in 1886. While it is not certain what part she played behind the curtains, it is certain that she encouraged her husband to strive for higher achievements.
As young William became an accomplished attorney, his life would increasingly be drawn to the political arena. After having been a state judge, he became Solicitor General of the United States, a federal judge, and was appointed to oversee the American civil government in the Philippines. Later, like his father, William would be appointed by another war veteran, President Teddy Roosevelt to become his Secretary of War. Teddy would later offer William the chance to fulfill his dream of becoming Chief Justice of the United States. An offer which he discussed fervently with Nellie who was adamantly opposed to the idea. Her idea was that since Teddy Roosevelt had already promised the nation he would not seek a second term, it would be wiser for her husband to seek the presidency. In her mind, you could always become a Chief Justice, but the odds of becoming President of the United States were extremely high. An argument that William Taft could not win.
So following his wife's advice, the extremely large fellow from Cincinnati, William Howard Taft, was elected President of the United States in 1909, becoming the largest man to ever sit behind the Oval Office desk, thus accomplishing his wife's dream of becoming First Lady. It would take several more years before Taft achieved his dream of becoming Chief Justice.
It was during another Ohioans term in office, President Warren G. Harding, that William Howard Taft was made Chief Justice of the United States, a position where he would remain for the rest of his life. Taft would later write after becoming Chief Justice "I don't remember that I ever was President." Taft would become the only person ever to occupy the presidency and be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Howard Taft is shown in the above photo in front of his boyhood home in Mount Auburn. Young William is standing on the wall.