Theodore Roosevelt’s Tattoos and the Presidential Election of 1912 (2023)


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Clinics in Dermatology

Volume 38, Issue 5,

September–October 2020

, Pages 563-567


On April 10, 1912, America’s leading humor magazine, Puck, featured on its cover a satirical political cartoon entitled The New Tattooed Man: He Makes an Exhibition of Himself. The illustration depicts Theodore Roosevelt’s skin covered with tattoos. This contribution tells the story behind this political cartoon and the role that it played in the 1912 presidential election. It also corrects mistaken Internet folklore that claims that Theodore Roosevelt had his family crest tattooed on his chest. He did not have such a tattoo. Roosevelt did, however, have gunpowder tattoos that he accidentally inflicted on himself as a 13-year-old boy. A brief review of gunpowder tattoos is provided.

Section snippets

Theodore Roosevelt’s gunpowder tattoos

During the discharge of a firearm, gunshot residue is deposited on the hands and clothes of the shooter; sometimes, it can also reach the face, hair, and chest areas. This residue consists of particles of burnt and unburnt gunpowder, as well as traces from the bullet, its casing, and the gun itself.

Black gunpowder, used during the times of Theodore Roosevelt and nowadays, consists of a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (saltpeter), with the charcoal contributing to the

Theodore Roosevelt as “The New Tattooed Man”

After his victory in the 1904 presidential election, Theodore Roosevelt pledged to not seek a third term as America’s chief executive. Instead, in 1908, he supported the candidacy of his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft (1857-1930), who won the presidency. Roosevelt became dissatisfied with Taft’s policies and in early 1912 announced that he would challenge Taft for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination later that year. Roosevelt, however, was quickly reminded of his promise not


Contrary to Internet folklore, Theodore Roosevelt did not have his family crest tattooed on his chest. He did, however, have gunpowder tattoos that he accidentally acquired during childhood.

During the 1912 presidential election year, a political cartoon on the cover of Puck magazine showed Roosevelt covered with tattoos. He was not the only American presidential candidate to be a subject of a “Tattooed Man” caricature. In 1884 James G. Blaine, the presidential candidate of the Republican Party,

Declaration of competing interest

The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.

References (6)

  • T. Roosevelt

    An Autobiography


  • Evaluation of gunshot wounds

    What-when-how in depth tutorials and information

  • O.E. Remey et al.

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There are more references available in the full text version of this article.

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