Brush up on your knowledge of the 39th president of the United States with these little-known Jimmy Carter facts.
He's been called the "most underrated president," and the "nicest president" in U.S. history, but when you look at the facts of Jimmy Carter's life, he may have been one of the most interesting ones as well.
Born in rural Plains, Georgia in 1924, James Earl Carter Jr. was friendly from an early age. Growing up on a peanut farm, his best friends were the children of the black farmers who worked for his father. He boiled, packaged, and sold peanuts in downtown Plains from when he was five years old, and when he was in high school he worked at an ice cream and hamburger stand.
In high school, he played varsity basketball and read more than any of his classmates. He enrolled at Georgia Southwestern College and then at the Georgia Institute of Technology. With the Future Farmers of America he had developed an interest in woodworking, which he kept for the rest of his life. But he had another interest as well — an interest in joining the Navy.
In 1943, after studying mathematics for a year at Georgia Tech, Jimmy Carter enrolled in the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. While at Annapolis, Carter got certified in submarines — the only president to have done so. He spent much of his time with the Navy working on nuclear submarines, taking graduate courses on reactor technology and nuclear physics.
Shortly after his graduation from the Academy in 1946, Carter married his longtime love Rosalynn Smith, his sister's best friend. For seven years, the two traveled around New England while Carter worked for the Navy as a submarine tech.
In 1953, when his father died and the family peanut farm was in peril, Carter gave up his naval career and moved home to help with the farm. There, while working in rural Georgia, he became passionate about civil rights. Seeing families struggle under Jim Crow laws instilled a fire in Carter which drove him to support the growing civil rights movement.
On a whim, he decided to run for the Democratic nomination for his local State Senate seat. The initial results said he lost his primary, but after pushing for a recount he came out on top. He won the general election, and in 1963 he joined the Georgia State Senate. In 1970, he was elected governor of Georgia.
Though a relative outsider to politics, as a Navy lieutenant-turned-peanut farmer, after his governorship and despite a low national profile, Jimmy Carter won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. With the Watergate scandal fresh in the public's minds, he ran as a dark horse candidate far from the corrupting influence of Washington. Sweeping the southern states, he beat Vice President Gerald Ford in an incredibly close race.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter took office. His first order of business was to pardon all Vietnam War draft dodgers, a controversial move. It wouldn't be the first time he drew controversy; over his four year term in office he made several large changes, not all of which were unanimously accepted.
He created the Department of Energy and the Department of Education, as well as several new policies geared toward solving the energy crisis. He also became heavily involved in foreign affairs and was responsible for facilitating the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaty, and the second round of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.
But the last year of his presidential tenure was marked with several unfortunate situations that his constituents believed he handled poorly. The Iranian Hostage Crisis and the 1979 Energy Crisis were both high on that list, as well as the Three Mile Island Nuclear Crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Many believe that the Cold War was escalated by Carter's response to that invasion; he imposed a grain embargo on the Soviet Union and boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics. That plus the U.S.'s lackluster economy following a recession in the mid-1970s forced a precipitous drop in Carter's approval ratings, to as low as 28 percent. At the time, his were the lowest approval ratings ever recorded in the history of presidential polling.
After a difficult primary challenge from Sen. Ted Kennedy, Carter lost the general election to former California Governor Ronald Reagan by a whopping 440 electoral votes.
But despite serving only one term, Carter holds a special place in the pantheon of American presidents. For more so than any other president in modern memory, he dedicated his post-political career to advocacy, public service and global humanitarian causes.
Post-presidency, Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn became heavily involved in humanitarian work in their community and across the country. In 1982, they opened the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, which devotes time and money to promoting peace and health around the world. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work with the Center.
They also began advocating for Habitat for Humanity in the mid-1980s, not only helping them raise funds but also lending an actual hand to their home-builds – even in October 2019, just one day after a fall that led to stitches, a 95-year-old Jimmy Carter helped build a home in Tennessee.
In 2010, at age 85, he flew to North Korea and negotiated the release of an American who'd been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for unlawfully entering the country.
In short, Jimmy Carter may not have been one of the most successful presidents in political terms, he is unanimously considered one of the most humanitarian men to assume the presidency. So next time someone asks for your favorite president, consider Jimmy Carter – and choose one of these facts to back you up.
After learning some fascinating facts about President Jimmy Carter, check out these facts about every single U.S. president. Then, read 21 of the most shocking things U.S. presidents have said (or done)..