Calvin Coolidge – Silent Cal or Cheap Cal?

Calvin Coolidge — Vermont native, Massachusetts governor, president of the United States — may have been misnamed. He was known as a stoic man of few words. Silent Cal, they called him. A better name might have been Frugal Cal.

Calvin Coolidge meeting with labor activist Mother Jones

Calvin Coolidge meeting with labor activist Mother Jones

Son of a farm and store-keeping family, Coolidge grew up working hard for every dollar he had. So maybe that’s why he didn’t like to waste money – whether it was his own or the people’s.

Cross described Coolidge as a man “who never let loose a nickel unless he had to.” And on this point, he was indisputably correct. He cut taxes four times as president.

As lieutenant governor in Massachusetts, he stayed at a one-room, dollar-a-day rooming house in Boston, ignoring the Statehouse crowd that urged him to loosen his purse strings.

As president, he had protracted battles with the White House housekeeper over the costs of dinners. Once he famously insisted that six hams for 60 guests were too many. And even pennies were important to the president.

Official White House portrait of Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge, Lousy Tipper

In her book, My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House, White House maid and seamstress Lillian Parks Rogers recalled how Coolidge dispatched a servant to pick up newspapers. He then expected his change on the servant’s return.

“If they thought it was a tip, they would soon find out differently, because the President would go around saying, ‘Somebody owes me seven cents.’ And he meant it.”

No one ever defeated Calvin Coolidge in an election. Perhaps this was part of the reason.

For more quotes from and about Calvin Coolidge, click here. This story was updated in 2022. 

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