Last updated: June 19, 2021
Theodore, Sr. had a tremendous influence on his son, and in adulthood, the younger Roosevelt wrote about his father in his autobiography: "[he was]...the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness tenderness and great unselfishness....[he was] a big, powerful man, with a leonine face, and his heart filled with gentleness for those who needed help or protection, with the possibility of much wrath against a bully or an oppressor." (p.7,10)
Theodore Roosevelt Sr. was born on September 22, 1831 in New York City. He was the youngest of Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt and Margaret Barnhill's five sons. He was a seventh-generation Dutch New Yorker and participant in the Roosevelt family business of plate-glass importing, Roosevelt and Son.
Theodore Sr. married Martha Bulloch on December 22, 1853 at Bulloch Hall in Roswell, Georgia. The Roosevelts had four children, each of whom had a nickname: Anna ("Bamie"), Theodore ("Teedie"), Elliott ("Ellie"), and Corinne ("Conie"). Theodore Sr. and Martha were known as 'Thee' and 'Mittie'. Theodore Sr. was also the grandfather of Eleanor Roosevelt, Elliott's daughter.
Roosevelt Sr. was a noted New York City philanthropist. involved in a variety of charity work including the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and a Newsboys Lodging Home. Additionally, he was a founder of the American Museum of Natural History (the charter of which was accepted in Theodore's front parlor at 28 E 20th St.), the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Orthopedic Hospital. President Rutherford B. Hayes nominated Theodore Roosevelt for the position of Collector of Customs in the Port of New York, a job with great political and economic influence at the time and one which controlled thousands of jobs within the Custom House. However, Roosevelt lost the nomination to Chester A. Arthur. Theodore Sr. wrote to his son at Harvard "a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders."
To combat Teedie's poor physical condition, Theodore Sr. encouraged the young Roosevelt to take up exercise. To deal with bullies, he started boxing lessons. Two trips abroad had a permanent impact: family tours of Europe in 1869 and 1870, and of the Middle East 1872 to 1873.
Theodore Sr. was an active supporter of the Union during the Civil War. He was one of the Charter Members of the Union League Club, which was founded to promote the Northern cause. During the war, he and two friends, William E. Dodge, Jr. and Theodore B. Bronson, drew up an Allotment System, which amounted to a soldier's payroll deduction program to support families back home. It was perhaps because of Martha's active support of the Confederate Army that Theodore Sr. hired a substitute (Abraham Graff) to fulfill his draft obligation in the Army of the Potomac.
He died on February 9, 1878 at the age of 46 from a gastrointestinal tumor which caused him great pain for months, and prevented him from eating. Initially, he kept the extent of his illness from his son, who was away attending Harvard. At the end, however, Theodore Jr. was informed and immediately took a train from Cambridge to New York, where he missed his father's death by a few hours.