The Handedness of Presidents of the United States


Can we read anything sinister into which hand a president writes with? The Wikiworm trawled Wikipedia to find out…

The handedness of presidents of the United States is difficult to establish with any certainty before recent decades. During the 18th and 19th centuries left-handedness was considered a disability and teachers would make efforts to suppress it in their students. For this reason there are few concrete references to determine the handedness of presidents prior to the early 20th century.

List of U.S. presidents by handedness since 1923
President Party Term Handedness
Calvin Coolidge Republican 1923–1929 Right-handed
Herbert Hoover Republican 1929–1933 Left-handed [dubious ]
Franklin D. Roosevelt Democratic 1933–1945 Right-handed
Harry S. Truman Democratic 1945–1953 Left-handed
Dwight D. Eisenhower Republican 1953–1961 Right-handed
John F. Kennedy Democratic 1961–1963 Right-handed
Lyndon B. Johnson Democratic 1963–1969 Right-handed
Richard Nixon Republican 1969–1974 Right-handed
Gerald Ford Republican 1974–1977 Left-handed
Jimmy Carter Democratic 1977–1981 Right-handed
Ronald Reagan Republican 1981–1989 Ambidextrous
George H. W. Bush Republican 1989–1993 Left-handed
Bill Clinton Democratic 1993–2001 Left-handed
George W. Bush Republican 2001–2009 Right-handed
Barack Obama Democratic 2009–present Left-handed


The first president to be described as left-handed was Herbert Hoover, though this has been disputed. There is no evidence of any left-handed president before Hoover, although it was said about President James Garfield that he could simultaneously write Latin with his right hand and Greek with his left. Gerald Ford described himself as “left-handed sitting down and right-handed standing up”. Being forced by his schoolteachers and parents to switch handedness was the case with Harry Truman, according to the biographer David McCullough.

In one interview, Ronald Reagan indicated that he had been born left-handed, but that school and parental pressure forced him to switch. Ronald Reagan is seen in photos playing sports and signing documents with his right hand but he holds a gun in his left hand and shoots a rifle left handed as seen in other photos.

As of 2014, three out of the last four presidents have been left-handed. Counting as far back as Truman, the number is five (or seven, if the two ambidextrous presidents are included) out of twelve. In the 1992 election, all three major candidates, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, were left-handed. The 1996 election also involved three left-handed candidates: Clinton, Perot, and Bob Dole, who learned to use his left hand after his right hand was paralyzed by a World War II injury. In the 2000 and 2004 elections, Bush, Gore, and Kerry were all right-handed. But, both major-party candidates in the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama and John McCain, were left-handed. And in 2012, Obama beat right handed Mitt Romney.

The percentage of the population who are left-handed is about 10%. While some write off the pattern of presidential handedness as a coincidence, others have tried to come up with scientific explanations. According to Daniel Geschwind, a professor of human genetics at UCLA, in 2008: “Six out of the past 12 presidents is statistically significant and probably means something”.

Amar Klar, a scientist who has worked on handedness, says that left-handed people “have a wider scope of thinking”, and points to the disproportionately high number of Nobel Prize winners, writers, and painters who are left-handed. Michael Peters, a neuropsychologist at the University of Guelph, points out that left-handed people have to get by in a world adapted to right-handers, something which can give them extra mental resilience.

The pattern, however, is not replicated among the thirteen post-World-War-II prime ministers of Great Britain. Only two prime ministers after World War II, David Cameron and James Callaghan, have been left-handed.



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About Author Profile: Worm

In between dealing with all things technological in the Dabbler engine room, Worm writes the weekly Wikiworm column every Saturday and our monthly Book Club newsletters.

6 thoughts on “The Handedness of Presidents of the United States

    Séamus Sweeney
    July 25, 2015 at 09:47

    I have been quickly googling for the handedness of the German chancellors and Russians leaders of various titles with no success – but I did come across this: which discusses the handedness of US Presidents, UK PMs and the other dominant world leaders, Irish Taoisigh (rather oddly for what isn’t an Irish publication)

    A chap I used to know a little did some work on laterality: and through him I discovered there is a journal helpfully called “Laterality” – I’m sure its archives contain enough laterality facts to sate the most avid fan.

      July 25, 2015 at 15:42

      a thorough bit of research there seamus! Have you managed to draw any conclusions thus far?

        Seamus Sweeney
        July 26, 2015 at 11:37

        I have read Ian McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary” – not sure if I buy the whole package, so to speak, but it is a very impressive work and is a model for how neuroscience-informed discussions of the humanities don’t have to be greedily reductionist or debunking (if anything the opposite) It had some negative reviews in academic journals so I was interested to find it gets an on balance positive review in “Laterality” which almost exactly matched my own view of it.

    July 25, 2015 at 13:46

    Shooting a rifle left-handed argues a dominant left hand or left eye: rifles are manufactured for the majority, and cartridge eject rightward. Left-handed soldiers and marines have told of the discomfort of collecting hot brass down a shirt front.

    The two hands, two languages story was told about the Bronte brother, wasn’t it?

      July 25, 2015 at 15:44

      luckily for me i’m a left hander who does everything right handed and footed – apart from writing/drawing

    August 2, 2015 at 05:11

    Pardon me if I’m a bit flat-footed, but was the pun in the subtitle intentional? Should we thus say that President Garfield may have been possessed of a certain sinister dexterity?

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