Before The Presidency: 30 Little-Known Facts About Former President Barack Obama

FUN FACTS June 6, 2019 By Hugo

Barack Obama introduced himself to the global stage by becoming America's 44th President and the first African-American to hold the esteemed office. However while many are aware of his time as the head of state, fewer know about his life before that.

Shutterstock/ Evan Al- Armin

It's a matter of public record that he was an attorney but outside of that not too much is known about the two-time president who not only made history but inspired millions of people around the world to aspire to greatness and achieve their dreams no matter how unlikely others say they are.

Here, we chronicle the former Democratic president's life pre-presidency with 30 interesting facts about a young and determined Barack Obama.


1. He Collected Spider-Man and Conan The Barbarian Comic Books

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As President, Obama was actually featured in a few comic strips from Spider-Man and Savage Dragon to custom titles like Barack the Barbarian, but it was as a child that he got into the reading material.

"I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman. Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story -- the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are," Obama wrote in an e-mail encouraging activists to share their "origin stories" with a nonprofit organization.


2. He Was Known as 'O-Bomber' At School Because of His Skill At Basketball

Wikipedia

In the late 1970s, Barack Obama played on both the J.V. and varsity teams at Hawaii’s Punahou School, eventually winning a state championship in 1979. He garnered the nickname from there.

A notably strong defensive player, there were a few photo opportunities during his Presidency where he would shoot hoops to show off his skills.


3. His Name Means 'One Who is Blessed'

Wikipedia

Barack is a Swahili name that means 'one who is blessed' and is named after his father who is a Kenyan economist.

 It is a form of both the Hebrew name Baruch and the Arabic name Mubarak, which also mean “blessed” and relate to the Arabic barakah. Another common spelling of the name is Barak.


4. He Won A Grammy in 2006 and 2008

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Many will recognize the Grammys as a serious achievement in the music industry but they also have a category for the Best Spoken World Album and Barack Obama has won it twice!

In 2006 he received it for his audio version of his book Dreams From my Father, and in 2008 he won it again for the audio version of his book The Audacity of Hope, and by 2009 he was President.


5. He Is Left-Handed

Wikimedia

Barack Obama is only the sixth left-handed President in the Post-war period, which may explain why his basketball game is so good because people don't expect him to be dribbling with his left.

Other left-handers in the office include James Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Henry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.


6. He Has Read Every Harry Potter Book

Shutterstock/ Wan Fahmy Redzuan

In the run up to his first Presidential campaign, Barack's wife, Michelle, outed him as a Potter fan as he had read them to his eldest daughter Malia.

He had even seen most of the films out at the time of the revelation, but whether he found the time to catch-up on all of them is yet to be confirmed.


7. He Can't Stand Ice Cream

Wikipedia

As a young teen eager to earn some extra cash, Barack worked in a branch of a Baskin Robbins ice cream parlor where he was allowed a few free scoops after some shifts. As such, he ate so much that he was put off ice-cream for good.

“While I may have lost my taste for ice cream after one too many free scoops, I’ll never forget that job — or the people who gave me that opportunity — and how they helped me get to where I am today,” Obama would later write. 


8. He Has Eaten Snake & Grasshopper

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In 1965, Barack's mother married Lolo Soetoro from Indonesia and move out there with him whilst a young Barack stayed in the US. Two years later he would fly out there to be reunited with them until he returned to school in Hawaii in 1971.

Whilst out there, Barack ate the local delicacies of snake meat and grasshoppers.


9. He Has Tried To Quit Smoking Several Times

Wikipedia

Taking up smoking as a teenager, it wasn't until his first Presidential bid that he tried to give up when he promised he would try to his wife Michelle in return for her support of his campaign. He later admitted falling off the wagon a few times but persisting with his attempts to quit, he was thought to have stopped by the time he reached the White House.

In 2013, he told a UN official that he had stopped smoking because "I'm scared of my wife, " but in 2015, he was spotted in a photograph with the then Italian Prime Minister reaching into what looked like a pack of cigarettes.


10. He Had A Pet Ape As A Boy

Shutterstock/Phillip Wittke

Whilst living in Indonesia, the Obama household had a pet turtle and an ape named Tata that was bought by his step-father whilst he was working in New Guinea.

One friend from the time also said Obama's stepfather "was breeding crocodiles in his house," he added. "Not many people knew about it. He only had one big crocodile, but they had many smaller ones." In the White House, he just had two dogs.


11. He Can Bench Press 200lbs

Wikipedia

Even as President, Obama had a pretty serious gym routine, which sounds like a nightmare since you are being watched all the time, but it was revealed he can bench press 200lbs, which is quite impressive, if not a seriously heavy amount. 

He can also lift about 80lbs without a problem, Calf raises (70 lbs). Lying triceps presses but with single 15 lbs dumbbells in each hand. Nice.


12. He Was Known As 'Barry' Until College

Wikipedia

His mother nicknamed him 'Barry' around the house and the name stuck at school and with his friends but it wasn't until college that a young Obama sought out his own identity and asked to be addressed by his full name.

This probably also helped his future career ambitions as an informal name like 'Barry' doesn't particularly inspire faith in your attorney nor politician.


13. His Favorite Book is Moby Dick

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We've written previously about books President Obama has recommended everyone should read but his favorite is the Great American Novel about whaling, Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Can a book that goes beyond the borders of America be considered a 'Great American Novel'? Taking place mostly at sea it sees the struggles of obsession and perception and also continually refers to race. It shows the lives of ordinary men drawn to the sea and under the command of an obsessive as they hunt an elusive white whale. As a metaphor and an icon, this book has lived so long on its own merits that if the title of 'Great American Novel' deserves to be bestowed upon any, this is surely it.


14. Most of His Money Came From Book Sales Before He Was President

Shutterstock/ Joseph Sohm

In 2007 Barack and Michelle made $4.2 million, with much coming from sales of his books. Prior to that he was a senator and before that an attorney

However, having just signed the deal with Penguin to publish through their imprints, former President, Barack Obama and his wife and first lady, Michelle Obama pulled off an incredible sales pitch by selling their book rights as a package. Barack has some literary prowess and has written before in a well mannered and entertaining way, and it is his previous books that are thought to have helped his presidential campaign. This latest book deal is the wealthiest one ever to have happened and is estimated to be worth $60m.


15. His Favorite Films Include The Godfather & Casablanca

Warner Brothers

The former President described himself as a 'film guy' saying that "I can rattle off a bunch of movies..."  with one of his favorite's being The Godfather. "One and two. Three not so much."

He even does a Marlon Brando impression and includes Lawrence of Arabia ("great film") and Casablanca ("who doesn't like Casablanca?") in his top movies.


16. He Once Applied To Appear In A Pin-Up Calendar

Wikipedia

Whilst studying at Harvard Law School, a young Barack applied to appear in a black pin-up calendar but was rejected by the all-female committee for the creation of said calendar.

Tough break for the young man, but it didn't seem to knock his confidence too much.


17. His Favorite Music Includes Bob Dylan, The Fugees, and Miles Davis

Wikipedia

As a teenager, Barack would often sing Earth, Wind and Fire songs whilst favorite musicians include Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Johann Sebastian Bach (cello suites), and The Fugees.

He doesn't have a bad crooning voice himself and has shown it off on occasion.


18. For His First Date With Michelle, He Took Her To see 'Do The Right Thing'

Shutterstock/ Andrea Raffin

All relationships have to start somewhere, and when Barack met Michelle, he decided to take her to the Spike Lee Film Do The Right Thing.

A comedy-drama, the movie tells the story of a Brooklyn neighborhood's simmering racial tension, which comes to a head and culminates in tragedy on the hottest day of summer.


19. As A Teenager He Took Drugs Including Marijuana and Cocaine

Wikipedia

Although never having a problem with them, Barack has admitted that, as a young man, he sampled certain drugs and has condemned those actions as foolish.

When asked if he inhaled when he smoked cannabis (harking back to Bill Clinton's famous proclamation that he tried pot but 'didn't inhale') he replied, "that was the point."


20. He Hates The Youth Trend for Trousers Which Sag Beneath the Backside

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Apparently not a fan of the trend where people wear their trousers in a low hanging manner, Obama was regularly spotted doing the opposite in office.

His infamous 'mom jeans' were often pictured well above his waist.


21. He Made His First Public Speech In 1981

Shutterstock/ Joseph Sohm

Following his high school graduation, the young hopeful enrolled at Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1979. It was there, during his years of experimentation with drugs, that he found his voice politically.

In fact, Barack felt so strongly about the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa that he made his first public speech on the topic two years into his college career in 1981.


22. He Transferred East That Same Year

Shutterstock/Dmitrii Sakharov

Shortly after his speech, Barack Obama decided to swap the sunshine of L.A. and for New York’s prestigious Columbia University. It would be there that the majored in political science.

A rather apt choice of study for a future president, Barack graduated two years later with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1983. But it would be five years before he would attend law school at Harvard University.


23. He Worked With Communities In Chicago's Deprived South Side

Shutterstock/Bruno Passigatti

Like most college graduates, Obama was still finding his way in the world and wasn't sure what his calling was and so headed straight to Wall Street. It was there that he worked in corporate market research at the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).

However, Barack quickly became disinterested in the dry nature of the work so decided to head to Chicago to undertake a more fulfilling job: that of a community organizer for the Developing Communities Project, a public housing development on Chicago’s South Side.


24. Havard Law Comes Calling

Shutterstock/ Jannis Tobias Werner

After being accepted to study law at Harvard Law School, Barack Obama's ever-changing career would finally see him settle into the profession of academia, teaching constitutional law at Chicago University from 1992 to 2004.

During his time there, Obama also got involved in political matters, one of which saw him spearhead a voter registration campaign called Project Vote in 1992.


25. Whilst Teaching He Became A Litigation Lawyer

Shutterstock/ Everett Collection

While teaching at Chicago University, he also joined a prestigious Chicago law firm in 1993 that worked closely with matters concerning civil rights litigation matters.

After being an associate for three years, he would spend his next 8 years working as an attorney at the same practice.



26. He Met Michelle At The Law Firm

Shutterstock/ John Gress Media Inc

People often assume that Barack and Michelle met at college owing to their incredibly strong bond and long-lasting marriage. However, Barack Obama was 27 when he met his future wife, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson.

While a fellow Harvard Law graduate, they didn't cross paths until Michelle was assigned as his mentor when he became a summer associate at Sidley Austin. Not long after, they married.


27. Obama Was One Of The First Proponents Of Police Videotaping Interrogations

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Whilst police brutality has become a talking point in the mainstream media in the last few years because of the rise of handheld devices, Barack Obama was one of the first politicians to sponsor a bill which required police to videotape interrogations in cases of capital crimes.

Passing it through the Senate, Illinois became the first state to enact this legislation.


28. He Made History Thanks To A Fellow African-American Politician

WTTW11

Everyone is aware that Barack Obama is the first African-American president, and he was also the first person to engage in a Senate race with a fellow African-American politician.

His opponent in the 2004 Senate election in Illinois was Alan Keyes, a milestone election indeed, and a debate you can watch by clicking here.


29. He Remains The Only President Born Outside The 48 Contiguous States

Shutterstock/ Shane Myers Photography

Alaska and Hawaii comprise of the two other states which aren't connected to mainland America.

For Barack Obama, his birthplace of Hawaii makes him the first president to be born outside the 48 contiguous states.


30. Many Children He Befriended In Indonesia Were "Street Urchins"

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As well as owning a pet ape called Tata, a young Barry O' also befriended many of the locals, many of whom were poor, so much so that Obama described many of them as "street urchins."

His time in Indonesia certainly seemed to shape his more utilitarian principles and shape his view on the broader world as his mother researched her PhD.


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