Five Men Who Hated (or Loved) the Number 13

On this Friday the 13th, read about these famous people from history who had a close connection to the supposedly unlucky number

Friday the 13th
Ryan Reed

The Thirteen Club

Thirteen Club
(New York Public Library)
In the 1880s, The Thirteen Club among whose members included five U.S. Presidents as honorary members, was formed to counteract the wide-spread superstition of “13 at the table” being unlucky. It is said that if 13 people sit at a dinner table together, one will die within a year of the meeting. The club’s founding members met on the 13th of the month for a dinner served to 13 people. By 1887, the club had at least 400 members, some of whom included William McKinley, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt. Take that superstition.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D Roosevelt
(Library of Congress)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was very superstitious: He wouldn’t travel on the 13th day of any month or light three cigarettes. For luck, he wore the same tattered fedora during each of his political campaigns and would never host 13 guests at a dinner party—an interesting contrast to his fifth cousin, Theodore Roosevelt who was a member of The Thirteen Club.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

A friend once warned Mark Twain against attending a dinner party where he was the 13th guest. He responded in Twain fashion: “It was bad luck. They only had food for twelve.”

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson
(Library of Congress)

Woodrow Wilson considered the number thirteen to be the luckiest of numerals. In fact, he dropped “Thomas” from his name as a teen because the letters in “Woodrow Wilson” sum to 13. “Thirteen has been my lucky number right along,” he said even if his choice to title his 1918 speech, "The Fourteen Points" seems to contradict this notion. Toward the end of his presidency he would note that he became president of Princeton in his 13th year at the institution and that he had become President of the United Sates in 1913.

Napoléon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte
(National Gallery of Art)

A fun fact about Napoléon Bonaparte: He was an excellent mathematician. He once said: "The advancement and perfection of mathematics are intimately connected with the prosperity of the state.” He was also triskaidekaphobic.

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover
(U.S. Department of Commerce)

Herbert Hoover also had an irrational fear of the number 13. Though, there is evidence that he corresponded with members of The Thirteen Club, some have speculated that his own superstitions stopped him from joining.

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