Were the Tallest Presidents the Best?

Prompted by this musing on Twitter that Presidential height and quality are correlated,

I decided to figure out whether this is true. Some of our most admired Presidents (Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson) were known for being tall, so this feels like it might be true. But is it?

To measure which Presidents were the best, I used Wikipedia’s list of rankings of US Presidents. I scrapped all the rankings from 1990 and before because people who existed prior to 1991 are rarely worth listening to (I was born in 1991), and 30+ year old rankings were made in a world with some importantly different values and without a lot of context for 20th century presidents that we have now. I found the average over the 17 qualifying rankings of President and then compared these rankings to the Presidential heights listed on Wikipedia.

Is this highly scientific? No. Do I think the people doing these rankings hate America for ranking Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson so highly? Definitely. But is this a better analysis than a question as frivolous as, “Are taller Presidents better?” deserves? That’s up to you.

The average rankings of Presidents, along with their heights:

I took the very un-American approach of using centimeters for heights because, as commie as this may sound, it is an objectively better measure of distance. Comparing the average ranks of Presidents to their heights gives us this:

The correlation between Presidential height is basically non-existent (R2=.0345), so while there technically a correlation between Presidential height and quality, it is very imperfect. But most of these Presidents are just noise. Can you name one thing that Chester A. Arthur did as President? Could you pick him out of a lineup of mustached 19th Century white guys? I thought not. Only the nerdiest of history nerds care about average Presidents. What about the Presidents we actually remember? Are the very best Presidents taller than the very worst Presidents?

The top five ranked Presidents — Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, Washington, and Jefferson — had an average height of 187.2 cm (almost 6’2″), while the bottom five ranked Presidents — Trump, Buchanan, Pierce, Harding, and Andrew Johnson — had an average height of 180.1 cm (just under 5’11”). And the top ten Presidents were 184.2 cm tall on average while the bottom ten Presidents were just 179.1 cm tall on average, about a 2 inch gap. So, for the Presidents that people actually care about. there is enough of a difference to explain why taller Presidents might seem like they’ve been better. That said, you should probably do a little more research than just looking at Presidential hopefuls’ heights the next time you vote for President.

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