The fact that Barack Obama woke up today marks a major historical milestone—yet it’s likely to go largely unnoticed. It’s now been 18,967 days since a US president died in office. That means the nation has now entered its longest period without losing a president to an assassin or illness.
This record reflects dramatic advances in medical science and the increasing sophistication of presidential security—the occasional White House fence-jumper notwithstanding. The previous record was 18,966 days, running from George Washington’s inauguration on April 30, 1789 to William Henry Harrison’s death by pneumonia on April 4, 1841.
The frequency of presidential deaths even gave rise to a superstition known as Tecumseh’s Curse. Legend has it that Harrison, at the time the governor of the Indiana Territory, triggered the curse when he put down a Native American resistance to US westward expansion in 1811. Tecumseh, a leader of the Shawnee tribe, was rumored to have taken revenge on Harrison by dooming the nation to lose every future president elected in a year ending in zero. Harrison, elected in 1840, succumbed to complications from pneumonia just 32 days into his term and may be best remembered for refusing to wear a coat at his inauguration. The streak held all the way to either Ronald Reagan, who was elected in 1980 and survived John Hinckley’s assassination attempt, or George W. Bush, elected in 2000, depending on who you ask.