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Who Invented The President?

Sean Pavone
In this episode, we learn about the presidency, and how the highest office was created.

Who invented the president? Which country had the first president? We answer presidential questions historical in nature with author Kenneth C. Davis. Also in the episode: why do leaves change color in the fall?

We're just a few weeks away from the United States presidential election. American citizens are making decisions about who they would like to see be the next American president.

"Who invented the president?"- Elizabeth, 6, Palo Alto, CA

"There was no other national president before the United States created this office in 1787. There had been presidents in America before: there was a president of Harvard College, for instance. The word itself means, from Latin, to sit before. Preside means to sit before. That idea was transferred to the elective office that we call the presidency.

"When the men who wrote the constitution in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, in the same place where they had written the Declaration of Independence 11-years earlier, they had a lot of decisions to make as they were creating the new operating system for the American government.

"Which country had the first president, and who was it?" - Aidan, 6, Philadelphia, PA

"Under the existing system, called the Articles of Confederation, there was nobody in charge. All of the decisions were being made by Congress. It was difficult to make quick decisions about important matters. That's why the framers of the constitution felt it was important to create an office where somebody could respond quickly to an emergency and that was outside of the long debates that congress might have to make." 

Credit Photos courtesy Elizabeth's dad/Aidan's mom.
Elizabeth, 6, Palo Alto, CA, has a good time playing sports including swimming, soccer, gymnastics and riding her bike. 6-year-old Aidan lives in Philadelphia, PA. He likes Star Wars, pokemon and chicken.

"The United States is the first country to have a president in terms of the leader of the country. There were presidents in the United States before George Washington. This was a title that was used for the man who presided over Congress, beginning in 1774 with a man called Peyton Randolph, from Virginia. But he died in 1775, before we even had a United States, so we can't call him the first president of America.

John Hancock, the famous Massachusetts delegate to the convention, was presiding over the Continental Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted. So he could be called the first president, because that's when the term was used for the first time. But when we're talking about the president as we understand it today, of course, it's the president who was elected first under the United States Constitution. That's George Washington.  -Kenneth C. Davis, author of the Don't Know Much About series.

Credit Melody Bodette / VPR
The leaves are turning their bright fall colors, we're learning why leaves turn yellow and red in fall.

Why do trees lose their leaves in fall? Why do they turn yellow and red? Why are leaves green?

We've gotten five questions about leaves from Emma in Shreveport, LA, Liam in Burlington, VT, Bella in Chicago, IL, Tallulah, in Weybridge, VT, and Kyle in California.

Foliage is a big deal in Vermont, so we turned to Mike Snyder, Commissioner of Vermont's Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation for the lowdown on how leaves change color.

He says leaves are green because they contain a chemical called chlorophyll, which allows them to make their own food. Chlorophyll appears green to our eyes because it's reflecting the green wave lengths of light.

Not all trees lose their leaves in the fall. But when the days start to get shorter in the fall, that's the signal for broad-leafed trees to get ready for winter. The tree stops making chlorophyll and the green color fades, unmasking colors that were there all along: the yellows and reds.

Meanwhile, another process is happening. The broad-leaf trees want to drop their leaves because those leaves can't withstand winter. So the leaf forms a boundary between itself and the twig, allowing the rain and wind to blow the leaf away.

The tree goes dormant for the winter. It slows down and lives on stored food. But it has already packed away buds for next spring.

When the new leaves emerge next spring, there is another brief period of red color when the buds break open.

Listen to the full episode for more. 

Read the full transcript.

Credit courtesy
Leaf curious listeners Bella in Chicago, IL, Liam in Burlington, VT, Kyle in California, and Emma in Shreveport, LA.



Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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