Having trouble memorizing lists of people, like presidents. please advise

I’ve used some memory techniques to memorize all the US presidents. #26-45 is easy enough, but the first 25 are proving to be a bit harder. I’ve been able to do so, but the hooks aren’t as sharp as I’d like. One of the issues is I don’t know what these dudes look like, so can’t visualize them. The other is some of their names are hard to convert into memory pegs.

For example here’s president 17 and a few before him:

Andrew Johnson
Abraham Lincoln
James Buchanan
Franklin Pierce
Millard Fillmore
Zachary Taylor

So now in this list, I know what Lincoln looks like so I can visualize him. With Zachary Taylor I can visualize a tailor, again, solved. The other ones are much harder.

Can anyone advise?

not sure if this is helpful but you can perhaps create a link between syllables.

Hand drawing john is on | Hand draws john’s son
A Bra is Ham linking | Ab rehab link king
James booing cannon | Jam is poo can on
France cling beers | Frankenstein piercing
Me lied fill more | Mile hard file more
sugary tails | Sack a ring dealer

Presidents were one of the first lists I memorized, though I had not long before taught my kids the animaniacs song which both helps and hinders (I wanted to be able to identify the #23 prez, for instance)

Washington and Jefferson are both familiar and John Adams (#2) stuck in my head as well. But you could also use Adam, as in Adam and Eve, for him
Madison: I imagined his wife Dolly saving the portrait of Washington from the burning white house (helps if you know the story)
Monroe: can’t help,I attended a James Monroe Jr high so I make that association
John Quincy Adams: focused on a giant q
Andrew Jackson: his nickname was old hickory so I imagined the wood for a campfire
Van Buren: bureau
William Harrison: died of pneumonia right after elected so I just see this wretched sick guy
Tyler: a whole row of ties
Polk: polka dots
Pierce: I pierced the peg with a spear
Buchanan: rhymes with cannon, so that’s my image

So, mostly I use name images.

Oh, for the Johnsons I remember the weird trivia that both Lincoln and jfk were followed by a Johnson. But also Johnson& Johnson baby powder
Mckinley: I used McDonald’s
Taft: taffy
Garfield: everyone’s favorite cat
Grover Cleveland: used Grover from sesame street
Grant: I just imagined a civil war general
For Benjamin Harrison, I used an image of a Benjamin with a lot of hair
Chester Arthur: chest of drawers

Names don’t have to be exact if you are familiar wth them; I really only need Benjamin to remember him, ditto Grover and Chester.

I found this list of pictures of the presidents wherein the pic on the right is how they looked when they were younger, and the one on the left is how they looked when older. I found it interesting to see the age difference on the same person. Since you mentioned that you didn’t know what some of the presidents looked like perhaps this could be useful.

Here’s a link: https://presidenstory.com/stat_pht.php


Practice could be helpful, just sit down and think what you can do with the word (in this case a name)

Johnson could already be a lot as it is a common name. Maybe you can imagine John’s son, maybe you take a different road and imagine Scarlett Johansson for the similar sounding name, maybe you will imagine a “johnson” (if you are american, you probably have heard this nickname for a certain body part)

Franklin is a decently common name, you might know someone with that name. Be that a game character or a movie character, then just imagine him being pierced by something and you got Franklin Pierce.

Every beginning is hard, but you can grow better.


Memorizing the presidents is on my to-do list as well, BigDan—and neither I can visualize all of their faces. This is what I plan to do. First I’ll make some simple flash cards. The common way to go about it would be like this:

Question side: 1st U.S. President. 1789-1797. No Party
Answer side: George Washington

But gee, that gives us no vivid images! So instead I’ll make cards like this, where I write a clear and readable sentence with trivial information as a cloze test, and then having the “pudding” in the parenthesis.

Question side: The Commander-Chief flag, a blue banner with thirteen stars was _____ _____'s personal flag which accompanied him wherever he went whether in camp or on a battlefield (He was the first president of America. He helped to establish the federal government and aspired to create a free, democratic and united country. His term in office as the American president was from 1789 until 1797)

Answer side: George Washington

I’ll make a stack of such cards, giving me a vignette for each president. After I’m done with that I’ll make a journey with enough loci for all the presidents. That’d go something like this:

Loci 1. A washing board
Loci 2. Adam (from the Garden of Eden)
Loci 3. T. J. Hooker
Loci 4. Mad-Eye Moody (he’s mad cuz he didn’t make the third prez)
Loci 5. Marilyn Monroe
Loci 6. Dr. Quincy
Loci 7. Johnny Cash (he’s goin’ to Jackson!)
Loci 8. A van goin’ burrr
Loci 9. Harrison Ford
Loci 10. Tyler
Loci 11. People are so happy to get a new prez, they’re doing the polka
Loci 12. Zapp
Loci 13. A mill that shouldn’t be filled more
Loci 14. Pierce Brosnan
Loci 15. A buck
Loci 16. A Lincoln
Loci 17. A.J. from the Sopranos
Loci 18. Odysseus
Loci 19. Haye
Loci 20. Garfield
Loci 21. King Arthur lighting up a Chesterfield
Loci 22. Cleveland
Loci 23. A breast holder (bra)
Loci 24. Cleveland throwing away the bra
Loci 25. A suit from McKinsey, huffy cuz the bra was thrown away
Loci 26. A teddy bear
Loci 27. A taffy
Loci 28. A wood
Loci 29. Warren G
Loci 30. Kool-Aid
Loci 31. A hoover
Loci 32. A rooster

These are just associations, or mems if you will, that I came up with on the fly. I think it’s easier to remember two things that interact in each loci, and to not get confused about the order what’s at the left side of the loci is always what comes first. Then it’d go something like this:

Loci 1. A washing board hits Adam in the head
Loci 2. T.J. Hooker pushes Mad-Eye Moody away
Loci 3. Marilyn Monroe seduces Dr. Quincy
Loci 4. Johnny Cash kicks the van, which then goes burr
Loci 5. Harrison Ford says Tyler can’t rap
Loci 6. They’re doing the polka, which makes Zapp smile
Loci 7. A mill that shouldn’t get filled more gets filled by Pierce Brosnan
Loci 8. A buck dents a Lincoln
Loci 9. A.J. spits on Odysseus
Loci 10. Haye picks up Garfield
Loci 11. King Arthur lights up a Chesterfield, asking if Cleveland would like some
Loci 12. A bra falls down and Cleveland goes around it and picks it up
Loci 13. A suit from McKinsey kicks a teddy bear
Loci 14. A humongous taffy melts on the wood
Loci 15. Warren G drinks the Kool-Aid
Loci 16. A hoover tries vacuuming a rooster

You could make a story as to why all of this is happening. The more bizarre, the better. Let’s say you were naming all the presidents, but forgot the 19th, Rutherford B. Hayes. But you remember the 20th, Garfield. So when thinking what happened to Garfield, one would get a vivid image of Hayes - and there you have them all!


LikeARollingStone, I like your method!

It’s good to create Links between the two, it’s much easier to memorise and recall. But I sometimes have to link 3 or 4, sometimes as much as 6 in a single loci.

I’ve already memorised the US presidents, and all 63 Kings & Queens of the UK, but all without the “From” and “To” years. I have used the linking system with the loci method, and at some locis I had 3 Kings in a loci, and some had 6 in a loci. For example, There was 4 George one after another, so I just put them in one locus as it’s so easy to just recall. And to recall the position of each King, I’ve added a number shape at every 5th King so that I could remember which king was at a certain position.

Now that I have them in my long term memory, I will be going back to each king and add an image for 4 digits for the “From” and 4 Digits for the “To” years. So I’ll be able to recall the dates for each King as well. I just wish I had more time in my hand, so I wouldn’t have to postpone it :slight_smile:

What’s your method of memorising the years with each?


If you’ve got all the kings and queens in the ArtOfMemory software, please do share!

How do I get the years right? Let’s say I read that Copernicus published his On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in 1543. First I visualize him in my room for the 16th century. I’ve got three buildings with rooms for each century from 1000 BC to 1700 AD. Then I see Copernicus giving his book to Reba in this very room. Reba is my mem for 43. It’s easy to remember that she represents 43 because the R looks like a 4 and the E looks like a mirrored 3. I’ve got mems for every number from 00 to 99: A person and action, so PA, but not an object for each.

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I don’t have them in the software. But you’ve just given me a good idea to create a journey for them!
I’ve memorised the Kings and Queens, also memorised the US Presidents and all the British Prime Ministers by reading a book called “Remember Remember” by Ed Cooke. Because of the help I got out of this book which really is the methods in action if you like, I have since memorised 2 more books with about 400 questions and answers, the success rate was 100% . Ed has a great style for names, story-linking and a great method of loci. By the time I’ve read the first 62 pages, I had already memorised all 63 Kings and Queens, tested myself quickly and I’ve not made a single mistake in recalling the names and the line order of the Kings.
If I was to memorise this fast, I could probably do it within an hour. But the story and linking methods, especially the way Ed uses them are just amazing because there are more trigger details involved that enables visualising of the images more vividly which helps to recall almost immediately, and will last much longer to fade away. I just review it every 3 months and I can re-memorise them quickly in about 5 minutes time, and the recall is even stronger. It’s not a method I use for speed memory at the Memory League, but I love the story and the linking methods for long-term memory.


Noted! I think of memory championships as sparring, the real deal is acquiring information like pretty much anything in the physical, formal, social and life sciences.

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Took a look at Amazon for the “Remember Remember” book. Ed is a fun read, an engaging writer. I bought a copy. As one reviewer said, even if I don’t intend to learn the kings and queens it’s still nice to see how he spells it all out. Guess I’ll be learning all the presidents now, even though I hadn’t intended to do that. It can’t hurt and I can see already that Ed is going to make it fun and easy.

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I’m sure it’ll be an interesting read for you. You’ll probably memorise them all by the time you finish reading the book like I did. It’s amazing how well it works for the long term memory.

I can see that. If someone tells ya a good enough story you’ve “got it” whether you intended to remember it or not, ya do. Very cool indeed. :+1:

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Just dropping in for a quick word without reading the responses of others, so apologies for repeating what they’ve already said.

You said “pegs” and “hooks” here – are you using the method loci? You really should be. There is no comparably effective tool for the task. If you came out of this experience with your first palace then that would be a huge victory.

Your second most important tool here is review. Have the list, and read the list, while going over the images you’ve created in your mind. This could be done hundreds of times if it were necessary. Review quickly and often. The luxury of review does away with the requirement for fine technique. As long as you have made an honest attempt to put a representative image in each locus, you will be capable of reviewing them, and then remembering them.

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It’s interesting to see the images people come up with.

Here is what I used with a 3rd grade class of 8 and 9-year-olds who have a small vocabulary and don’t yet have a lot of cultural references to draw on:

# President
Mnemonic Image
1st George Washington Washing machine
2nd John Adams Atom
3rd Thomas Jefferson Chef
4th James Madison Mad sun
5th James Monroe Man rowing a boat
6th John Quincy Adams Quince pear
7th Andrew Jackson Michael Jackson
8th Martin Van Buren Van Burning
9th William Henry Harrison Haircut
10th John Tyler Necktie
11th James Polk Polka dot dress
12th Zachary Taylor Taylor Swift
13th Millard Fillmore Film camera
14th Franklin Pierce Pierced ear
15th James Buchanan Cannon
16th Abraham Lincoln Chain link
17th Andrew Johnson Drawing (Drew) a picture with Johnson’s baby powder
18th Ulysses S. Grant Grand Canyon
19th Rutherford B. Hayes Haystack
20th James A. Garfield Garfield the Cat
21st Chester A. Arthur Art easel
22nd Grover Cleveland Cleveland Cavaliers
23rd Benjamin Harrison Haircut
24th Grover Cleveland Cleveland Cavaliers
25th William McKinley Mac ‘n cheese
26th Theodore Roosevelt Teddy bear
27th William Howard Taft Taffy
28th Woodrow Wilson Wilson basketball
29th Warren G. Harding Hardboiled egg
30th Calvin Coolidge Kool-Aid
31st Herbert Hoover Vacuum (hoover)
32nd Franklin D. Roosevelt Rose
33rd Harry S. Truman A true or false test
34th Dwight D. Eisenhower Eyes
35th John F. Kennedy Can
36th Lyndon B. Johnson Laying on Johnson’s baby powder
37th Richard Nixon NY Knicks
38th Gerald Ford Ford Mustang
39th Jimmy Carter Shopping cart
40th Ronald Reagan Ray gun
41st George H. W. Bush A big bush
42nd Bill Clinton Cling wrap (plastic wrap)
43rd George W. Bush A little bush
44th Barack Obama Brick
45th Donald Trump Trumpet

Thanks a lot Issa, this is great!

Can you share how you combined some of the images? Washing machine to Atom to Chef to Mad Sun for example?

We created a memory journey (memory palace) with the classroom and put one image in each location.

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Is each spot a location within the classroom?

Yes. We did 10 locations on each wall. We only did up to 30 presidents. I was planning on having 10 more on the final wall and let the kids choose the last 5 additional locations on the floor or ceiling. There are lots of things on the walls of classrooms (windows, art projects, posters, etc.) and we used things like computers, desks, and book shelves that were against or near the wall as well.

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World Memory Champion Alex Mullen has a nice video on YouTube using his house as memory palace. You can basically just watch the video, try to recall, rewatch the video and pay attention to your misses; then you should be good. He even has a recap of all locations at the end of the video.

Pretty similar to the approach @Issa is describing… just slightly different images at times and the memory palace is already there.