Pets have long kept our Presidents company. From George Washington's
horse to Bill Clinton's dog and cat, these unelected White House residents have
been among the most popular members of America's First Families.
Although our first President, George Washington, never lived in the White House
it was not completed until the Administration of John Adams, our second
President he is credited with owning the first Presidential
pet. President Washington was well known for his devotion to
animals. At his home, Mount Vernon, he had many traditional farm
animals. However, his favorite animal was his beloved horse,
Nelson. President Washington was riding Nelson when he accepted
General Charles Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, the battle that ended the
Revolutionary War. Like many future Presidential pets, Nelson not only
witnessed history in the making, he was part of it!
In addition to his love for animals, President Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President,
was known for his giving spirit. He allowed his sons, Tad and Willie,
to keep as many pets as they wished. The result was a menagerie that
included rabbits, turkeys, horses, and even two goats, Nanny and
Nanko. In fact, Nanny and Nanko even rode with President Lincoln in the
Presidential carriage. One special animal in the Lincoln White House
was Jack the turkey. Jack originally was on the Lincoln's dinner menu,
but Tad became fond of the bird and pleaded with his father to spare Jack's
life. President Lincoln relented, and Jack became part of the
Presidential household. On Election Day 1864, while the Civil War raged
close to Washington, D.C., a special booth was placed on the White House grounds
so that soldiers serving nearby could vote. President Lincoln, his
private secretary Noah Brooks, and Tad were watching from an upstairs window when
they saw Jack strut out among the voters. "Why is your turkey at the
polls? Does he vote?" Lincoln asked his son.
"No," Tad answered, "he's not of age yet."
Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd President, gave his grandchildren numerous
pets. Among them was a goat named His Whiskers, who frequently pulled
the children around the White House lawn in a cart. One day, while the
President was waiting for his carriage at the front of the White House, His
Whiskers darted through the White House gates, pulling the children behind him in
the cart. President Harrison ran down Pennsylvania Avenue holding on
to his top hat and waving his cane, but the goat kept running, only stopping after
numerous Washington, D.C., residents had seen the Commander in Chief chasing the
runaway goat cart!
Our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, began his Presidency in 1901, along with
six children and more animals than the White House had ever seen. The
Roosevelt children's family of pets included a small bear named Jonathan Edwards;
a lizard named Bill; guinea pigs named Admiral Dewey, Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane,
Fighting Bob Evans, and Father O'Grady; Maude the pig; Josiah the badger; Eli
Yale the blue macaw; Baron Spreckle the hen; a one-legged rooster; a hyena; a barn
owl; Peter the rabbit; and Algonquin the pony. President Roosevelt
loved the pets as much as his children did. Algonquin was so beloved
that when the President's son Archie was sick in bed, his brothers Kermit and
Quentin brought the pony up to his room in the elevator. But Algonquin
was so captivated by his own reflection in the elevator mirror that it was hard to
get him out!
Quentin once stopped in a pet store and bought four snakes. He then
went to show them to his father in the Oval Office, where the President was
holding an important meeting. Senators and party officials smiled
tolerantly when the boy barged in and hugged his father. But when
Quentin dropped the snakes on the table, the officials scrambled for
safety. The snakes were eventually captured and promptly sent back to
the pet shop. Alice, Quentin's sister, also had a pet garter snake
that she named Emily Spinach ("because it was as green as spinach and as thin as
my Aunt Emily").
The Roosevelts were dog lovers as well. Among their many canines were
Sailor Boy the Chesapeake retriever, Jack the terrier, Skip the mongrel, and Pete,
a bull terrier who sank his teeth into so many legs that he had to be exiled to the
Roosevelt home in Long Island! Alice had a small black Pekingese named
Manchu, which she received from the last empress of China during a trip to the Far
East. Alice once claimed to have seen Manchu dancing on its hind legs
in the moonlight on the White House lawn.