Many presidents bring a pet to the White House, but the history of the tradition includes unusual animal companions. Even those familiar with the secrets of the White House may not know exotic animals such as birds, large reptiles, and even raccoons once called the residence home.
Whether big or small, these unique presidential pets injected a little character and personality into the historic home – and often possessed pretty interesting names. And though some made trouble, others helped their owners cope with the toughest times in US history.
Theodore Roosevelt Basically Turned The White House Into A Zoo
It’s possible that famed outdoorsman Teddy Roosevelt brought more pets to the White House than any other president. His furry friends included a bear named Jonathan Edwards, Bill the lizard, a badger named Josiah, a pig named Maude, a hyena, an owl, a garter snake named Emily Spinach, a rabbit, a blue macaw named Eli Yale, a one-legged rooster, a hen named Baron Spreckle, and a beloved pony named Algonquin. TR also had five guinea pigs: Admiral Dewey, Fighting Bob Evans, Bishop Doane, Father O’Grady, and Dr. Johnson. Roosevelt owned many dogs, too, including a bull terrier known to bite.
Calvin Coolidge Spared A Raccoon And Received All Sorts Of Animals
One of the most bizarre pets to ever grace the White House was Rebecca, a raccoon belonging to President Calvin Coolidge. Sent to the White House for a Thanksgiving meal, Coolidge instead took a fancy to the little critter. He decided to pardon her and made Rebecca an official White House pet. Eating raccoons was a more common practice back then, with the papers expressing shock when Coolidge spared her.
The Coolidges’ love of animals encouraged people to ship bizarre creatures to the White House. During his time in office, Coolidge received a small hippopotamus, a Mexican black bear, and a pair of lion cubs – which he named “Tax Reduction” and “Budget Bureau.”
John Quincy Adams Kept An Alligator In His Bathtub
What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever received? No matter your answer, it’s probably less bizarre than the alligator French general Marquis de Lafayette gave president John Quincy Adams. With nowhere to put the large reptile, Adams chose the bathtub in an unfinished portion of the White House. Though the alligator eventually left the residence, Adams enjoyed shocking guests by showing them the fearsome creature.
Not to be outdone in the weird pets department, Adams’s wife Louisa owned some bizarre animals herself. She kept a silkworm farm at the White House and regularly harvested silk from it. Louisa suffered from depression, and the silkworms helped her find joy.
Andrew Jackson Owned A Parrot That Loved To Swear
Given the controversy surrounding Andrew Jackson, it’s not very shocking that he held chicken fighting matches at the White House.
Along with the roosters, the president purchased an African gray parrot named Poll for his wife. Incredibly intelligent animals, gray parrots can mimic human speech – and Poll eventually picked up Jackson’s habit of swearing. The bird swore so much at Jackson’s funeral, the presiding reverend removed it from the premises:
Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house… [Poll was] excited by the multitude and… let loose perfect gusts of ‘cuss words’… [Guests were] horrified and awed at the bird’s lack of reverence.
Benjamin Harrison Chased His Pet Goat Through The Streets Of Washington
Possessing a soft spot for his grandchildren, Benjamin Harrison took time every day to play with them and the family pets on the White House lawn. The most famous of the president’s pets was Old Whiskers, a tough goat who didn’t always play nice.
The grandkids loved riding in a small carriage pulled by Old Whiskers, until one day he took off with the children still attached. He pulled their carriage off the White House lawn and into the streets of Washington, DC., with Harrison chasing after for some time before the goat stopped.
Thomas Jefferson Owned A Mockingbird Named Dick
Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and third president of the United States, had several mockingbirds in his lifetime. He bought the first from a slave for only five shillings and later owned two more. Jefferson’s most beloved mockingbird, Dick, was reportedly quite smart and loving. The bird sang to the president in his study, and Jefferson allowed Dick to roam the room freely.
William Howard Taft Adored Cows
During William Howard Taft’s time as president, no milk delivery companies existed in the capital. Luckily, Taft owned several cows in his lifetime and brought one named Mooly Wooly to the White House with him.
When Mooly Wooly passed away, Taft adopted 4-year-old cow Pauline Wayne. She earned the nickname “Queen of the Capital Cows” and lived quite the life. Pauline became a celebrity, and the administration sold bottles of her milk for 50 cents each – with one man sneaking onto the White House lawn to steal milk from the cow. The New York Times even reported on Pauline’s arrival at the White House.
Andrew Johnson Fell In Love With A Family Of White Mice
President Andrew Johnson gained notoriety for being the first president ever impeached after illegally firing one of his cabinet members without Congressional approval. Becoming president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Johnson didn’t own any pets at first. During his impeachment process, however, Johnson found solace in a family of tiny white mice he discovered. He started feeding them and giving them water, slowly winning their trust. Johnson often referred to the mice as his “little fellows.”
Martha, the president’s daughter, did not approve of this arrangement. She did everything possible to capture the mice, laying traps and poison around the house and bringing home several cats. Johnson continued caring for his little fellows despite their unpopularity, though their fate remains a mystery.
George Washington Totally Hated His Wife’s Birds
Birds played a role in George Washington’s household, as he and his wife Martha owned multiple parrots during their lifetime. Though Martha loved the birds more than the other household pets, Washington revealed his true feelings in a letter before his move to Mount Vernon: “On one side I am called upon to remember the Parrot, on the other to remember the dog. For my own part I should not pine much if both were forgot.” Martha owned many more parrots during her life, likely to Washington’s chagrin.
John F. Kennedy Owned A Pony Named Macaroni And A Soviet Dog
During John F. Kennedy’s time at the White House, many pets graced the presidential lawn. Despite the Cold War, Kennedy maintained a friendly relationship with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The two regularly exchanged letters, and Khrushchev even gifted the president a puppy named Pushinka. No ordinary dog, Pushinka descended from one of the first dogs to visit space and return alive. The adorable dog’s name translates to “fluffy,” and she lived up to the moniker.
The Kennedy family also owned a pony named Macaroni. A gift to Kennedy’s daughter Caroline, the duo inspired Neil Diamond to write one of his most famous songs, “Sweet Caroline.”
James Buchanan Received An Entire Herd Of Elephants As A Gift
While President James Buchanan failed to prevent the Civil War, he did bring some unusual animals to America. Buchanan accepted an offer from the King of Siam (modern Thailand) to bring a herd of elephants to the United States. It’s unclear if Buchanan kept any of the elephants as pets, though some sources claim he did.
The same king also tried giving Abraham Lincoln an army of elephants to aid in his fight against the Confederacy – enough to “populate all of America.” And if that’s not weird enough, someone even gifted Buchanan a pair of bald eagles, who lived at the president’s home near Lancaster, PA.
James Madison’s Wife Owned A Naughty Parrot Who Was Eaten By A Hawk
Widely credited with writing the Bill of Rights, President James Madison also owned a green macaw – or more accurately, his wife Dolley did. The First Lady named the bird Polly, and it often rode on her shoulder as she greeted guests at the White House.
Extremely popular with visitors – especially young children – Polly loved swearing and once attacked a woman at the White House. Unfortunately, Polly met her end thanks to a hungry hawk.
William Henry Harrison Kept Farm Animals As Pets
William Henry Harrison holds the unfortunate distinction of serving the shortest amount of time in office as president. Harrison died only a month into his term due to a fatal illness he contracted at his inauguration.
During Harrison’s short tenure, his family kept two farm animals as pets: a cow named Sukey and a billy goat. According to rumors, Sukey even lived with the Harrison family long after the death of the president.