The President of the United States is the closest thing that Americans have to royalty, so it only makes sense that the Commander-in-Chief’s personal life is treated with the same interest and curiosity as their foreign and domestic policies. Over the years, the media’s obsession with a president’s life has spilled over into an unexpected topic: pets.
From the saga of Nixon’s dog Checkers, to the uproar over whether or not President Obama would adopt a rescue dog in 2008, presidential animals have carved out their own unique corner of history. However, sometimes something normal like a dog or a cat just won’t do.
As the president you have every resource at your disposal to get the animal of your choice, and over the years there have been some very exotic creatures walking through the White House grounds. So on this Presidents' Day, get a history lesson in The 5 Strangest Presidential Pets.
Calvin Coolidge's Pygmy Hippo, Billy
What Calvin Coolidge lacked in personality he made up for in exotic animals. The man collected a number of different domesticated animals over the years, including numerous cats and dogs, but he also opened the White House doors to a sea of oddities like wallabies, lion cubs, bobcats and Billy, the pygmy hippo. Gifted to him by Harvey Samuel Firestone (founder of Firestone tires), Billy was donated by Coolidge to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., where he went on to live out his life.
Herbert Hoover and John Quincy Adams' Alligators
Alligators are usually only seen as golf course hazards down in the Sunshine State, but two separate administrations brought these leathery man-eaters to the White House as domesticated terrors. Both John Quincy Adams and Herbert Hoover had gators on the premises during their time in the Oval Office -- Hoover allowed his gators to roam the grounds, while Adams kept his exclusively in the bathroom in order to scare his guests. Both presidencies were wildly unsuccessful, so it made sense to have some cold-blooded backup standing between themselves and the press (or the enraged citizens of the Washington, D.C., Hoovervilles).
William Howard Taft's Cow, Pauline Wayne
You might be surprised to know that William Howard Taft -- famous for getting himself stuck in his presidential bathtub -- wasn't the largest mammal roaming the White House grounds during his presidency. That distinction belongs to the dairy cow he kept on the premises named Pauline Wayne. Apparently Taft liked his dairy straight from the source, and after his first cow didn't provide enough milk to satiate the voluminous Commander-in-Chief, Pauline was brought to Washington to pump him full of white, fatty gold. Evidently Pauline served her country proud, as she stayed on as one of the most important members of Taft's administration for the remainder of his time in Washington.
Theodore Roosevelt's Bear, Jonathan Edwards
Teddy Roosevelt's love of the outdoors didn't end when he assumed the presidency; in fact, it had only begun. So it's only fitting that the man who inspired the Teddy Bear should have his own bear while President of the United States. But what makes T.R.'s own pet bear even more bizarre is its name: Jonathan Edwards. Technically belonging to the Roosevelt children, Jonathan Edwards was a gift to T.R. from West Virginian supporters who bestowed the bear with the nom de guerre "partly because they thought they detected Calvinistic traits in the bear's character." The name, taken from a Puritan preacher in the colonial era, might be a curious choice for a bear, but ol' Jonathan was probably just happy to not land in T.R.'s prodigious crosshairs.
Woodrow Wilson's Pet Ram, Old Ike
Years before Lyndon Johnson's administration brought fear back to Washington, there was another ill-mannered beast that terrorized White House staffers: Old Ike. In an effort to save money and send more people off to fight in World War I, President Woodrow Wilson replaced the White House gardeners with a flock of sheep to graze through the grounds and keep the lawn under control. This flock was led by Old Ike, a sociopathic ram that was known to charge at White House staffers regularly, all while taking part in his favorite habit: chewing tobacco.
Old Ike was notorious for leaving chewed-up cigar butts all over the White House lawn in between attempts to gore everyone in his sight. Like so many White House residents over the years, Ike was eventually tossed out of Washington and sent to a farm in Maryland, where he passed away peacefully, munching on some tobacco.