The Most Bizarre Pets Owned by U.S. Presidents
Which president kept an alligator?
Some could accuse presidents of being parrots of their party, but George Washington and James Madison had actual parrots in their family. Their wives each had one. Andrew Jackson also had a parrot, which learned how to swear. Someone brought the parrot to Old Hickory’s funeral, but it became unruly because of its persistent swearing. Check out some more fascinating facts you never knew about U.S. presidents.
John Quincy Adams received an alligator from Marquis de Lafayette. The gator apparently lived in a bathroom and Adams used it to scare guests sometimes. Herbert Hoover’s son, Allan, later owned a pair of gators at the White House. Clearly scaring guests is not one of the things presidents are forbidden to do while in office.
Benjamin Harrison had a Billy goat and a Durham cow at the White House during his term from 1889-1893. The goat, known as “Old Whiskers,” used to be harnessed so it could haul Harrison’s grandchildren around the White House grounds. According to a 1903 story published in the Washington Evening Star, Old Whiskers took off with Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin, a few years prior to Harrison’s death in 1901. The goat and grandson headed toward an excavation site with the president, who was in his late 50s, chasing after them. Eventually Harrison caught up to the racing goat and grabbed the bridle, preventing any disaster.
Rutherford B. Hayes, who served as president from 1877-1881, kept a Siamese cat, the first of the breed ever documented in the U.S. He also kept cows, a goat, canaries, and a mockingbird.
Guinea pigs, badger, lion, hyena, zebra, and bears—oh my!
Leave it to Teddy Roosevelt, the man who once got shot during a speech and finished it, to have a veritable zoo on the White House grounds. That’s right, the man who carried a big stick also kept snakes, a badger, a lion, a hyena, a zebra, and five bears. That’s in addition to the traditional pets around the place, like dogs, cats, horses, birds, rats, and guinea pigs. The guinea pigs were named Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans, and Father O’Grady. Learn about some surprising animals that are actually illegal to keep as pets.
We’ll tread lightly here, but Woodrow Wilson used to keep sheep on the White House grounds to help…with lawn maintenance. It was part of a cost-cutting measure during World War I.
Calvin Coolidge also kept a small zoo at the White House. Coolidge had a bobcat, a wallaby, a pygmy hippo, a bear, and a domesticated raccoon. The raccoon, named Rebecca, was kept by Coolidge’s wife, Grace, and was allowed to walk around the White House. The raccoon was even led by a leash at other times, though it was originally sent to the family for Thanksgiving to be eaten with the meal. But the family found the raccoon too domesticated to consume. Instead, the raccoon got her own place to stay in a tree and grew to enjoy playing with a bar of soap in a bathtub filled with a little water. Coolidge also had lion cubs, a duiker (which is a small antelope), and ducks.
Benjamin Harrison had two opossums during his presidency. The opossums were named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection. Reciprocity and protection were part of the 1892 Republican Party platform. We bet you had no idea that these words we use all the time were coined by presidents.
Ulysses S. Grant kept gamecocks at the White House during his presidential term. The gamecocks actually belonged to his son, Jesse Grant. Check out some wacky chicken coops that actually exist, like the “Hotel Eggcelsior.”
The Sultan of Oman gifted Martin Van Buren two tiger cubs. Van Buren later gave the cubs to a zoo.
Pauline the cow
William Howard Taft kept a cow named Pauline around so he and his family could enjoy milk. Pauline was the most recent cow to live at the White House. Check out these fun facts about the White House that you never learned in school.
Thomas Jefferson, known as a man of science, received a pair of grizzly bears from Zebulon Pike. They stayed on the White House lawn in cages for several months until they were taken to a museum in Philadelphia.
James Buchanan kept an eagle during his term. Do you know why the bald eagle almost wasn’t the national bird?
William McKinley kept roosters, but Teddy Roosevelt kept a one-legged rooster. Next, check out the most bizarre things presidents have banned from the White House.