When Theodore Roosevelt moved into the White House in 1901, he brought with him his wife, his six children, and one of the widest (and wildest) menageries Washington, D.C. has ever seen. Here are just some of the First Family’s most memorable pets.
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1. and 2. Algonquin and General Grant the Shetland Ponies
When it comes to White House pets, dogs and cats are the norm—and the Roosevelt family had plenty of those (more on a bunch of them later). Less frequently seen roaming the halls of the White House? Shetland ponies. But TR was nothing if not an innovator. The family had two beloved Shetland ponies: Algonquin and General Grant. Once, when 9-year-old Archie Roosevelt was sick with measles and couldn't get down to the stables, his brothers Kermit and Quentin (or, according to other stories, footman Charles Reeder) decided to cheer him up by having Algonquin pay a visit to Archie in his bedroom—which was on the second floor of the White House residence. So they did what any kids would do, and brought the pony up in the elevator. Algonquin, who weighed 350 pounds, wasn’t thrilled about the adventure ... until he reportedly noticed his reflection in the elevator mirror and became entranced (making it difficult for the boys to get him out of the elevator).
But before Algonquin came along, there was General Grant, a sorrel Shetland pony named after Ulysses S. Grant, who used to chauffer the Roosevelt kids around. “Sedate pony Grant used to draw the cart in which the children went driving when they were very small, the driver being their old nurse Mame,” Roosevelt wrote. “They loved pony Grant. Once I saw the then little boy of three hugging pony Grant's fore legs. As he leaned over, his broad straw hat tilted on end, and pony Grant meditatively munched the brim; whereupon the small boy looked up with a wail of anguish, evidently thinking the pony had decided to treat him like a radish.”
3. and 4. General and Judge the Carriage Horses
The Roosevelts had a stable full of horses, too, as TR once said that “there are no pets like horses; and horsemanship is a test of prowess.” In addition to General and Judge, a pair of carriage horses, the family’s horses included Grey, Dawn, Jocko, Root, Renown, Roswell, Rusty, Wyoming, Yagenka, and Bleistein (Teddy’s favorite).
5. Mame the Pig
Getting back to the kids’ nurse Mame for a second: When the kids were gifted with a pig, they decided to name it after their beloved nurse—but Mame may not have taken it as the compliment it was intended to be. “I doubt whether I ever saw Mame really offended with [the kids] except once when, out of pure but misunderstood affection, they named a pig after her,” Roosevelt wrote.
6. A Herd of Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs were a popular pet in the Roosevelt household, with TR once remarking that the animals’ “highly unemotional nature fits them for companionship with adoring but over-enthusiastic young masters and mistresses.” In a 1900 letter, Roosevelt wrote about the namesakes of their guinea pig brood: “They included Bishop Doane; Dr. Johnson, my Dutch Reformed pastor; Father G. Grady, the local priest with whom the children had scraped a speaking acquaintance; Fighting Bob Evans; and Admiral Dewey.”
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7. Jonathan Edwards the Bear
In that same letter in which he mentions the guinea pigs, Roosevelt wrote that, “Some of my Republican supporters in West Virginia have just sent me a small bear which the children of their own accord christened Jonathan Edwards, partly out of compliment to their mother's ancestor, and partly because they thought they detected Calvinistic traits in the bear's character.” (Edwards, the famed revivalist preacher, was Edith Roosevelt’s great-great-great grandfather.)
Unfortunately, Jonathan Edwards’s time with the Roosevelt family was short-lived, which was probably for the best. On January 2, 1901, Roosevelt wrote to the Bronx Zoo, explaining that he had "a small bear named Jonathan Edwards," but “that we do not have the accommodations to keep him” and asked if the zoo would take him. (They did.) Which doesn’t mean that the Roosevelts weren’t open to keeping bears as pets; they reportedly had five.
8. Bill the Lizard
Roosevelt’s collected letters to his children make it clear that the 26th president was as much of an animal lover as his kids were. In a letter to Archie written from California in 1903, Teddy wrote about some of the wonderful new pets he had acquired in his travels: “I have a number of treasures to divide among you children when I get back. One of the treasures is Bill the Lizard. He is a little live lizard, called a horned frog, very cunning, who lives in a small box.”
9. Josiah the Badger
On that same 1903 trip, Roosevelt was given a badger named Josiah in Sharon Springs, Kansas, whom he later gifted to Archie. “The little badger, Josh, is very well and eats milk and potatoes,” Roosevelt wrote. “We took him out and gave him a run in the sand today. So far he seems as friendly as possible. When he feels hungry he squeals.”
10. Eli Yale the Blue Macaw
What is now the West Wing of the White House used to be White House greenhouse, home to Eli Yale, a bright blue (and reportedly very loud) hyacinth macaw that TR once described as looking “as if he came out of Alice in Wonderland.” In a 1902 letter to author Joel Chandler Harris, Roosevelt wrote about the bird: “Eli [is] the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boiler plate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion."
11. Jonathan the Piebald Rat
In that same 1902 letter to Harris, Roosevelt mentioned several more of the family pets, including a flying squirrel, two kangaroo rats, and “Jonathan, the piebald rat, of most friendly and affectionate nature, who crawls all over everybody.”
12. Emily Spinach the Snake
Of all of TR’s children, his eldest—daughter Alice, his only child with his first wife (who died just days after giving birth)—proved to be the most rambunctious and was known for her often outrageous behavior. She played it a bit differently when it came to her pets, too: Her preferred companion was a garter snake she named Emily Spinach “because it was as green as spinach and as thin as my Aunt Emily.”
Emily Spinach wasn’t the only snake in Roosevelt pet family, however. While Roosevelt was typically amused by his children’s antics, there was one snake-filled incident where Quentin may have pushed his dad a bit too far. The story goes that Quentin purchased four snakes at a pet store, then rushed to the Oval Office to show his father his latest acquisitions. Quentin burst into the room, where his father was holding an important meeting, and ran over to give his dad a hug—leading him to drop the snakes, which sent everybody running. When the snakes were eventually caught, they were sent back to the pet store from which they came.
13. Peter the Rabbit
OK, so maybe it’s not the most original name for a rabbit, but Peter was one-of-a-kind—particularly to Archie. When the bunny passed away in 1904, he was buried with all the pomp and circumstance the White House could muster. In a letter to Kermit, Theodore wrote:
“Yesterday poor Peter Rabbit died and his funeral was held with proper state. Archie, in his overalls, dragged the wagon with the little black coffin in which poor Peter Rabbit lay. Mother walked behind as chief mourner, she and Archie solemnly exchanging tributes to the worth and good qualities of the departed. Then he was buried, with a fuchsia over the little grave.”
14. A One-Legged Rooster
Not much is known about the Roosevelts’ pet rooster, except that it had just one leg. Which is enough for us.
15. Manchu the Dancing Pekingese
During a trip abroad, the last empress of China gifted Alice Roosevelt with a tiny Pekingese which she named Manchu. She swore that one of the pup’s favorite activities was standing back on its hind legs and dancing, and that she had seen him do it on the White House lawn.
16. A Bitey Bull Terrier Named Pete
Though the White House was full of energetic pets, one of them—a bull terrier named Pete—had a little too much energy. Some sources cite him as a Boston terrier or a bulldog, so his exact breed is not known. What is known is that he had a tendency to be a bit destructive, but was absolutely adored by the family.
In a 1907 letter to Kermit, TR wrote:
“We have had rather a tragedy about Pete. He has killed four squirrels. Dr. Rixey, who is a philosopher, insists that it is all right and proper as it shows that the squirrels were getting so careless that something was sure to kill them anyhow; but it makes both Mother and me rather melancholy. On the other hand, Pete loves us so and is such a ridiculously affectionate, fighting bulldog that we have not the heart to get rid of him.”
But when Pete graduated from attacking squirrels to biting people—including several naval officers, cabinet ministers, diplomats, and police officers—the Roosevelts had to reconsider their position. Eventually he had to be relocated to the family’s home in Long Island after an embarrassing international incident where, according to The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events author Stanley Coren, the dog chased French Ambassador Jules Jusserand “down a White House corridor, ultimately catching up with him and then tearing the bottom out of his pants.” The incident became a major headline, especially once the French government lodged an official complaint about it.
17. Skip the Rat Terrier
Equally beloved, but far less nippy, was Skip, an extremely affectionate black-and-tan rat terrier that rarely left Archie’s side. Once, when Edith and the kids had left Theodore alone at the White House, the president wrote to his son Archie about how much Skip missed them all:
“Poor Skip is a very, very lonely little dog without his family. Each morning he comes up to see me at breakfast time and during most of breakfast (which I take in the hall just outside my room) Skip stands with his little paws on my lap. Then when I get through and sit down in the rocking-chair to read for 15 or 20 minutes, Skip hops into my lap and stays there, just bathing himself in the companionship of the only one of his family he has left. The rest of the day he spends with the ushers, as I am so frightfully busy that I am nowhere long enough for Skip to have any real satisfaction in my companionship.”
18. Sailor Boy the Chesapeake Bay Retriever
If there was a patriarch of the Roosevelt dog clan, it might have Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Writing about their various pets’ temperaments, Theodore said of Sailor Boy:
“Much the most individual of the dogs and the one with the strongest character was Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay dog. He had a masterful temperament and a strong sense of both dignity and duty. He would never let the other dogs fight, and he himself never fought unless circumstances imperatively demanded it; but he was a murderous animal when he did fight."
19. Rollo the Saint Bernard
In 1902, Alfred S. Rollo—a family friend of the Roosevelts—tried to gift TR with a gigantic Saint Bernard puppy, but Roosevelt wanted nothing to do with it. In December of that year, he wrote to Rollo, saying:
“I’m going to ask you not to think me churlish if I say we have three collies already, one of them a puppy, and four other dogs in addition, and that I really do not [have] house room or stable room for any more. I dare not venture to tell your proposition to my children.”
Whether something got lost in translation or Rollo sent the pup along regardless, TR eventually grew to love the gentle giant, who was often seen in the president’s company.
20. Blackjack the Manchester Terrier
Sometimes described as “the most loved” pet of all, Blackjack—or Jack for short—was Kermit’s Manchester Terrier. In a 1902 letter, TR enclosed a photo of Kermit and his dog, writing, “It is a real pleasure to send you a photograph of my boy Kermit, with Jack, the Manchester terrier, who is absolutely a member of the family.”
Jack passed away while the Roosevelts were still living at the White House, so they buried him in the backyard. But in 1908, they exhumed his remains and had them reburied at Sagamore Hill, their Long Island estate, as Edith couldn’t bear the thought of Jack’s remains sitting “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.”
21. Tom Quartz the Cat
Jack had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Tom Quartz, a kitten who loved playing pranks on Jack (who might have been terrified of cats). Writing to Kermit in 1903, Roosevelt recounted a story:
“Tom Quartz is certainly the cunningest kitten I have ever seen. He is always playing pranks on Jack and I get very nervous lest Jack should grow too irritated. The other evening they were both in the library—Jack sleeping before the fire—Tom Quartz scampering about, an exceedingly playful little wild creature—which is about what he is. He would race across the floor, then jump upon the curtain or play with the tassel. Suddenly he spied Jack and galloped up to him. Jack, looking exceedingly sullen and shame-faced, jumped out of the way and got upon the sofa, where Tom Quartz instantly jumped upon him again. Jack suddenly shifted to the other sofa, where Tom Quartz again went after him. Then Jack started for the door, while Tom made a rapid turn under the sofa and around the table, and just as Jack reached the door leaped on his hind-quarters. Jack bounded forward and away and the two went tandem out of the room—Jack not reappearing at all; and after about five minutes Tom Quartz stalked solemnly back.”