How a Burger Joint Almost Ruined Richard Nixon
Orange County Archives, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
A lot of presidents seem to have “that” brother. Jimmy Carter had Billy, and Bill Clinton has Roger. Then there’s Don Nixon.
Back in the ‘50s, Dick’s younger brother, Don, ran a chain of drive-in burger joints in California. Customers could enjoy fish sticks and fries for just 40 cents, a banana split for 25 cents, or a “Nixonburger” with cheese for 20 cents.
Despite these reasonable prices and a family-friendly atmosphere, Nixon’s wasn’t doing so well. In 1956, Don took a loan of $205,000 from Howard Hughes—yes, Spruce Goose Howard Hughes—in order to keep his operations afloat. When Dick Nixon’s opponents dug up this dirt during the campaign season for the 1960 elections, the press had a field day with it. Tricky Dick’s political enemies insisted it proved Hughes had a stronghold over the family, and the whole affair became a punchline for political cartoons and practical jokers. During a campaign stop in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the future president was convinced to pose for a photo op in front of a large banner with Chinese characters written on it. A resident eventually whispered to him that the sign read, “What about the Hughes loan?”
Later the same day, Nixon was having lunch with community leaders when fortune cookies were passed out post-meal. After the entire crowd broke out laughing, he discovered that the paper inside each cookie read, “Ask him about the Hughes loan.”
Though there were other contributing factors to JFK’s eventual election win that year, the Nixonburger Scandal was right up there. And to add insult to injury, the loan ended up being completely useless: Despite the money, the restaurants went under and Don filed for bankruptcy in 1961. Don worried that he had cost his brother the election, and Nixon assured him that the scandal only had an impact in California, which they won anyway.
However, during testimony over the Watergate scandal years later, it became clear that the elder Nixon never did regain much trust in his younger brother: Dick admitted to having his brother’s phone wiretapped to monitor any shady business dealings.