The story of Presidential Cats at the White House goes back over 100 years. Even though President Clinton’s cat, Socks, is probably the most famous cat that lived in the White House, being nicknamed Chief Executive Cat. President Abraham Lincoln was the first President to bring cats to the White House.
And most likely, Lincoln was the President that loved cats the most. We say that because he went so far as to rescue some feral cats from a Civil War battlefield. He had such a bond with felines that First Lady Mary Lincoln said her husband’s hobby was cats.
Rutherford Hayes’s connection with cats is relatively well-known, as he was the recipient of the first Siamese cat in the U.S., named Siam. She was sent to Mrs. Hayes in 1878 as a gift from a U.S. diplomat, David Sickels, in Bangkok, Thailand.
Presidential Cats at the White House
Barrack Obama didn’t have cats (shame on him), but George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and John F. Kennedy had felines at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Calvin Coolidge, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson also had cats.
On President’s Day, take a look at Presidential Cats
With President’s Day around the corner, we wanted to revisit these Presidential Cats, and take get a better feel for just who they are. Paws stumbled across the Presidential Pet Museum, which has a whole host of information about pets who’ve lived at the White House. We found a number of dogs, horses, cats, and even snakes have resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We even found President Dwight Eisenhower hated cats so much that he gave his staff orders to shoot any cats seen on the grounds of his home. Let’s not go there, and take a look at some Presidential Cats.
President Clinton’s Socks became Chief Executive Cat
Socks, joined the Clinton family before they moved to the White House. This black and white tuxedo cat with white sock-like markings jumped into the arms of Chelsea Clinton as she was leaving her piano teacher’s home in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1991. He gained his notoriety while roaming freely around the grounds at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock. Photographers would stake out just like the Paparazzi to get a photo of this political cat.
Once the Clinton’s moved to the White House, Socks was safely confined to the inside of the White House. Can you imagine the Secret Service trying to guard a cat on the White House lawn?
Socks frequented the Oval Office, where he enjoyed sitting on the president’s shoulders. He also wound hang out in a wing chair in the West Wing, just outside the Oval Office. He frequently could be found in Betty Currie’s (the president’s secretary) office.
Socks, Chief Executive Cat
This Chief Executive Chief cat did not stay hidden away. Hillary Clinton often took Socks to visit children or senior citizens in local hospitals and other events in Washington, D.C. He had his own carrying case emblazoned with the Presidential seal. He would sit on the first lady’s lap, seeming to enjoy the attention, and of course, all the photos.
President Clinton referred to Socks as Chief Executive Cat. She had her own fan club page on the White House Web site and her own in-box for fan mail. Socks was featured on a set of stamps issued by The Central African Republic and her image was also used in the White House to mark routes for visiting schoolchildren. When Socks died in 2009, her ashes were flown back to Arkansas for burial.
Socks became a celebrity
Other notables Socks received included:
- Being featured on the 1990’s popular TV comedy, Murphy Brown, in which the star of the show unintentionally kidnapped her from the White House.
- Starring in a never-released video game designed for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis systems in 1993. In the game, he had to dodge various obstacles such as spies and corrupt politicians to warn the Clinton’s of a nuclear threat.
- Appearing in Muppet form on CNN’s Larry King Live for an interview with Kermit the Frog, who was guest hosting.
- Becoming the subject of a cartoon book and a song; he was a character in a cartoon strip.
- Featured with President Clinton in a series of Central African Republic’s stamps.
In 1997, a chocolate Labrador retriever named Buddy joined the Clinton family at the White House. Socks never took a liking to Buddy, and Socks would relish every opportunity to take a swipe at the dog. When the Clinton’s left the White House in 2001, they separated the two animals by giving Socks to his secretary Betty Currie, Once settled with the Currie’s in Maryland, Socks continued to make public appearances, especially in support of animal charities.
When Socks died in 2009 at the age of 20, the Clinton’s issued the following statement:
‘Socks brought much happiness to Chelsea and us over the years, and enjoyment to kids and cat lovers everywhere. We’re grateful for those memories, and we especially want to thank our good friend, Betty Currie, for taking such loving care of Socks for so many years.’
First Presidential Cat at the White House: Abraham Lincoln
When Lincoln was elected President, he left his dog Fido home in Springfield, Ill., but much to his surprise, Secretary of State William Seward greeted him with an unexpected gift, two kittens. Lincoln doted on the two cats, named Tabby and Dixie, so much that he once fed Tabby with a gold fork from the table during a formal dinner at the White House, much to his guest’s surprise. He would talk to his cats for hours, letting them snuggle in his lap.
He said the cats were smarter than any members of his Cabinet. (We all know how smart cats are.) He also loved stray cats, with Mrs. Lincoln calling them her husband’s ‘hobby. when visiting her father and stepmother in Kentucky, she wrote a letter to the President, that stated their son Eddy had taken up ‘your hobby’ by adopting a stray kitten.
During a visit to General Ulysses S. Grant‘s headquarters in City Point, Va.just weeks before his assassination, Lincoln was distracted by the sound of mewing kittens, and during a winter visit to a Civil War battlefield, Lincoln rescued three half-frozen kittens and brought them back to the White House until good homes were found for them.
Presidential Cats – The Siamese Cats
Rutherford Hayes received the first Siamese cat in the U.S., named Siam. She was sent to Mrs. Lucy Hayes in 1879 as a gift from a U.S. diplomat, David Sickels, in Bangkok, Thailand. In the original letter documenting Siam’s arrival, she is described by Sickels as “mahogany-colored” and “one of the finest specimens of Siamese cats that I have been able to procure in this country.” Siam was allowed to roam the White House and often made ‘grand entrances’ whenever the First Lady entertained guests.
Siam was shipped from Thailand, via Hong Kong, then to San Francisco; and from there, she traveled by land to Washington. Elegant and slender with long legs and bright blue eyes, Siam created quite a stir in the White House. Lucy Hayes at first named the cat Miss Pussy, but later changed her name to Siam after noticing her regal bearing and high-born attitude. The cat soon became the president’s daughter Fanny’s favorite.
After only a few months, Siam became sick and did not recover, even though the President’s own physician Dr. J. H. Baxter, was asked to examine the cat and care for her. Instructions were given to preserve the cat’s body, but a stuffed Siam has never been found, according to the Hayes Presidential Center. The Hayes also had another less famous cat, Piccolomini, who took a backseat to the famous Siam.
Many decades later, two more Siamese cats made their home in the White House.
Gerald Ford’s Presidential Cat – Siamese Shan
President Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan, brought her miniature seal point Siamese cat named Shan with her to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when her father became president in 1974. Her parents gave Shan to Susan in 1973 as an Easter present, and the cat moved with the family from their home in Arlington, Va. to the White House when Ford became president in 1974.
The cat, whose full name was Shan Shein, was named after a town the Fords visited in China. When Susan Ford, President Gerald Ford’s teenage daughter, was in school for the day, her cat, Shan, would often hide under the bed in the Lincoln bedroom. Shan slept in Susan’s bed at night and spent her days trying to avoid Liberty, the Ford’s gregarious golden retriever. Shan preferred women over men, but she made an exception for the President, often rubbing against his legs and waiting for an opportunity to get into his lap. Shan was even featured in People’s Magazine.
Presidential Siamese Cat – Carter’s Misty Malarky Ying Yang
The Siamese cat vibe at the White House continued for another term with President Jimmy Carter’s daughter’s seal point Siamese cat, Misty Malarky Ying Yang. The personable, high-energy Misty made her presence known among Amy’s 39 teddy bears, and could often be found curled up in her favorite spot — Amy’s indoor dollhouse. The cat even had a song named after it – Gabor Szabo created an instrumental track called ‘Misty Malarky Ying Yang’.
Presidential Cat – George W Bush’s India, nicknamed Willie
President George W. Bush’s cat India, nicknamed Willie, let her Fido friend take the spotlight as she was timid and didn’t gain the media attention directed at Socks. Willie would hang out in the White House Library. George and Laura Bush adopted India in late 1991 when their twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, were nine-years-old. At the time, Bush owned the Texas Ranger baseball team, and daughter Barbara named the ink-black cat after a star baseball player, Rubén Sierra, who was nicknamed ‘El Indio’. India lived to be 18-years-old before passing away in 2009.
In July 2004, protesters in Kerala, India, burned an effigy of President George W. Bush in protest of his cat’s name — India. In addition, members of the citizen’s group Prathikarana Vedi assembled before the Kerala assembly saying that the jet-black cat’s name was an insult to their country, even though he was named after a famous ballplayer.
Presidential Cats: Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan and his family-owned two stray tortoise-shell cats, Cleo and Sara. They actually did not reside at the White House. They resided at their vacation home, Rancho del Cielo, in California during his White House years. The Reagan’s also owned several other (unnamed) cats at the ranch.
President John F Kennedy
Tom Kitten, sometimes called ‘Tom Terrific’, when he wasn’t making the President sneeze, belonged to President Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy. What makes Tom interesting is that he was rarely actually at the White House.
Despite his many pets, JFK had allergies and it seems that Tom’s presence was enough to trigger the allergies, including sneezing and watery eyes. Just a few weeks after Tom arrived at the White House, the President re-homed him to go live with White House staffer Mary Gallagher. Gallagher had two sons around Caroline’s age, and she often arranged for Caroline to come over to play — with the boys and the cat. When he died, Tom Kitten merited his own obituary in a Washington newspaper.
Calvin and Grace Coolidge
Calvin and Grace Coolidge had big and small cats as well as a host of other animals at the White House. It is sometimes referred to as ‘almost a zoo’. He had four house cats named Boulder, Tiger, Mud, Timmie, and a bobcat named Smoky. He also was said to have two lion cubs.
Blacky regularly enjoyed cream in a saucer and liked to hang out in the White House elevator. One day, Tiger became lost outdoors, and a radio announcement—a new technology at the time—helped to locate him. Timmie liked to hang out with a family canary perched between his shoulders.
President Woodrow Wilson had Puffins & Teddy Roosevelt had Slippers
President Woodrow Wilson had two cats, Mittens, and Puffins. However, his most famous pet was Old Ike, the president’s ram that would graze the White House lawn.
The Theodore Roosevelt family had multiple pets during their time in the White House — the most out of any president with 23 different animals. One pet was Slippers, a six-toed grey-blue cat. He also had a cat called Tom Quartz, said to have been named after the character in Roughing It by Mark Twain. Slippers often fell asleep in the hallway, and at one state banquet, it is said guests had to walk around her as they made their way to the dining room.
William McKinley owned 2 Turkey Angoras & Martin van Buren had two tiger cubs
William McKinley owned two Turkish Angora cats, Valeriano Weyler, named for the governor of Cuba, and Enrique DeLome, named after Spain’s Ambassador.
Martin van Buren owned two tiger cubs — gifts from the Sultan of Oman. He was eventually pressured (by Congress) to move them out of the White House and donate them to the local zoo.
President Chester Arthur
President Chester Arthur has an Internet photo with cats, but we only found references to Miss Pussy. Other reports say he didn’t have any pets. It’s not very well-known, but Chester A. Arthur comes from a long line of cat groomers. In fact, he’s one of the most renowned cat groomers to ever be president.
There’s also a strong rumor that says President-elect Joe Biden will be bringing a calico cat to the White House. The cat, name yet unknown will be accompanied by two German Shepherds Champ and Major. The cat may bring some good luck to the new President.
According to folklore, calico cats are lucky. Japanese sailors traveled with calicos to ensure a safe voyage and protect their ships from harm. In England and the United States, male calicos are considered especially lucky thanks to their rarity.
There may be a host of other cats that have roamed the White House, and if you find some, please share so we can add them to the list. All photos here were shared from various sites across the Internet.
While the number of dogs gracing the White House outnumbers cats, the history of presidents owning pets dates back to the founding of the country.
It is said some commanders-in-chief have used the pets to appeal to a broader audience, soften their image as pet friendly, or maybe just because they love animals. President George Washington was also the doting owner of several pets. Not only did the avid fox-hunter keep a pack of hounds, but Washington was also known for having almost every group of dogs recognized today by the American Kennel Club.
What do you think it would be like for a cat to live at the White House? We are glad that Rutherford Hayes helped bring the regal Siamese cat to this country? President Trump did not have cats or any pets, but we understand President Biden will be sharing 1600 Pennsylvania with a Calico Cat. Maybe we will have another Executive Cat. For Paws, it was inspiring to find so many cats have lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, even though they’ve been overshadowed by the dogs. For the latest Paws news, sign up for our email list and receive YOUR FREE Guide to Stop Kitty from Destroying Your Sofa.