For You, Mr. President - Americans and their Gift for Giving

Americans have always written to their Presidents, and often their letters have included gifts — some typical of the times and some reflecting the interests or hobbies of a particular President. People from every region of our country and every walk of life have sent presents — from handmade items and photographs to flowers and food. In fact, a look into the history of Presidential gifts provides a fascinating perspective on our country's way of life and how it has changed.

Ira Smith (right) confers with President Harry Truman (left) about his mail. Ira Smith (right) confers with President Harry Truman (left) about his mail. (Photo courtesy the Harry Truman Library.)

Ira Smith received on the President's behalf some of the more unusual gifts ever sent to the White House. Some of these included a coyote sent to President Theodore Roosevelt that terrorized the White House staff when it escaped; two Nubian lions from Ethiopia; a large Alaskan eagle; numerous horned toads; a Puerto Rican cow and calf for the "White House dairy"; and a grain of rice with selections from the Koran written on it, which was lost and never recovered when the package was opened.

More recently, President Jimmy Carter, well known for his Georgia peanut farm, received all sorts of gifts relating to peanuts. President Ronald Reagan, who had a weakness for jelly beans, received mountains of jelly beans, jelly bean jars, and even artwork created from — you guessed it — jelly beans! President Clinton also receives many gifts each year. Some of his favorites include gifts from young children from all over the world. He especially enjoys the drawings, White House models, and elaborate school projects he receives.

Previous Page Next Page