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One of the little-known facts about the office of President of the United States is that the president doesn’t usually keep the gifts given to him during his time in office. Many previous presidents accepted these gifts and used certain gifts on a regular basis, but in the post-World War II era, the practice of keeping gifts has been discontinued.
Beginning with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, each subsequent president has established a presidential library and museum in order to preserve letters and documents as well as items such as gifts of state and personal gifts received from admirers in America and abroad. Items from these massive collections rotate in and out of exhibits around the country as well as in the National Archives.
Here are thirty of the most unusual gifts that a United States president has received while in office, to enrich your knowledge of presidential trivia. We can’t say for sure that they’re the absolute strangest, but they’re certainly not something you could pick up at the local Hallmark store!
Presidential PortraitsSome of the most unusual presidential gifts are portraits created by admirers. Some of these are professional, some decidedly not.
Bill Clinton: Azerbaijani carpet portrait Heydar Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan, commissioned a carpet portrait from one of his country’s leading artisans. The finished product was a double portrait of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Ronald Reagan: Jelly Bean Portrait An admirer of Reagan, knowing about the president’s love of jelly beans, created a portrait of the president out of 10,000 jelly beans. The portrait, which measured 24 inches on each side, is just one of 75,000 gifts sent to Reagan.
Jimmy Carter: Octavio Ocampo portrait Commissioned by Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo, the portrait is a showcase of Ocampo’s “metamorphic”style, in which separate objects are combined to form a larger image.
John F. Kennedy: Carved peach pit R. J. McErlean carved a peach pit with the likeness of President Kennedy. This is impressive enough, but the pit also has his name inscribed, along with an eagle on a shield and St. Christopher.
Richard Nixon: Portraits on rice S. Nabi Ahmed Rizvi, a Pakistani man, created two different portraits of President Nixon on two grains of rice. Rice engraving is extremely difficult even when engraving simple characters, but portrait artistry requires an enormous amount of skill.
Gerald Ford: Painted-rock portrait. Ford’s unusual caricature sculpture portrait weighs almost 70 pounds and is made of river stone from Pennsylvania. Shipping costs must have been brutal.
The Presidential Menagerie
Many foreign officials have presented the president with animals. Here are a few memorable animal gifts:
George H.W. Bush: Komodo dragon The president of Indonesia presented a Komodo dragon to Bush “41″in 1990. In case you weren’t aware, the Komodo dragon is a vicious predator whose venom is extremely toxic. Nothing says friendship like a deadly reptile! Naga, the reptile in question, went to live at the Cincinnati Zoo and finally passed away in 2007 at the ripe old age of 24.
Theodore Roosevelt: Coyote This unfriendly beast apparently rampaged around the White House grounds, frightening President Roosevelt’s staff.
Theodore Roosevelt: Zebra and lion The ebullient President Roosevelt was known worldwide for his appreciation of wildlife. Perhaps it was for this reason that the King of Abyssinia sent him a live lion and zebra. One can only assume they were kept in separate crates during the overseas journey. In case you’re curious, Abyssinia is now called Ethiopia.
Richard Nixon: Two giant pandas These two pandas were for years the star attraction at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the two adorable, fuzzy giant pandas, were given to the United States after Nixon’s friendship tour of China in 1972. Ling-Ling passed away suddenly in 1992 and Hsing-Hsing died in 1999, having outlasted the terms of five presidents.
Food is a tricky item to handle due to its perishability. While the president can’t always make use of a food gift, all efforts are made to ensure such gifts don’t go to waste.
George W. Bush: 300 pounds of raw lamb In 2003, the president of Argentina sent this unusual gift of meat to President Bush. It was sent to the General Services Administration for storage and distribution.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Giant birthday cake The Bakery and Confectionary Workers Union presented an enormous 300-pound birthday cake to President Roosevelt for his 59th birthday. They also contributed to his anti-polio campaign.
Rutherford B. Hayes: Carved Lemon President Hayes was presented with a lemon, carved to look like a pig. Why? Nobody knows. Perhaps Hayes’ wife, Lucy, was the gift’s inspiration. People called her “Lemonade Lucy”because she would not allow alcohol to be served at official dinners and parties.
William McKinley: Giant watermelon President McKinley received a three-foot-long, eighty-pound prize watermelon from Congressman Livingstone of Georgia.
One of the more interesting presidential gift stories revolves around a couple of behemoth cheeses given to two presidents twenty years apart.
Thomas Jefferson: 1,235-Pound Cheese When Thomas Jefferson was elected, the Republican Baptists of Cheshire, Massachusetts presented him with a half-ton cheese. The cheese was made only with milk from good Republican cows. Jefferson refused to accept the cheese without paying $200 for it.
Andrew Jackson: 1,400-Pound Cheese Not to be outdone, a New York dairyman named Meacham presented President Jackson with a huge cheese of his own. It was four feet in diameter and two feet thick. Meacham wanted everyone to know that his cheese was bigger than President Jefferson’s cheese.
These are gifts that the presidents who received them actually used at some point.
Harry S Truman: Bowling alley In 1947, donors from Missouri bought President Truman a two-lane bowling alley. It was installed in the White House originally and moved to the Old Executive Office Building in 1955. Truman’s staff liked the little alley so much they formed a league.
Abraham Lincoln: Clothes President Lincoln gave away the alcoholic beverages that people gave him, but he accepted many other gifts, including clothes. In fact, the suit he wore to his inauguration was given to him by a Chicago clothing company.
George Washington: A day off Actually, Congress gave everybody a day off on President Washington’s behalf. The 1880 decision of Congress was the first time a federal holiday was created in honor of an American. “Washington’s Birthday”was observed yearly on February 22 until 1968, when it was decided that federal holidays should always be on a Monday.
Not Useful Stuff, And Definitely A Little Weird
This category is self-explanatory.
Herbert Hoover: Model of San Francisco in wood and bronze. Gov. James Rolph sent Hoover the model in 1932 as an invitation to attend a Shriners’ convention. It is not known what Hoover would actually do with a model of San Francisco.
Gerald Ford: Purple Heart and Silver Star medals. When Ford granted amnesty to deserters and “draft dodgers”who had left the country, many Vietnam veterans were angered. Hundreds of veterans sent their medals to President Ford in protest.
George H. W. Bush: Desert Storm chess set The father of one of our servicemen used his concern for his son’s well-being as inspiration for a Desert Storm chess set, which featured vehicles such as the Stealth bomber sitting on tiny oil drums.
Richard Nixon: Colt .45 pistol from the World War II era In a now-famous meeting, Elvis Presley came to the White House one day, gave President Nixon a commemorative Colt .45 from the World War II era and shared his desire to help him fight the growing drug problem in America.
George W. Bush: Electric harp and speakerphone The president of Vietnam gave George W. Bush an electric harp and a speakerphone, for some reason.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: 25 pieces of pre-Columbian pottery Manuel Prado, president of Peru, gave FDR twenty-five pieces of valuable pre-Columbian Peruvian pottery.
Ulysses S. Grant: Coffee pot and leopard skins The President received a silver coffee pot and several magnificent leopard skins from the ruling dons of Mexico upon reaching office.
Richard Nixon: Dinosaur’s footprint Yes, someone gave President Nixon a dinosaur’s footprint. No word on what sort of dinosaur it was.
Super-Weird Stuff, Made Out Of Other Stuff
We’ve saved the most unusual for last! Not much is known about these last few gifts, except that they were definitely given… because they’re too strange to make up.
Gerald Ford: Eagle made of beer-can tabs
Theodore Roosevelt: Collage of world leaders made of cigar wrappers
Harry S Truman: Rocking chair made of bottle caps