News & Politics

A History of Presidential Presents

Who wouldn’t want an FDR doggie keychain?

Photograph by Vacclav via iStock.

White House aides work herculean hours for limited pay. To maintain morale, Presidents—like bosses everywhere—sometimes try to augment the paycheck with an occasional gift. Of course, when you’re POTUS, even a holiday tchotchke can be memorable. Some examples:

When he left the White House in 1909, Theodore Roosevelt and his family gave gifts to the residence staff. Chief usher Ike Hoover got a pair of pince-nez eyeglasses that had been worn by Teddy himself.

Franklin Roosevelt regularly gave items to the entire White House staff, including in 1940, when he provided them with a key chain bearing a figurine of FDR’s beloved Scottish terrier, Fala.

Each year, Harry Truman offered his staff presents that corresponded to external events. For Christmas 1948, after he won a surprise election victory, it was a leather bookmark with the words “I would rather have peace in the world than be President.”

In Dwight Eisenhower’s first year, he bestowed on his staff a picture of a painting that the ex-general had made of Abraham Lincoln.

This article appears in the December 2021 issue of Washingtonian.