Know Your American Presidents: Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)

June 5, 2010 at 3:12 am | Posted in Historical, Presidential Picture of the Day | Leave a comment

Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, holding her pet raccoon. Between 1921 and 1923. (Library of Congress)

Here I was, minding my own business, reading a review of Russell Brand’s new movie Get Him To The Greek (the press has been very kind so far), only to find myself immersed in Calvin Coolidge.

A reference in the review to Trylon and Perisphere lead to the discovery that Coolidge was given a pygmy hippo named Billy as a gift in 1927, and we were off and running.

Coolidge would pay frequent visits to his little hippo Billy — and his pair of lion cubs, which he named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau, as well as a bear, a wallaby from Australia and other exotic pets received as gifts — at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. After happily breeding with two females and making himself the great-great-grandaddy of many of the United States’ current population of pygmy hippos, Billy succumbed to old age in 1955.

Coolidge’s house pets included a white collie named Rob Roy, a yellow collie named Bessie, a brown collie named Ruby Rough, a terrier named Peter Pan, an Airedale terrier named Paul Pry, a sheepdog named Calamity Jane, a bull dog named Boston Beans, a German Shepherd named King Cole, a bird dog named Palo Alto, and a pair of Chows — Tiny Tim and Blackberry.

President Calvin Coolidge. Carriage made by his father and often ridden in by Coolidge. (Library of Congress)

(David Pietrusza) When Rob Roy developed a stomach ailment in September 1928, the Coolidges had him sent
to Walter Reade Army hospital for treatment. “The doctor thought he would come through
OK,” wrote Grace to a friend, but the operation was not a success. “My poor doggie died this
morning before I reached home,” the President wrote, “He was still at Walter Reade.”

Also living at the White House were a thrush, Enoch the Goose, a couple of cats, a number of canaries, two raccoons, a donkey, and a bobcat named Smokey.

One imagines that Coolidge’s love for animals was a result of growing up the son of “a prosperous but thrifty farmer and storekeeper” in Vermont in the late 1800s.

But how did the President of the United States have time for all these animals?

(In the Time of Lovecraft) Coolidge made it clear in his inaugural address (the first ever broadcast on radio), that he intended to do nothing to upset the status quo. He spent two-thirds of his time on vacation. His workday averaged four hours. It was big news when he did anything as exciting as go fishing: on one occasion when he caught trout using worms, instead of the more orthodox flies, the controversy raged in the newspapers for several days. He almost never had anything to say on any subject that was more than a simple platitude: when asked about the politically volatile issue of Prohibition, he would say only that the laws of the land should be enforced. Such brave stands were typical of him. He once said: “When more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results.” It was Coolidge who uttered the famous proclamation: “The business of America is business,” and he was as good as his word. He roused himself from his naps on occasion to reduce the taxes of the wealthy, cut government spending and regulations, and tell the nation that everything was going just fine, thereby fueling gross stock market speculation

Calvin Coolidge signing the income tax bill, also known as the Mellon tax bill. Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon is the third figure from the right, and Director of the Budget, General Herbert Mayhew Lord, is to Mellon's left. 1926 February 26. (Library of Congress)

Coolidge’s Treasury Secretary was Andrew Mellon who had the brilliant idea of slashing taxes in 1926 in order to reduce the deficit left over from WWI, leading to an explosion of money into the stock market, and I think we all know what happened next.

He might not have been the greatest American president, but Coolidge seems like a guy who would be really fun to hang out with, despite that fact he was found by the chief of his Secret Service detail “in the basement putting a black cat in a crate with a rooster, just to see what would happen.”


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