To date the United States of America has had 45 presidents, but only 12 of them had cats in the White House. ‘First Cats’ may not receive as much press as the ‘First Dogs’, but they have a long history in the nation’s capital,
writes PAULINE MURPHY
Since George Washington‘s time, every President of the United States have had pets of all sorts. James Madison had a Macaw, Andrew Johnson had white mice, Warren G Harding owned a squirrel and nearly every president had a dog – but only ten have had cats take the title of ‘presidential pet.’
Abraham Lincoln became the first U.S. president to bring cats into the White House. Upon election to the highest office in the land, Lincoln was gifted two kittens by Secretary of State William Seward. He named them Tabby and Dixie and they became an integral part of family life in the White House.
Lincoln was known to have a strong affection for felines and during the American Civil War while on a visit to the HQ of General Ulysses Grant, the president came across three near frozen to death kittens in a telegraph hut in the camp.
When the President enquired of their mother and was told she had died, he ordered a colonel to take care of the orphaned kittens.
Ruthford B. Hayes is reported to have had the first Siamese cat in America. The president’s wife received a gift of the cat, which she named Siam, from the American Consul in Bangkok.
A diplomat there by the name of David B Sickels had written to the first lady to inform her that he was sending her a Siamese cat as she had a fondness for felines. Two months after receiving the letter, a Wells Fargo crate arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with what was the first Siamese cat in America.
Siam became a well-loved fixture of White House life but in 1879 Siam became seriously ill. The president’s physician tried to help the cat but five days after first falling ill, the much-loved feline passed away. It left the first family heart broken, none more so than Mrs Hayes who instructed that Siam be preserved.