Theodore Roosevelt and family once owned a one-legged rooster. Photo: National Photo Company, Library of Congress.
The White House was definitely a lively place during Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency.
Theodore Roosevelt, our youngest president, took the oath of office in 1901 after the death of President William McKinley. He and his wife, Edith, moved to Pennsylvania Avenue with six children and a veritable menagerie of well-loved animals (see full list of their pets below this article).
One of the more colorful — and noisy – of the Roosevelt pets was Eli Yale, a Hyacinth macaw parrot. Apparently named after Elihu Yale, the 18th-century British merchant and philanthropist who is the namesake of Yale University, the colorful macaw is best known for being in a photograph on the arm of a well-dressed and serious-looking Teddy Jr., only 14 at the time.
This 1902 portrait was taken in the White House conservatory, where the bird must have enjoyed spending time.
Unfortunately, the White House greenhouses were torn down that same year to make room for an office annex that evolved into the West Wing.
Loud? Sure, Maybe Just a Little Loud …
“Loud” is the first word that comes to mind when macaw owners describe their pets. In fact, you can hear macaws in their native rainforest habitat from at least five miles away.
Playful and active, Hyacinth macaws have a lively personality to go along with their size, which can reach up to 42 inches in height and 3 to 4 pounds in weight. The largest parrot by length in the world, the Hyacinth macaw is a striking bird with vibrant blue feathers, a large black curved beak, and bright yellow accents on its face.
The Roosevelt kids – and their pet-loving dad — undoubtedly enjoyed the fact that macaws are very good at mimicking speech and sounds. Macaws require quite a bit of interaction from their owners and can get especially noisy when they are bored.
Chances are, however, that Eli was well entertained by the rowdy Roosevelt family.
President Roosevelt himself kept a sense of humor about the bird. He wrote in June 1902, “Eli [is] the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boiler plate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion.”
Here is a video explaining more about Hyacinth macaws:
When President Theodore Roosevelt, his wife, and his six children left Washington, D.C. in 1909, he remarked: “I don’t think any family has enjoyed the White House more than we have.”
The lively young family did have quite the menagerie of pets, including dogs, cats, birds, and a pony.
One of the beloved family dogs was a black, smooth-haired Manchester terrier named Blackjack, or Jack for short.
Known for their alertness, Manchester terriers have been described as cat-like in their fastidiousness. Reserved with strangers but devoted to its family, the Manchester terrier generally is a well-mannered house pet.
“Absolutely a Member of the Family”
In a letter dated July 27, 1902 to a Mrs. Roswell Field, President Roosevelt wrote, “It is a real pleasure to send you a photograph of my boy Kermit, with Jack, the Manchester terrier, who is absolutely a member of the family.”
Apparently Jack did have at least one weakness: He was afraid of cats. One source, in fact, reports that the family cat, Tom Quartz, capitalized on Jack’s fear of her and terrorized him every chance she got.
According to a biography of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Jack was the family’s first ever “inside” dog, and he slept with Ted “and would crawl under the covers and sleep alongside his feet.
The problem was that Jack sometimes enjoyed eating covers of books. But the dog’s personality still won over all of the family. President Roosevelt wrote: “Jack was human in his intelligence and affection; he learned all kinds of tricks, was a high-bred gentleman, never brawled, and was a dauntless fighter.”
Buried and Then Moved
When Jack died, the family buried him behind the White House. First Lady Edith Roosevelt had a change of heart, however, saying she couldn’t bear to have the little dog there “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.”
At the end of Roosevelt’s second term in 1908, Jack’s coffin was exhumed and reburied at Sagamore Hill, the Roosevelts’ Long Island estate.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr. wrote in All in the Family: “Mother wished another dog as much like him as could be found — a “Jack dog.” We got another Manchester terrier, a miserable meaching creature, like Jack in nothing but color.
In 1908, the Washington Evening Star reported:
“There is no home in Washington so full of pets of high and low degree as is the White House, and those pets not only occupy the attention of the children, but the president is himself their good friend, and has a personal interest in every one of them.”
The president in question was none other than Teddy Roosevelt, and one of the more endearing White House pet stories involves his son Archie’s pony, Algonquin.
Nine-year-old Archie, the fifth of six Roosevelt children, received the Shetland pony from Secretary of the Interior Ethan Allen Hitchcock as a gift.
Secretary Hitchcock imported the animal from Iceland, and the 8-year-old pony was described as a beautiful specimen of his breed.
Measuring 33 inches in height at the withers and weighing in at 350 pounds, Algonquin was described by The Washington Post as “iron gray or dun with spots and compactly built with round barrel, small ears, clean pony face, and stocky limbs.”
Apparently, he was photogenic as well because the pony and Archie became favorites of White House photographers. “Algonquin is a very good-natured, though spirited little beast,” the Post went on to report. “And when carrying his youthful master, the two are a picture calculated to inspire an artist.”
- Don’t Miss: Emily Spinach in the Roosevelt White House
An Elevator Ride Fit for a Pony
The story goes that when Archie was recovering from the measles in spring 1903, he asked his mother if he could visit his pony.
After Mrs. Roosevelt said Archie was not strong enough yet to venture to the stable, White House footman Charles Reeder came up with an alternate plan. He decided to bring the pony to the boy by walking Algonquin into the White House and into the elevator.
Reeder later recalled that Algonquin shivered and looked around wildly when the elevator began to move but then settled down for his journey.
Archie was delighted to see his friend and let out a loud whoop when he saw him. One report of the encounter says the pony startled and slipped on the bedroom floor with a large crash that sent the entire family running.
That summer, Algonquin accompanied the First Family to Sagamore Hill, their home on Long Island. Once again, the press couldn’t resist the story.
One Washington, D.C. columnist wrote, “The question now agitating the mind of the groom in charge [is] whether Archie will ride in the box car with Algonquin or whether Algonquin will be accorded a section of a Pullman with Archie.”
Another Roosevelt son had a famous macaw named Eli. You can read all about it here.