Sunday, July 3, 2011

President Harding and Laddie Boy

It's almost Independence Day, so I thought that writing about another First Dog would be a nice, patriotic way to celebrate the holiday.  And when I learned about Laddie Boy, who was probably the most famous and popular First Dog ever, I knew that he was the one I should write about.

But to begin with, I will tell you a little bit about Laddie Boy's dad, who was Warren Gamaliel Harding.  He was born in Blooming Grove, Ohio, on November 2, 1865, and he was the oldest of 8 children.  Later, the family moved to Caledonia, Ohio, and Warren Harding's father bought the local newspaper.  At the age of 10, Warren began learning all about his father's business.  When he went to college, he learned even more about journalism, and he also learned a lot about public speaking.  In 1882, at the age of 17, he graduated from Ohio Central College with a Bachelor of Science degree.

After college, Mr. Harding moved to Marion, Ohio, and he ran the Marion Daily Star.  Later on, he served in the Ohio Senate, as Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, and as a U.S. Senator.  In 1920, the Republican Party nominated him to run for president.  He was friendly, conservative, and got along well with everybody.  He promised a return to "normalcy" after World War I.  Lots of people voted for him, so he was elected by a landslide.

The press really liked President Harding because he was a newspaperman himself.  He let them ask lots of questions, was honest with them, and even admitted he wasn't perfect.  But Congress didn't like him as much, and they didn't give him a "honeymoon," like they usually give to new presidents.

Laddie Boy came to the White House on March 5, 1921, which was the day after President Harding took office.  The new First Dog was an Airedale terrier, and he was 7 months old.  He had been born on July 26, 1920 at Caswell Kennels in Toledo, Ohio.  The president told his staff to let him know when the dog arrived, so they did, even though there was a cabinet meeting going on.  President Harding was so happy to get Laddie Boy that he brought him right into the meeting.  And ever after that, Laddie Boy went to most cabinet meetings, where he had his very own hand-carved chair to sit on.

Oh Boy and Laddie Boy
with caretaker Willie Jackson
For a little while, there were two First Dogs, because Mrs. Harding got an English bulldog as a gift.  His name was Oh Boy, but sadly, he was not very healthy, and he died not too long after he arrived at the White House.

First Dog and First Lady
But President and Mrs. Harding still had Laddie Boy, and they treated him like the son that they didn't have.  They let him run around all over the White House and greet visiting dignitaries on the front steps.  He got to beg for food from guests and play with children.  When the president went out on the lawn to hit some golf balls, Laddie Boy retrieved them.  Also he would bring the president his newspaper every morning while he was eating breakfast.  And the First Lady often let Laddie Boy make an appearance at fundraising events.

Laddie Boy okays his official portrait
The press especially liked Laddie Boy, and they wrote about him almost every day.  Sometimes they made up interviews with him to print in their papers.  This is how Laddie Boy got to be so extremely popular with everybody in the country.  Historian Helena Pycior said that he "was the first of the modern First Dogs . . . helping to further one of the Hardings' special causes -- animal welfare."  Of course, the Airedale breed got to be more popular, too, and many people wanted an Airedale of their very own.

A birthday cake made of dog treats!
When it was Laddie Boy's birthday, the White House would have a party and invite neighborhood dogs to come over and share a big cake made out of dog biscuits.  The First Dog hosted the Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn in 1922 and 1923.  And he rode on his very own float in a Humane Society parade.

Unfortunately, President Harding did not have a very fun time in the White House because there were a bunch of scandals and stuff going on.  He sort of tried to use Laddie Boy to distract people from thinking about the scandals, but this did not work all that well.  One time the president said, "I am not fit for this office and should never have been here."  Many people think of the Harding presidency as a failure, but he did do some good things, such as reducing income tax, federal spending, and unemployment.  Also he managed to make more peaceful relations with Germany, Japan, and Central America.

But the stress of his office was not good for President Harding's health, so in June of 1923, he and Mrs. Harding left Washington on a trip all the way across the country.  They even went to Alaska, which made Mr. Harding the first president to go there.  And wherever he went, he gave talks to explain his policies.  But as the trip went along, the president started feeling worse and worse.  Finally, in San Francisco, he died in his hotel room.  Probably he died from heart failure or maybe from a stroke.

Waiting for Dad to come home from his trip
Laddie Boy did not go on this trip, but some people said he could feel that something was wrong, and he howled for three days before President Harding died.  I don't know if this is a true story or not, but I know that it was very sad for Laddie Boy to lose his dad.

President Harding's funeral procession
When Mrs. Harding was getting ready to move out of the White House, she gave Laddie Boy to Harry Barker, the Secret Service agent who had been assigned to protect her, and who had been like a son to her.  Mr. Barker was transferred to the agency's Boston office, so Laddie Boy went to live with him and his wife in Newtonville, Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, 19,000 members of the Newsboys Association donated pennies to be melted down for making a life-sized statue of Laddie Boy for Mrs. Harding.  The sculpture was made by Bashka Paeff, but unfortunately, she didn't get it finished before Mrs. Harding died in 1924.  The statue of Laddie Boy is in the Smithsonian collection, but it is not on display right now.

Laddie Boy's statue at the Smithsonian
and an unidentified man
Laddie Boy himself died of old age on January 22, 1929, in the arms of Mrs. Barker.  He was buried somewhere in Newtonville.  And that's all I know about Laddie Boy, except that he was a good dog, and he had a long, good life.


  1. Oh, Piper--It is your Auntie Cheryl writing from Austin,TX. I *love* reading your blog and what a grand surprise to see a special entry about a very famous Airedale. You must remember all the Airedale and basenji pictures on the wall in your special guest room --where you and your mom stayed with Gabe (at the Bridge)when you have visited. I enjoyed reading your story about Laddie and I was also happy to see that even though he was loved, his family kept him sleek and trim--not overweight. Sadly, it appears he did not have a very long life--only about 9 years......That is quite young for an Airedale to die....sigh. Lots of people like Airedales but because of their size they think they should live outside and that makes Airedales *very* sad...They are true family dogs who love snuggling and love to do "the big nose poke"--where they poke your bottom from behind ....They are really clowns and will do anything for a laugh..My basenji mix, Katie Ruth, used to always tidy the beards on my Airedales--she did not like their beards to be yukky......We love you, Auntie Cheryl

  2. Dear Aunt Cheryl,
    I am glad you liked reading about a famous Airedale, which I thought you would like doing! I guess Laddie Boy did not really have a terribly long life, but back in those days, it was probably pretty long for a dog. If he lived nowadays, I think he could get much older before he died. And also President Harding could have had heart surgery and lived longer, too. Which is why it's good that we live now and not then. Laddie Boy didn't seem to have much of a beard, so I guess beards for Airedales were not in style back in those days.
    Love, Piper

  3. OMG, this is such a sad story, and you don't see dogs like Laddie Boy everyday


  4. Well, actually, Airedales are pretty common these days. They are groomed a little differently than Laddie Boy was, so they usually have more facial hair now, including a beard. As a basenji, I think it would be strange to have a beard because it would always be getting in your water dish and your food dish. Anyway, it is sad that President Harding died, but at least Laddie Boy got to go to another home where people loved him, so that's good.


  5. Dear Piper,

    Poor Laddie Boy! It must have been hard for him to feel the death of his master, but not be near him!

    I think the most famous President dog is Fala, FDR's Scottish Terrier. I had never heard of Laddie Boy of until today!

    Happy Independence Day, Piper!

    -Katie & Zena

  6. Dear Katie and Zena,

    Most people these days have not heard of Laddie Boy, but I guess he was really famous at one time. I wrote a whole blog entry about Fala and FDR, which maybe you have already read, but if not, you can find it here:
    I hope you had a nice Independence Day. I took some special, holiday naps, so that was fun. LOL

    Your friend, Piper