Correction appended, Sept. 23
On September 23rd in 1952, Senator
Richard Nixon appeared on the air to deliver what would come to be known, much to his annoyance, as the Checkers Speech. Checkers, a black and white cocker spaniel, was the Nixon’s family dog.
Nixon was a vying for a place as Eisenhower’s running-mate, when his opponents dug up a potential scandal—a relatively flimsy claim that he had used some of his campaign funds for personal use. As part of this defense, he admits in the
speech that he did receive one gift, “a little cocker spaniel dog, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re going to keep it.” Richard M. Nixon plays with his family's black and white cocker spaniel "Checkers" at his home in Washington on Sept. 28, 1952. AP
The personal and emotional nature of the speech was something novel in politics at the time and audiences loved it. “By one count”, writes Lee Huebner in
, “there were some four million responses to the speech—virtually all of them pro-Nixon.” For many, this speech was one of the first times they saw a candidates family, pets and all, become part of the political process. “After ‘Checkers'”, Huebner writes, “families would become central participants in a new political dramaturgy.” The Atlantic Dogs have been a part of presidential life right from the beginning. According the the Mount Vernon estate, George Washington kept a huge variety of dog breeds, including four French hounds: Tipsy, Mopsey, Truelove, and Ragman. Sunny and Bo, Barack Obama’s two Portuguese water dogs, are the two current First Dogs in the White House. Correction: The original version of this story misstated the owner of the dog Fala. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Bo, the Obama's family pet, plays in the snow during a blizzard on the south grounds of the White House, Feb. 10, 2010.
Pete Souza—The White House Franklin Delano Roosevelt sits behind the wheel of his car with his German Shepherd, Major, outside of his home in Hyde Park, New York, in the mid 1930's. FPG/Getty Images Ronald Reagan presents First Lady, Nancy Reagan, with an early Christmas present of a King Charles Spaniel named Rex, at their suite in a New York City hotel, Dec. 6, 1985. Pete Souza—Pictorial Parade/Getty Images Barbara Bush talks to her dog, Millie, as she and granddaughter, Barbara Bush, age nine, wait for George Bush to return to the White House on Sept. 13, 1991, Jennifer Law—AFP/Getty Images Barack Obama with his daughters Malia (C) and Sasha (R) walk the family's new Portuguese water dog Bo, on the South Lawn of the White House on April 14, 2009. The six-month-old puppy was a gift from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), who owns several Portuguese water dogs himself. This breed of dog is considered a good pet for children who have allergies, as Malia does. Win McNamee—Getty Images George W. Bush calls for his dog Barney as he stands on the West Wing Colonnade at the White House on Sept. 28, 2007. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images Lyndon B. Johnson gets a lively greeting from his daughter Lucy's beagles, Him and Her, in a White House corridor, Dec. 21, 1963. Harvey Georges—AP Bill Clinton holds his new dog, a chocolate Labrador pup, in a photo released December 9, 1997. Ho Old—Reuters Herbert Hoover poses with his pet dog, King Tut, in the 1930s. PhotoQuest/Getty Images Lyndon Johnson holds one of his beagles, named Him, as he speaks with members of the White House press corps in Washington D.C., May 2 1964. PhotoQuest/Getty Images John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy pose with their family on Christmas Day at the White House, Dec. 25, 1962. John F. Kennedy Library/Getty Images Obama family pets Bo, left, and Sunny sit at a table in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 10, 2014. The table settings will be used at the State Dinner for President François Hollande of France. Lawrence Jackson—The White House Clipper, a German Shepherd, supervises eight of the dogs of John F. Kennedy's household at Squaw Island, Hyannis Port, Massachusetts on Aug. 14, 1963. White House aide Traphes Bryant holds Charlie, a Welsh terrier and four of Charlie's puppies, Blackie, White Tip, Streaker and Butterfly. Capt. Cecil Stoughton, Army Signal Corps, holds a new arrival, a Cocker Spaniel named Shannon, and a yet unnamed Irish Wolfhound. Still in Washington is Pushinka, the daughter of a Soviet space dog. J. Walter Green—AP Pushinka, a gift to Presdient John F. Kennedy from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, stands on the White House lawn, Aug. 14, 1963, while the rest of the family's dogs vacation with the first family at Cape Cod. Pushinka is the offspring of Soviet space dog Stelka. William J. Smith—AP Warren G. Harding, Florence Harding, and their dog, Laddie Boy, watch from a balcony as an annual Easter Monday children's egg-rolling event takes place on the White House lawn, circa 1922. FPG/Keystone View Company/Getty Images First Dog, Rex, pulls first Lady, Nancy Reagan, off balance as she and President Reagan were departing the White House to board a helicopter to fly to Camp David, Maryland, for the weekend, June 13, 1986. Bob Daugherty—AP First Lady, Grace Coolidge, dresses up her white collie, Rob Roy, in a bonnet for a White House garden party, June 1, 1926. Underwood Archives/Getty Images Richard M. Nixon pets his dogs, Irish Setter 'King Timahoe,' Yorkshire Terrier 'Pasha' and French Poodle 'Vicky,' outside the White House on April 30, 1970. Pictorial Parade/Getty Images George W. Bush's dog, Spot, an English Springer Spaniel, plays on the south lawn of the White House on Jan. 23, 2001. Spot is the offspring of Millie, who was former President George Bush's family dog. Paul Morse—AFP/The White House/Getty Images Franklin D. Roosevelt lifts his dog, Fala, as he prepares to motor from his special train to the Yacht Potomac in New London, Connecticut, Aug. 3, 1941. AP Bill Clinton is greeted by his dog, Buddy, as he arrives at the White House, August 12, 1998. Tim Sloam—AFP/Getty Images Presidential dog Barney prepares to acquaint himself with Miss Beazley, the Scottish Terrier pup given to First Lady, Laura Bush, as a birthday present by George W. Bush, during an event at the White House January 6, 2005. The dog was named for the character Uncle Beazley, a dinosaur in Oliver Butterworth's children's book, "The Enormous Egg." Win McNamee—Getty Images Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, joined by family pets Sunny and Bo, wait to greet visitors in the Blue Room during a White House tour, Nov. 5, 2013. Pete Souza—The White House Gerald R. Ford wrestles with his new pet Golden Retriever, which the Fords named Liberty, in the second story family room of the White House Executive Residence on Feb. 2, 1975. Liberty was a gift from Ford's daughter, Susan, and his personal photographer, David Hume Kennerly. David Hume Kennerly—Getty Images