Bo, the Obama's family pet, plays in the snow during a blizzard on the south grounds of the White House, Feb. 10, 2010.
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
Bo, the Obama's family pet, plays in the snow during a blizzard on the south grounds of the White House, Feb. 10, 2010.
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.
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.
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,
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.
George W. Bush calls for his dog Barney as he stands on the West Wing Colonnade at the White House on Sept. 28, 2007.
Lyndon B. Johnson gets a lively greeting from his daughter Lucy's beagles, Him and Her, in a White House corridor, Dec. 21, 1963.
CLINTON HOLDS NEW LABRADOR PUPPY
Herbert Hoover poses with his pet dog, King Tut, in the 1930s.
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.
John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy pose with their family on Christmas Day at the White House, Dec. 25, 1962.
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.
John F. Kennedy                    PETS
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.
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.
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.
First Lady, Grace Coolidge, dresses up her white collie, Rob Roy, in a bonnet for a White House garden party, June 1, 1926.
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.
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.
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.
Bill Clinton is greeted by his dog, Buddy, as he arrives at the White House, August 12, 1998.
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."
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.
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.
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
1 of 24

The First Dogs of the White House

Sep 23, 2016

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. 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 The Atlantic, "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."

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.

TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.