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12 Strangest Gifts Ever Given to U.S. Presidents

U.S. presidents receive thousands of gifts per year from foreign dignitaries, celebrities, and everyday, regular Americans. These are among the strangest recorded presents in history.

Horse on a farm

George Washington’s “Royal Gift”

George Washington wanted a mule because he believed this cross between a donkey and a horse would revolutionize farming in America (because mules are sturdier than horses). But acquiring a mule was more complicated than one might think, particularly since the kind Washington wanted was bred only in Spain. Luckily, word traveled to the King of Spain, who shipped Washington a Spanish mule. It arrived on October 7, 1785, and Washington named him “Royal Gift.” Check out these 52 astonishing facts about U.S. presidents.

Purebred anglo-arabian chestnut horses standing at the barn door

Thomas Jefferson’s four-horse exception

As president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson maintained a strict policy of not accepting valuable gifts from foreign dignitaries, but in 1806, he made an exception when a Tunisian ambassador presented him with four Arabian horses. How did Jefferson justify accepting such a generous gift? He intended to sell them to use the proceeds to offset the American government’s cost of the ambassador’s visit.

Cheese wheel
Tim UR/Shutterstock

Andrew Jackson’s big cheese

In 1835, a dairy farmer from New York presented President Andrew Jackson with a 1,400-pound wheel of cheese decorated with mottos and slogans. For two years, the cheese wheel stayed in the foyer of the White House, but finally, in honor of George Washington’s birthday celebration in 1837, Jackson invited the public to enjoy free cheese. Every last bit of the cheese was gone before two hours had passed—save for the smell. That was rumored to live on quite a long time, apparently.

Elephant Close Up and Personal

Abraham Lincoln’s elephants in the room

In 1862, the King of Siam offered the President of the United States (whom he mistakenly thought was James Buchanan, but it was actually Abraham Lincoln, Buchanan’s successor) a gift of live elephants. The offer came with other gifts, including a sword, a photograph of the King and his daughter, and two elephants’ tusks. President Lincoln politely declined the elephants in a letter dated February 3, 1862.

President Barack Obama, America - 2009

Rutherford B. Hayes and the Resolute desk

In 1880, Queen Victoria gifted President Rutherford B. Hayes with an ornate desk carved out of timber salvaged from the British ship, the H.M.S Resolute, which the United States had helped search for and rescue from the Arctic Ocean in 1855. The oak timber partner desk was kept at the president’s office on the second floor of the White House until 1902 when it was moved to the president’s study in the newly built West Wing. The desk can be seen in many famous presidential photographs and is still in use today.

Shirley Temple Visits FDR, Washington, USA

The FDR badge of honor

In 1933, the young actress, Shirley Temple, met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt when the Roosevelts were visiting Hollywood. Five years later, when Temple visited the Roosevelts at the White House, she presented FDR with a “Shirley Temple Police” Badge. The letter the badge came with read:

“Dear Mr. President.

Here is your badge to my Police force.


Chief Shirley Temple.”

President Harry Truman, Washington, USA

Truman’s bowling alley

In 1947, President Harry S. Truman was gifted with a two-lane bowling alley in honor of his birthday. Truman didn’t care for bowling himself, but allowed staff to start a league. The bowling alley was turned into a copy room in 1955, but in 1969, the Nixons had a new one built, and it’s been used by many presidents since. Find out 22 presidential firsts you probably didn’t learn in school.

Kennedy Dog Pushinka
William J Smith/AP/Shutterstock

President Kennedy and the pup

During the Cold War, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy maintained a seemingly pleasant correspondence and even exchanged gifts, but if you read between the lines, you can see a tinge of passive aggressiveness, particularly from Kruschev, who in 1961, gifted Kennedy with an adorable dog named Pushinka. Thing was, Pushinka was the offspring of a dog the Soviets had successfully sent into space, which placed them ahead of America in the “space race.” Kennedy responded by pledging to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Pushinka found a happy home at the White House and on Cape Cod with the Kennedy children and even went on to have puppies.

Panda Anniversary, Washington, USA
Charles Tasnadi/AP/Shutterstock

President Nixon’s panda-monium

When First Lady Patricia Nixon mentioned, in passing, at a 1972 dinner in Beijing, that she had a fondness for giant pandas, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai took it as a hint and sent two giant Pandas to the Nixons soon after. Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing famously lived at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Zoo for another two decades. Can you recognize these U.S. presidents from their baby photos?

ODESSA,UKRAINE-21 AUGUST,2017:Aggressive in-line skates on roller skater feet.USD Aeon skates for extremal aggressive skating.Professional roller blades for extreme tricks

George W. Bush skates by

In 2008, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende gifted President George W. Bush with a set of inline skates, complete with wrist guards, knee pads, and elbow pads. It wasn’t the most extravagant gift ever given to Bush (perhaps that was the taxidermied lion and leopard given to him by the President of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete, also in 2008), but it could have been the most memorable if anyone had ever photographed him making use of it.

Tail of a surfboard on the sand with three fins

Surf’s up, Obama

In 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanted to demonstrate his admiration for President Obama, so he sent the president a nine and a half foot white and blue longboard with friendship flags and the Presidential Seal, plus a pair of black leather boots. Epic, dude.

Trump US , Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - 20 May 2017

President’s Trump’s treasure trove from Saudi Arabia

President Trump received 83 gifts from Saudi Arabia during his trip to the Middle East in May 2017. These included artwork featuring the president himself, swords, daggers, fur robes (made from tiger and cheetah), scarves, shirts, a hoodie, a dress (for Melania?) and many, many pairs of sandals. Now, don’t miss these 44 surprising facts about the first ladies.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.