Laddie Boy: Harding's Popular Dog

Laddie Boy became famous in history as the first dog in the White House to receive media attention making him a celebrity.

On March 5, 1921, the day after Harding's inauguration, the President interrupted a cabinet meeting to greet his new dog. The dog was a seven month old Airedale named Laddie Boy. That day a reporter from The New York Times wrote "With many manifestations of pleasure, the President led his new pet into his office, where he made himself at home." One week later the paper reported the dog's ability to bring the morning paper to Harding at the breakfast table. "The Airedale has been working on the stunt for several days but this was the first time he got through it without a hitch..." This was just the beginning of many news stories to come during Laddie Boy's time in the White House.

No presidential dog before or after Laddie Boy received as much press coverage as he did. Harding, who began his career as a newspaper man (and eventually owning the Marion Daily Star in Ohio), apparently knew a great story readers would enjoy thus allowing the press to report the life of his new companion.

Laddie Boy greets President Harding

President Harding and the First Lady loved animals and supported the humane treatment of all creatures. Laddie Boy did his share of charitable work, including leading an animal parade that benefited the Humane Education Society in Washington D.C. While editor of the paper in his earlier days, Harding wrote "Whether the Creator planned it so, or environment and human companionship have made it so, men may learn richly through the love and fidelity of a brave and devoted dog."

Instead of staying in the White House kennels, Laddie Boy had the run of the house. He spent most of his time with the Hardings and even had his own hand carved chair to sit on during cabinet meetings. Laddie Boy would greet visiting dignitaries on the front steps, retrieve golf balls for Harding when he made a misdirected shot, and was a big hit at the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn. On April 18, 1922 The New York Times reported "It wouldn't have been a children's party without Laddie Boy, who was the first resident of the White House to appear on the south portico. His keeper let him loose down the steps, but so many were the little hands put out to pat him that Laddie Boy raced back and spent the remainder of the morning sitting proudly on a table. There was almost as large a crowd of youngsters watching the Harding Airedale as there was around the five truckloads of bottled pop on the driveway."

When Laddie Boy turned two years old, he was given a party at the White House with neighborhood dogs. A birthday cake made of dog biscuits was sent from the Caswell Kennels in Toledo, Ohio (where Laddie Boy was born) which included a letter allegedly written by his father, Champion Tintern Tip Top, who wrote "It is hard to realize what a famous family member we have in you, Laddie Boy. If we did not see your pictures which appear so often in the newspapers and magazines it would be hard for us to realize that you have grown to doghood and are no longer the roistering young blade that we bade good-bye to long ago."

Not only did the media write about Laddie Boy, President Harding would write the press in Laddie's voice expressing the dog's opinions on things and about his life in the White House. One of those letters that appeared in The New York Times, February 1922, said "So many people express a wish to see me, and I shake hands with so many callers at the Executive Mansion that I fear there are some people who will suspect me of political inclinations. From what I see of politics, I am sure I have no such aspirations."

On August 2, 1923 President Harding died while on a trip in San Francisco, and Laddie Boy (who was almost always at his side) for some reason was left at the White House during their vacation. The following day the Associated Press reported "There was one member of the White House household today who could not quite comprehend the air of sadness which hung over the Executive Mansion. It was Laddie Boy, President Harding's Airedale friend and companion. Of late he has been casting an expectant eye and cocking a watchful ear at the motor cars which roll up on the White House drive. For, in his dog sense way, he seems to reason that an automobile took the Hardings away, so an automobile must bring them back. White House attach├ęs shook their heads and wondered how they were going to make Laddie Boy understand."

The First Lady gave Laddie Boy to Harry Barker, a Secret Service agent who was like a son to her. She died the following year, and Laddie Boy lived a good life with the Barkers until his death on January 22, 1929. The New York Times reported that the "end came while the dog, ailing for many months of old age, rested his head on the arms of Mrs. Barker." Laddie Boy was buried at an undisclosed location in Newtonville, Massachusetts.

Shortly after President Harding's death, more than 19,000 newsboys around the country gave a penny each for a memorial to honor his death. The pennies were melted down and made into a life-size sculpture of Laddie Boy. Today, the sculpture is part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.