The White House Easter Egg Roll: Traditions, First Families & A Day for Dogs

First Lady Michelle Obama announces the start of the egg-rolling contests with her husband President Barack Obama in 2011.

At next Monday’s annual White House Easter Egg Roll, the American public will again get an annual chance to enter the White House grounds and perhaps catch a live glimpse of the President, First Lady, First Children and…First Dog. The one condition is that nobody of voting age is permitted in unless accompanied by someone not of voting age.

New evidence indicates that it was Tad Lincoln, the son of President Abraham Lincoln, who first began the Easter Egg Roll tradition at the White House 150 years ago this year, in 1862. The Andrew Johnson family continued the tradition of at least a private Easter Egg Roll for their grandchildren and their little friends.

And while a recently discovered newspaper story suggests that it was President Ulysses S. Grant who first let some especially young members of the public onto the White House South Lawn to roll Easter eggs, since 1878, under the Administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, the general public has been invited to the annual festivities of the White House Easter Egg Roll. And while the clothes and customs have changed in the century and a half, the excitement of children to win a contest rolling an egg down the sloping lawn and the sugar rush from Easter candy has not.

A tinted engraving of a newspaper illustration of the White House Easter Egg Roll during the presidency of Grover Cleveland.

Children at the second Eager Egg Roll under William McKinley.

Another Easter Egg Roll on the White House South Lawn during the tenure of William and Ida McKinley.

1916. The last Easter Egg Roll before World War I security put an end to the tradition during wartime.

A 1920s crowd at the Easter Egg Roll.

The Easter Egg Roll during the Hoover era.

The White House Easter Egg Roll, 1980 (photo, copyright

A young citizen at the 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn.

Organization & Distraction & Egg-tivities

By the late 1920s, it was obvious that the tens of thousands of shrieking or crying children in Easter bonnets and new shoes might do well with some distractions. Although Benjamin Harrison had begun the tradition of having the Marine Band provide music through the day, Lou Hoover was the first to provide some entertainment the children could be drawn to and watch, starting with a maypole dance. Although the Lyndon Johnsons were never at the White House during the Easter Egg Roll, they had a giant chocolate Easter Bunny displayed on the South Lawn – with a fence to keep kids from attacking it. Pat Nixon organized the first official egg-rolling contests where kids lined up in different age categories and also had a White House staff member make an appearance as the official Easter Bunny in a costume.  During the Reagan years a wide variety of live entertainment was provided on different stages, as well as giant floating balloons of cartoon characters and display cases of eggs decorated by leading American artists, and large cut-outs of political figures as storybook characters. To spare some of the White House staff the lingering smell of rotten eggs, wooden eggs signed by various celebrities were the prize to be found in egg hunts in stacks of straw and hay.

A maypole ceremony organized by Mrs. Hoover for the 1929 Easter Egg Roll.

The LBJs were at their ranch and missed the White House Easter Egg during their tenancy but a Texas-sized chocolate Easter Bunny still drew in the crowds.

Another view of the LBJ Texas-sized chocolate bunny displayed at the 1966 White House Easter Egg Roll.

Tricia Nixon makes an appearance with the first White House Easter Bunny to appear at the annual event.

Let the games begin: White House Easter Egg Roll contest entrance 1980, (photo, copyright

One of the artist-decorated eggs depicted the president himself, displayed during the 1983 Reagan Easter Egg Roll. (photo, copyright

Among the large cut-out figures made by Corcoran Gallery art students which decorated the lawn of the 1983 Reagan White House Easter Egg Roll, was one depicting the First Lady as the Queen of Hearts. (photo, copyright

White House Easter Egg Roll program from 1982.

One of the Clinton wood eggs, marked with the notation of 1998, given to guests.

Special wood eggs signed by George and Laura Bush given to guests at the 2002 Easter Egg Roll.

First Families Egg-cite the Crowds

Not every President since then has been in attendance.  The event was cancelled during the years of World War I, World War II and the Korean War, and some Chief Executives have been out of Washington for the event. Thus Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon never appeared at an Easter Egg Roll. With their young children, the Kennedys did make a big deal of the holiday while spending it with the President’s extended family in Florida, as Kennedy family Easter home movie and pictures show. 

There seems to be no contemporary description of Theodore Roosevelt even coming out on the South Portico to watch the festivities as most Presidents have done. His wife Edith Roosevelt felt the event was a waste of eggs and ruined the grass. In 1912, Nellie Taft relished the fact that she could walk among the thick crowds of children distracted by their games and go unrecognized.

The prizes for Most Enthusiastic First Family Easter Egg Roll Fans would have to go to either Eleanor Roosevelt who only missed one year before it was cancelled in 1942 due to World War II, or to both of the Clintons, who never missed the annual event in their eight year residency.

President Benjamin Harrison (second from right) holds a grandchild watching Easter Egg Roll with First Lady Caroline Harrison (far right) along with daughter Mary McKee (far left) and son Russell (second from left).

Warren and Florence Harding wave to the 1921 Easter Egg Roll crowd, where their dog Laddie Boy also appeared. Their friend Evalyn McLean glimpses from behind the colum at right.

Herbert and Lou Hoover wave to egg-rollers, their dogs obscured from view.

Eleanor Roosevelt appeared in her riding habit at the 1933 Easter Egg Roll, her first.

An advertisement for the book Scamper the White House bunny, a book written by First Daughter Anna Roosevelt, inspired by the White House Easter Egg Roll.

A magician performs a trick on Sistie and Buzzie Dall, as their grandmother First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt looks on during the 1934 White House Easter Egg Roll.

Eleanor Roosevelt appears at the 1936 Easter Egg Roll.

Eleanor Roosevelt greets guests at the 1937 Easter Egg Roll.

Eleanor Roosevelt sits with some guests on the South Portico steps during the 1939 Easter Egg Roll.

Eleanor Roosevelt at the 1939 Easter Egg Roll with a lost child.

WIth their mother Barbara Eisenhower, the President’s grandchildren at Easter time 1953

Presidential grandchildren David and Ann Eisenhower take part in the egg-rolling.

Tricia Nixon signs autographs at the 1969 Easter Egg Roll.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower and the Easter Bunny at the 1974 White House Easter Egg Roll.

Betty Ford sampling some circus makeup from a clown who applied the greasepaint to kids at the 1975 Easter Egg Roll.

The Carter family at the 1977 Easter Egg Rool, the President holding his grandson Jason on his shoulders

Easter Egg Roll 1980 Amy Carter (in yellow) on South Portico Truman Balcony waving to crowd below. (photo, copyright

The Reagans sign eggs at the 1983 Easter Egg Roll.

George H. Bush and Barbara Bush preside over an Easter Egg Roll contest. (photo, copyright

The Clintons kick off the 1995 Easter Egg Roll.

George W. Bush with the Easter Bunny at his last egg roll, 2008.

The Obama family makes their second appearance at a White House Easter Egg Roll, 2010.

When Dogs Trump Bunnies

Last but not least, even if a President, First Lady, First Son or First Daughter don’t manage to appear, one of the more regular highlights of the day is the appearance of the presidential pets, almost always a dog.

Lucy Hayes with her husband the President standing with their spaniel Duke – it is unclear whether the dog was part of their White House and thus, whether he appeared at their hosting of the first public Easter Egg

Grover Cleveland and his dog Hector, the first known First Dog to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Seated on the White House South Portico steps, First Daughter Helene Taft and her poodle Caro at the 1912 Easter Egg Roll. (copyright,

The popular Harding dog Laddie Boy with a fan at the 1922 Whtie House Easter Egg Roll.

Laddie Boy, the Harding Airedale at the 1921 Easter Egg Roll.

Grace Coolidge brought her racoon Rebecca to the 1925 Easter Egg Roll.

Heidi, the unpredictable Weimaraner of Ike and Mamie Eisenhower watched but did not get to roam about at the 1953 Easter Egg Roll (not shown here).

The Obama family brought their dog Bo to the 2009 White House Easter Egg Roll.

Also see:

Yesterday: See the story and watch the home movies of the Kennedy family’s Presidential Easters

The President’s Son who hosted the first White House Easter Egg yet remains uncredited

Coming: The Mad Men Era White House Easter Egg Roll, 1961

Categories: Dogs, First Families, History, Holidays, Presidential Holidays, Presidents and Animals, The Carters, The Clintons, The Eisenhowers, The Hayeses, The Obamas, The Roosevelts

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6 replies »

  1. Hi Carl~
    This article is a true delight! Just posted it to my Facebook page for all of the presidential trivia folks to enjoy…You are such an imaginative creative genius! Happy Easter to you…

  2. Thanks again Carl, for another wonderful treat! It’s wonderful to see all these candid shots of various adminstrations, getting “down” w/the kids. My fav was of Rebbecah the Racoon. They r the cutest of animals, yet get bad press for being prone to rabbies. I had a childhood friend who had one for a pet, and oh, the cute stories she had of “Pedro”:). Why can’t we just give em rabbi shots, and enjoy their mischief?

    • Ah, but there was a family of raccoons in my back garden for awhile and they can be quite destructive too – even getting through a wood garage door. I always think we encroach too much on their turf. And while I myself like good ole Reb the Raccoon….I gotta give it up for who else? Heidi the Weimaraner and Laddie Boy the Airedale….my two bigtime fave WH dogs….:)


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