Forty-four presidents, a hippo, two lions, a wallaby, two alligators and one bad-tempered badger.

There are many perks that come with being the President of the United States, such as residing in a lovely white house and gaining a great deal of prestige. Plus, you can have a pet hippo—just like Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president. His pygmy hippopotamus, named Billy, was a gift from tire manufacturer Harvey S. Firestone in 1927. The rare baby hippo was just one of eight of his kind living in America and measured six feet long, stood thirty inches tall, and weighed about 600 pounds. He was described by The New York Times as being “as frisky as a dog.” Billy had been captured in Liberia at one of Firestone’s plants, but once under Coolidge’s care, he spent his days at the much cozier National Zoo.

Calvin Coolidge's pet hippo.

Calvin Coolidge was not only President of the United States, but he was a hippo owner as well.

The hippo was only one of Coolidge’s unusual pets. The Commander in Chief’s menagerie also included numerous dogs and cats, along with two lion cubs, a bear, Smoky Bob the bobcat, an antelope, a raccoon called Rebecca, and a wallaby. Like many of the animals, the wallaby was gift, in this case from an American man living in Tasmania. When the president was offered the wallaby in a letter, he hadn’t a clue as to what sort of animal it was. A quick flip-through in the dictionary told him it was a small species of kangaroo and led Coolidge to accept the gift.

Although no other president could boast such a collection of creatures, there have been many others who’ve kept curious pets. Theodore Roosevelt, for example, acquired a badger named Josiah in 1903 after a young girl threw the little beast at the president as his train pulled out of a small Kansas town. Roosevelt kept Josiah and the First Family bottle-fed him until he cut his teeth. Once armed with his own chompers, Josiah nipped at the legs of passersby throughout the White House.

William Taft, our nation’s 27th and heaviest president (tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds) kept a Holstein cow as a pet. The first, named Mooley Wooly provided milk for the First Family. However, Mooley Wooly couldn’t produce enough milk for the large Taft clan. So Wisconsin senator Isaac Stephenson bought the president a new cow, named Pauline Wayne. From 1910-1913, the Taft’s pet cow freely grazed the White House lawn.

Old Whiskers

President Harrison had old whiskers to match his goat, named Old Whiskers.

Benjamin Harrison, President Number 23, kept a goat named Old Whiskers. Harrison’s grandchildren were big fans of Old Whiskers, as he was often hitched to a cart in order to pull them around the White House lawn. However, the goat may not have had as much fun as the kids. One day, he managed to escape the White House grounds through an open gate and ran toward freedom down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president chased after him, waving his cane and holding onto his top hat. Old Whiskers finally came to a stop. No one was injured, but many were entertained.

Herbert Hoover kept two alligators in the White House and allowed them to occasionally wander about freely. Perhaps he was inspired by John Quincy Adams, who kept only one alligator. Adams’ gator was given to him in 1826 by the Marquis de Lafayette.

While dogs have held the title of First Pet in the modern era, it would take a cuddly, loyal elephant, giraffe, or rhino to truly be a first.

© Marc Hartzman



Crushing the Benchmark

Monster trucks started terrorizing smaller defenseless cars in the early 1980s, when a behemoth called Bigfoot performed the first-ever public crushing. Since then, the beasts have grown in size and left countless vehicles demolished in their dirt-covered paths.

Maximum Destruction

Tom Meents will attempt to perform a double back flip in Maximum Destruction. Photo courtesy of Feld Entertainment.

Today, monster trucks are typically 12 feet tall and about 12 feet wide, weighing as much as 12,000 pounds. Tires are 66 inches high and 43 inches wide. And with all that size comes
not only ferocious power, but remarkable agility. Like a graceful gymnast, these vehicular monstrosities take to the air, flying high and before sticking a landing.

As in any sport, monster trucks have its superstars who push the boundaries and set new benchmarks.

This Father’s Day weekend, 10-time champion, Tom Meents, will do just that in his Maximum Destruction truck at Monster Jam.

Held at MetLife stadium in New Jersey, spectators—including Meents’ 14-year-old daughter, Hannah—will witness him attempt the first-ever double back flip.

In 2009 Meents became the first driver to perform a single back flip in the truck. And since then, he’s been eager to take it to the next level. Especially because several other Monster Jam competitors have completed flips as well.  “I’ve never wanted to be an imitator, I always wanted to be the main man,” he says.

Meents and his five-man team built a special truck for the double flip stunt, which includes additional safety features.

Tom Meents

10-time champion Tom Meents stands in front of his monster truck. Photo courtesy of Feld Entertainment.

“To rotate a 10,000-lb. truck in air twice will not be easy,” he admits. “It’s going to take some timing, different ways to set the truck up, and most importantly it’s going to take a go-for-it-all attitude.”

Meents will approach the 12-foot, near-vertical launch ramp at about 50 mph from about 200 feet away.

“There’s a 50% chance we make it, 50% we won’t,” Meents says. “But we’re 100% going for it.”

The Maximum Destruction driver has known no other job in the last 20 years and has remained injury free, despite flipping over more than 300 times.

“I’ve never been seriously hurt, though I’ve had some Monday morning pain,” he says.

He’s also crushed thousands of cars and school buses. All of Monster Jam’s sacrificial vehicles are gathered from local junkyards and are returned after each event.

But Meents doesn’t limit his demolition to modes of transportation. When Maximum Destruction earned him enough money to buy a new home, he naturally crushed the old one.

Yet, despite such experiences, this upcoming Father’s Day will be Meents’ most dangerous yet.

“I’m excited and worried at the same time,” daughter Hannah says. “I think it’s cool what he’s doing, but worried he’ll be ok.”

Of course, she’s been around monster truck mayhem her entire life.

“Dad is a go-for-it guy, so the family lets me do it,” Meents says. “I’ve been crazy since before she was born.”

© Marc Hartzman

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