Over the past couple of centuries, American presidents have been on the receiving end of some rather weird and wonderful gifts. And owing to the interests of transparency, official gifts from other countries’ leaders must be declared. As a result, it seems that many have tried to outdo each other over the years in both the extravagance and outlandish nature of their donations. So, from tiger cubs and pandas to some decidedly alternative portraits, here are the 20 most “out there” items that the United States has been gifted over the years.
20. Clinton carpet
In 1997 Bill and Hillary Clinton probably didn’t know how to react upon seeing their gift from the president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev. Because staring back at them was a carpet with their own faces meticulously crafted into it by artist Kamil Aliyev. In fact, the uniquely Azerbaijani gift took ten weeks to complete and features a heart shape with the U.S. Presidential couple’s portraits inside.
19. Embroidered saddle
You might not know this, but Ronald Reagan was an avid horse rider. Chadli Bendjedid, the president of Algeria, was well aware of this, however, and gifted the Republican an embroidered saddle in 1985. The chiefly leather saddle was made from woven cord, velveteen and gold thread.
18. Raw lamb meat
In 2003 Néstor Kirchner, the President of Argentina, gifted George W. Bush a big haul of raw lamb meat – 300 pounds of it, in fact. So it’s a good thing that Bush wasn’t vegetarian. Then again, all official gifts are actually the property of the nation, not the president. Still, we don’t think even 300 pounds of meat would have gone very far.
17. Jimmy Carter portrait
Elsewhere in the world of unusual portraits, Jimmy Carter found himself on the receiving end of this example in 1979, courtesy of painter Octavio Ocampo. Commissioned by Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo, Ocampo used his trademark style to create an image of President Carter using national symbols such as flags, buildings and trucks.
16. Air Force One surfboard
Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama has been given plenty of crazy gifts during his eight years in office. Up there with the most extraordinary is certainly the surfboard donated by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014. It was of course intended to evoke the President’s personal jet, Air Force One. Perhaps he’ll be able to make use of it once he leaves office.
15. Giant pandas
After Richard Nixon paid a visit to China in 1972, the country sent him a pair of giant pandas in return. Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were then moved to Washington’s National Zoo, where they lived out their lives as national treasures. In fact, when Hsing-Hsing died in 1999, the zoo received many sympathetic letters and cards from the public.
14. Tiger cubs
At some point during his tenure as President, Martin Van Buren – who served one term from 1837 to 1841 – was gifted a pair of tiger cubs by the Sultan of Oman. Unfortunately for the animal lover, however, he wasn’t allowed to keep the animals and was forced to donate them to a zoo at Congress’ insistence.
13. Pet alligator
John Quincy Adams, however, was allowed to keep a pet alligator in the East Room bathtub of the White House. Gifted to the President who served from 1825 to 1829 by the French general Marquis de Lafayette, the gator was subsequently used by Adams to frighten his guests, it is said.
12. Ping-pong table
Obama received a one-off ping-pong table from British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012. Adorned with a Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes, the table was lauded by Cameron as being “truly British.” However, it later emerged that it was in fact made in China.
11. Crocodile insurance
A surfboard isn’t the only unusual gift Obama has received from Down Under. In 2011 the President stopped off briefly in Australia and ended up leaving with crocodile insurance. Yes, in the event that Obama was chewed up by a crocodile, his wife Michelle would receive a pay-out of $50,000. It’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?
10. Zebra and lion
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the U.S., was a keen animal lover – a fact the King of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) was obviously aware of. This surely explains why the monarch gave Roosevelt a zebra and a lion. Roosevelt, to his eternal credit, then decided to ride the zebra like a big stripy horse.
9. Polish video game
In 2011 Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk gave Obama a copy of the video game The Witcher 2. However, it wasn’t a big hit in the White House. In fact, during a speech in 2014, the U.S. President revealed that he hadn’t actually played it. “I confess, I’m not very good at video games,” he said. “But I’ve been told that it is a great example of Poland’s place in the new global economy.”
8. Ceremonial sword
38th President of the U.S. Gerald Ford was the recipient of a stunning sword in 1975. The weapon was in fact donated by Samuel Ernest Quarm, the Ambassador of Ghana, and was made from iron and wood. Somehow, we don’t think Ford would have had much use for it, but it no doubt looked good on display.
7. Bamboo bicycle
In 2011 Obama was offered an eco-friendly way to get around by Filipino ambassador Jose L. Cuisia. In fact, on behalf of his home country, Cuisia gifted the U.S. President a bamboo bicycle worth $1,060. Sadly, however, no images of Obama riding the bike around Washington have yet surfaced.
6. Badly timed book
For reasons best known to him, ex-Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan gifted Obama a book titled, Goodluck Jonathan – Champion for Women. Unfortunately, this came at a bad time for Jonathan. In fact, his government was under fire for how it was dealing with the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
5. Singing tapes
It’s not only presidents and prime ministers who donate gifts to U.S. leaders and their families. No, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wife, Peng Liyuan, once gave Michelle Obama recordings of herself singing. Apparently, Liyuan used to be a folk singer – not that that makes it any less odd, of course.
4. Expensive pencil
As extravagance goes, a value of $395 certainly pales in comparison to some of the outlandish gifts the various U.S. presidents have been given over the years. But when you consider that $395 was spent on a single pencil, you might think twice. In fact, the Graf von Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil was donated to the Obamas by Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, in 2009.
3. Moon brooch
One of the greatest moments of Richard Nixon’s tenure as President was, of course, the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. The achievement was celebrated by a commemorative brooch, gifted from Belgium to Nixon’s wife, Pat. While it’s a nice thought, the ball of silver intended to represent the moon looks pretty much nothing like it, aside from the dimpled craters.
In 2012 a Colombian village called Turbaco offered up a donkey to Obama during his visit to Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas. As animal gifts go, it’s not quite a lion, zebra or alligator, but there’s no denying that a pet donkey is a little more off-the-wall than the likes of a cat or a dog.
1. Silver slippers
In what may be the most garish presidential gift ever received by the White House, the Crown Prince of Libya donated the silver slippers above to First Lady Jackie Kennedy in 1962. The red velvet lining may have been comfortable, but somehow we can’t see it matching any of the First Lady’s outfits.