When President Warren G. Harding died suddenly in 1923, the newsboys of Massachusetts jumped into action. The newsboys had considered the president a friend; before Harding was president, he was a newspaperman and he had supported the causes of newsboys while in office. To honor the late president, the newsboys pledged to have a bronze statue commissioned of Harding’s beloved dog, Laddie Boy, paid for and made by the donated pennies of newsboys from across the United States.
The 29th president of the United States, Warren G. Harding, was devoted to his dog, an Airedale terrier named Laddie Boy. This “First Dog” was the first presidential pet to receive regular newspaper coverage, (including interviews!) and to garner a national identity.
During Harding’s time in the White House (1921-1923), he included Laddie Boy in almost all aspects of his life. The dog freely roamed throughout the executive mansion, tagged along on the president’s golf games with friends, and sat in on cabinet meetings perched on his own chair. Each year, the White House hosted birthday parties for him at which other neighborhood dogs were invited. Harding enjoyed his dog’s fame and even cultivated it by writing letters to the press as Laddie Boy.
On August 2, 1923, President Harding died suddenly while still in office. Newspapers reported about the shock of the nation, the funeral procession, and also about how Laddie Boy was handling the abrupt departure of his beloved master.
The Roosevelt Newsboys’ Association of Greater Boston wanted to honor the late president by commissioning a special statue of Laddie Boy, with the intent to collect donations of pennies from newsboys around the nation to be melted down into a reproduction of the dog. Harding had gained the respect of the Boston newsboys after he took an interest in a memorial in Brookline, Massachusetts for a former local newsboy, Albert Edward Scott (“Scotty”), who had died heroically in France during WWI, and because of Harding’s background in the newspaper business.
Before ascending to the presidency, Harding and his wife Florence had been involved in newspapers for much of their lives. When he was 17 years old, Harding began working for a newspaper in his hometown of Marion, Ohio and eventually became the owner and editor of the Marion Star. Soon after their marriage, Florence oversaw circulation and advertising for the newspaper and while doing so, she utilized the idea of having youths or “paperboys” deliver newspapers to people’s homes, a service that became common practice for newspapers for years to come.
To raise money to commission the Laddie Boy statue, a poster was distributed around the country asking for help from other newsboys that featured an essay written by newsboy Leonard Portesky of Revere, Massachusetts (Rachlin, 1996, 304-305):
The Country mourns the loss of that great, kindly, sincere man–Warren Gamaliel Harding,–and to the newsboys comes the reminder that he was one of the best friends they ever had. A man who worked in the game–a man who understood and loved the boys,–and a man to whom the newsboys of the country could give no greater honor than to erect a fitting monument to his memory.
President Harding once said that the best article he ever wrote was a tribute to a dog. The plan is for every newsboy in the country to give a penny, which will be melted and modelled into a life-size statue of “Laddie Boy,” the President’s dog. When completed, the statue will be presented to Mrs. Harding so that she may know how much we newsboys loved the Newspaperman–President–a monument which will live in history forever.
More than 19,000 pennies were collected from newsboys and sent to the Roosevelt Newsboys’ Association, which commissioned sculptor Bashka Paeff to fashion a bronze replica of Laddie Boy, that the real Laddie Boy modelled for in a series of sittings. It was intended to be presented to Mrs. Harding, but she unfortunately died before it was completed. It came into the possession of Mrs. Harding’s bodyguard, Harry Barker, with whom the first lady had passed the real Laddie Boy to after the president’s death.
The statue is said to have been first displayed to the public at the local Jordan Marsh department store in Massachusetts, then was later moved to the foyer of Keith’s Theater in Washington, DC. The statue was sent to the Smithsonian Institution towards the end of 1926; it resides at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History to this day.
The real Laddie Boy died on January 23, 1929. The next day, the New York Times published an obituary, describing the dog as “the magnificent airedale” and the “‘first dog of the land.’” But thanks to the young American newsboys of the 1920s, his image lives on.
- Search Chronicling America* to find more newspaper coverage of Laddie Boy, President Harding, the statue, and more!
- Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, & Einstein’s Brain (1996) by Harvey Rachlin.
*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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