Fortunately, the atom football did not yet exist in the 1920s.

You are watching: Which president gambled the white house china

Published9 February 2021

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Warren G. Harding, the 29th chairman of the united States, is currently perhaps most generally known for ranking in ~ or close to the top of “Worst Presidents” lists. Invocation of Harding’s name does not frequently call to mind any sterling achievements as president, however rather a litany the scandal and corruption: the bribery-induced Teapot Dome oil leases of Harding’s Secretary that the interior (Albert Fall); Harding’s hefty drinking and totally stocked White house bar in the midst of Prohibition; Harding’s lengthy extramarital affair (including a boy fathered out of wedlock) v Nan Britton, a woman 30 year his junior; and Harding’s sudden and also mysterious fatality in office in 1923.

Part and also parcel of Harding’s dissolute reputation is the insurance claim that he when rashly gambled away the White house china ~ above a single hand the poker:

Warren G. Harding is widely described as the worst chairman in American history. He to be our 29th cook executive, serving from 1921 to 1923. Although stories abound to describe just why that is considered our worst president, among the funniest – relying on your allude of see – is the truth that that gambled far an entire collection of White residence china. And he bet it all on one unfortunately hand. Some chroniclers say the game wasn’t even real poker, yet something dubbed a “cold hand,”1 not unlike the children card video game War.

1 (A “cold hand” in poker is one in which every player is handle a face-up hand that cards, and the highest-ranked hand wins — unlike standard forms of poker, no cards room concealed, no added cards room drawn, and no betting takes place after the deal.)


Although “Harding lost the White home china in a poker game” is a usual anecdote told around the 29th president, the is typically presented without referral to any documentation or evidence developing it to it is in true. However the exact source of this case is conveniently ascertainable: Betty Beale, the long-time Washington Star society writer whose columns to be syndicated in many newspapers across the U.S.

In 1965, Beale had actually occasion to write around Louise Cromwell Brooks, the American socialite who had actually recently passed away. Brooks, once called “one that Washington’s most beautiful and attractive young women,” was infamous for gift a four-time divorcee, having married (and then break-up up with), in succession, Baltimore businessman Walter Booth Brooks Jr., general Douglas MacArthur, gibbs Lionel Atwill, and bandleader Alf Heiberg.


Brooks was a personal acquaintance that Warren Harding’s, which motivated Beale to include the complying with story in she highlights that Brooks’ life:

The story that friendship through Warren Harding she wanted not to it is in written about during she lifetime. However I will never ever forget the tea party she had actually on march 6, 1943 because that Martha Taft, wife of city council Robert A. Taft that was climate a candidate because that president.

Since she was fostering the Taft candidacy, all the decor was aligned to the subject, not the least of which to be the plates stacked on the table. Ns glanced at them, climate looked back hard and also long. Ns couldn’t believe my eyes. Plainly visible in the facility was the Presidential eagle. Ns casually choose up one and turned the over. On the ago was published in the china “Harrison.”

I went up to her and whispered in she ear, “Louise, wherein did you obtain the White residence china?” “That’s an amazing story,” she said. “I winner it in a hand of cold poker from president Harding.”

She periodically played poker in those days, she said, with the President, his Secretary of battle John Weeks and also Gen. John J. Pershing, whose love letters to her she still had, she said. On this certain evening the video game took location in her home at 1780 Massachusetts Avenue wherein the climate gay and beautiful divorcee of Walter Brooks had countless fascinating gatherings that frequently drew Harding. As whole during the game President Harding said, “Louise, let’s play a cold hand the poker — simply the 2 of us — winner surname the stakes.”

“Whatever you desire I will certainly do,” the assured her. However as the handsome chief Executive to be obviously attractive to her, she agreed to the crest “with reservations,” she said.

She won. And when the asked she to name her price, the heiress replied, “I’ll take a set of White home china.”

“The an extremely next day,” ongoing Mrs. Heiberg, through a chuckle the recollection, “a barrel the china the the Benjamin Harrison management was yielded ay mine door.”

This seems to be a credible account, related by an identifiable resource with particular details of time and place. On the various other hand, it’s likewise a single-source, second-hand account, told by someone who putatively learned around the event twenty years after the fact and also then didn’t expose what she was told till another 20 years had passed, once both of the principals (Harding and also Brooks) to be dead and could no longer confirm or deny it. This account can be precise true, it can be fabricated, or the truth can lie somewhere in in between (e.g., Brooks play poker v Harding, and also the president later made her a gift of some White residence china, yet the two occasions were not straight connected). At this remove, it’s daunting to prove one method or the other.

We note, however, that also if this tale were accurate true, it wouldn’t necessarily be together salacious as modern tellers do it sound. Quite than the common narrative (i.e., Harding foolishly bet — and also lost — all the White home china in a drunken poker game), Beale gift an account of part friendly banter between Brooks and also Harding over a game of cards. It could have been the case that, when pressed by Harding to state what she want to case as she “winnings,” Brooks whimsically named the first thing that concerned mind, miscellaneous she never really intended to receive (and wouldn’t have actually complained if she didn’t get), however Harding chose to play along and also make her a gift the some excess White home china anyway.

China sample from the Benjamin Harrison White House

According to Beale’s account, even if Brooks did “win” part china indigenous Harding in a poker game, what Harding “paid up” v wasn’t all that the White home china, nor all of former president Benjamin Harrison’s dinnerware. Some, but not all, presidential administrations commission china trends for dinnerware which may continue to be manufactured and also used in succeeding administrations, and while what Brooks allegedly received might have to be Benjamin Harrison-patterned White house china, it no necessarily manufactured during Harrison’s hatchet or provided by him, and — together Beale observed — it represented only a small section of the White house dinnerware reserve:

Obviously, Harding did not send every one of come her. A normal collection and a White House collection of china vary significantly in size, and the White house still has quite a bit of the Harrison china top top hand.

Even today, Benjamin Harrison presidential china is readily accessible for purchase on the open market.

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Published9 February 2021

Beale, Betty. “Mesta-Kennedy Feud ‘Only’ a storm in a Teapot.” The Indianapolis Star. 4 July 1965 (p. 52).