Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Help support both NHPR and the NH Food Bank when you make a gift of support today.

The Five Best Presidential Pranks

LBJ Presidential Libary

From removing the "W" on all White House keyboards at the start of the Bush administration to launching a fake Indian attack on American soldiers, the commander-in-chief has been both the subject and the perpetrator of some serious pranks. In honor of April Fools' day, we map out the best presidential pranks that you may have not heard of .

Listen to Virginia's interview with Brady Carlson about White House pranks below. 

1. Lyndon B. Johnson's Sinking Convertible

Privileged guests of Lyndon B. Johnson would be spoiled with trips to his Stonewall ranch in Texas. Johnson would often take his visitors on joyrides through the winding roads in his lagoon blue convertible. What started out as a pleasant top-down drive would take a horrific turn when Johnson would start shouting that his breaks had malfunctioned and that they were headed straight for the river. While his passengers broke out in panic, Johnson would erupt in laughter as the convertible began to float on the water's surface.  Johnson's ride was in fact was an Amphicar, a German manufactured land-to-water vehicle released in the early 1960s with limited success. While Amphicars' production ended in 1967, the car lives on as a character in one of the best presidential pranks.

2. A Royall Bath with John Quincy Adams

Remembered as one of the best diplomats in American history, John Quincy Adams washed away the stress of  the executive grind with frequent baths in the Potomac River. When Anne Royall, arguably the first female professional journalist in America, heard of Quincy Adam's au naturale dips, she capitalized on the opportunity to secure an interview with the commander-in-chief. Quincy found himself in deep water when Royall collected his clothes and sat on them until he answered all her questions. By some accounts, Royall's prank granted her the first presidential interview ever conducted by a female journalist.

3. Andrew Jackson's  Scandalous Holiday Soiree

The seventh president of the United States and bona fide war hero, Andrew Jackson is remembered as a man of pristine military calculation and admirable leadership. He, however, is not remembered for being the best party host.  As a young law student in North Carolina, Jackson helped to arrange a local Christmas ball. What was intended as a wholesome event became a town scandal when two locally known prostitutes, who were invited by Jackson, showed up. While Jackson found the situation quite hilarious, the elite gathered at the event were incredibly offended. Jackson profusely apologized to the party attendees, though it's unclear if he ever greeted the ladies of the night with the same level of atonement. 

4. Dwight D. Eisenhower Cries "Indians!"

Credit John Tewell
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lt. Gen. E. C. Whitehead, and Maj. Gen. Clements McMullen, Manila, Philippines. May 4, 1946.

A brilliant military strategist and a five-star general during World War I, Dwight D. Eisenhower was no stranger to war. He was no stranger to inappropriate pranks either. Early on in his military career, Eisenhower staged a fake Indian attack on the junior officers in Wyoming. In cahoots with a close friend, Eisenhower set out into the woods late one night where he started mimicking war cries in order to incite any of the soldiers to fire their guns, which Eisenhower had filled with blanks. One soldier on duty fired off his shot gun before Eisenhower exposed the attack as a ruse. 

5. The Case of the Missing "W"

Credit The U.S National Archives
President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. April 29th, 1993.

One of the famous and highly publicized presidential pranks came from the Clinton Administration. When   one administration transitioned out of the White House, it was typical for them to leave remembrances hidden throughout the estate. The Clinton Administration knew how to make an exit, leaving around $15,000 dollars in damage in 2001 for the Bush Administration to find. In addition to ripped out phone cords and glued-shut desk drawers, members of the administration left obscenity-filled voicemail messages and removed "W" keys from every keyboard.

Looking for a prank of presidential proportions? You can find more of the best tomfoolery from the executive branch here.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.