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The first White House Christmas Tree, installed by President Franklin Pierce in either 1853 or 1856.


Sometimes at Christmas, a special Santa Claus would visit the children of the Cove Neck school on Oyster Bay, New York, giving out presents and then joining them to sing. This was no ordinary Santa; it was Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States. A family man, Roosevelt loved everything about Christmas–except one thing.

President Theodore Roosevelt, Edith Roosevelt and their children.


When the Roosevelt family occupied the White House in 1901, a new Christmas tradition was growing in the United States – the German tradition of cutting down a living pine tree, bringing it inside and hanging Christmas gifts on the branches. As a dedicated conservationist, Roosevelt was horrified by the idea of millions of Americans going into the American forests and cutting down millions of trees, (Christmas trees were not then commercially grown).

Roosevelt liked to use his position as President as a bully pulpit to influence people and set an example.

Cartoon of Roosevelt protecting forests.

Beginning with Christmas 1901, Roosevelt made a major decision: he refused to have a White House Christmas tree. He hoped that other Americans, seeing his example, would also choose not to cut down a living tree for Christmas and protect the forests.


Roosevelt’s position was reasonable to adults, but not to his children. His 8-year-old son, Archie, was particularly disappointed and did something about it. The next year, Archie secretly cut down a tree on the White House grounds, smuggled it into his closet and decorated it himself with gifts for family members. Then, at the appropriate moment, he opened the closet door and surprised his parents – Archie wanted a Christmas tree and he got one.

Roosevelt family discovers Archie’s Christmas Tree in his closet, depicted in a magazine illustration.

Worried about how the public would feel about Archie’s tree, Roosevelt consulted with his Chief Forester, Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot advised the President that while it would be wrong for people to cut down very small trees, carefully cutting down some taller ones might actually be a good thing. This would thin the forest so that too many trees wouldn’t steal nutrients in the ground from larger trees. Pinchot liked thinning out the dense forests, which provide fuel for forest fires.
Gifford Pinchot also thought that commercially growing trees for Christmas might be a good  idea.  It is believed that because of Pinchot’s influence, the average Christmas tree size is around 6 feet.

All of this did not convince the President. During Roosevelt’s Presidency there never was a White House Christmas tree – except a for a secret Christmas tree in Archie’s closet. The President tried to keep the story of Archie’s tree out of the newspapers with little success.


Theodore Roosevelt in a canoe as he begins his journey down the “River of Doubt,” when he was away during Christmas 1913.

Roosevelt loved being with his family at Christmas and yet he was away from his family for Christmas in 1913, when he embarked on an adventure through Brazil and spent Christmas on the Paraguay River, beginning an adventure that turned out to be a disaster.

The head of an unexplored Brazilian river had been discovered, and temporarily named “The River of Doubt.” Roosevelt teamed up with Brazilian Colonel Candido Rondon to discover where the river ended. To do this they would cut down trees, create dugout canoes and float down the river to its end.

Only too late, past the point of no return, did Roosevelt and Rondon realize the river could not be navigated because of continuous dangerous rapids surrounded by a deadly jungle. The injuries from this trip shortened Roosevelt’s life.


I recorded and published Roosevelt’s “Through the Brazilian Wilderness” .  You can see pictures of the adventure and preview it here:
It is available for download wherever you download audiobooks, including, I-Tunes, Apple Books, Google Play, NOOK Audiobooks, Scribed, Tune-in, Bibliotheca,
Playstar, Folliett, and your local public library through Overdrive.

Speaking of the holidays, this is a good time of year for me to express my appreciation for your continuing interest and support. Thanks to everyone who has downloaded one of my audiobooks or purchased a CD copy during the past year and those who have recommended Listen 2 Read audiobooks to their friends.
Thanks also to our community of blog  readers, who have been interested enough to subscribe for free. And finally, thanks to our growing number of digital download retailers, all over the English speaking world. Best wishes for the Holiday Season and best wishes for a Happy New Year!

Andre Stojka

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