Nineteenth-century American households rarely had Christmas trees in the home unless there were young children around. The same was true for the White House; Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland trimmed trees for their children, but presidents without kids didn’t usually bother. When Theodore Roosevelt took office in 1901, after William McKinley’s assassination, the public thought that Teddy and his wife, Edith -- the parents of six children -- would put up a tree. But the holiday tree-trimming ritual just wasn’t part of the Roosevelts’ family tradition. Although some historians have asserted that this was due to Roosevelt's concerns about deforestation, there isn't any hard evidence to prove this claim.
A little tree for little Archie:
- Some historians have suggested that Roosevelt’s opposition to destructive lumber practices weighed against having a holiday tree, but Teddy never actually spoke out against Christmas trees.
- At the time, most Americans opposed cutting down trees for Christmas because of its impact on forests. The Minneapolis Times, for example, said that the practice “threatens to strip our forests.”
- A lot of press coverage in 1902 surrounded Roosevelt’s 8-year-old son, Archie, who persuaded a White House staffer to help him surprise the family with a tiny Christmas tree, complete with little presents for everyone.