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How a US President Lost the White House China in a Game of Cards

Posted on by John Lathram
US President Warren Harding

Former US President Warren G. Harding

President Warren G. Harding is remembered for several not-so-positive events during his presidency – one of which involves a set of china and a game of cards.

If you are a fan of trivia nights, you will be familiar with the name Warren G. Harding. The 29th President of the United States was the shortest-serving president of the 20th century, one of only four presidents to die from natural causes during their presidency, and the only president to be elected into office on his birthday (November 2, 1920).

Unfortunately – despite promoting tax cuts, civil rights, and infrastructure improvements – Harding is remembered as one of America´s worst presidents. Predominantly this perception is due to Harding seeing his role as ceremonial rather than governmental, and spending much of his time in office playing golf and hosting lavish poker parties at the White House.

Following his death in 1923, Harding´s extra-marital affairs and involvement in numerous scandals came to light – prompting rumors that, rather than having died from a heart attack, Harding´s wife had poisoned him to avoid facing charges of corruption. However, if she had poisoned him, it was possibly due to the former president losing a set of White House china in a game of cards.

It Wasn´t Just Any Set of China

White House China (Harrison Service)

White House China (Harrison Service)

According to a news article published in 1965 by the Associated Press, the game of cards took place following one of Harding´s regular poker parties at the White House. Having played with his regular guests – which included Secretary of War John Weeks, Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty, and Gen. John J. Pershing – Harding invited Louise Heiberg to a single hand of cards.

Heiberg – who at the time was the wife of General Douglas MacArthur – accepted the challenge, and she and Harding played a version of poker known as “Cold Hand”. Heiberg won and, as her prize, she asked for a set of White House china. The following day, a set of White House china dating back to the Benjamin Harrison administration was delivered to her home.

The original series Harrison china service is extremely valuable. Designed by First Lady Caroline Scott Harrison, the service was designed with a goldenrod and corn motif etched in gold around a wide band of blue, with forty-four gold stars – representing the forty-four states of the Union at the time – forming an inner circle. Sadly, First Lady Harrison died before the service was delivered.

These Days Harding Could Play Anonymously

Historians are of the opinion that Harding´s negative legacy is not so much attributable to his extra-marital affairs or involvement in numerous scandals, but rather due to his lack of vision and failure to get involved in government business. The loss of the White House china only adds to his negative legacy; although if he were alive today, he could avoid the embarrassment by playing poker anonymously.

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