Abraham Lincoln’s Dog, Fido

Abraham Lincoln’s Dog, Fido

While living in Springfield, Illinois, the Lincoln family had several Lincoln's doganimals including a dog named Fido (ca. 1855-1865).  Fido was a yellow, mixed-breed dog who was said to accompany Lincoln when he went into town, sometimes carrying a parcel home from the market for Lincoln, or Fido would wait outside the barbershop while Lincoln went in for a trim.

When Lincoln was elected president, the occasion was acknowledged locally with great celebration. Fido was quit terrified by the booming cannons, the fireworks, the ringing of the local church bells and the sounds of the excited community.  This gave Lincoln pause when he considered taking Fido with the family to Washington.

The family ultimately decided to make an arrangement to leave Fido in the care of another family. A carpenter, John Roll, who had done some work for the Lincolns, had two sons who were a little younger than Tad and Willy. The Roll family agreed to take responsibility for Fido.  They also promised the Lincolns that the dog would be returned to them when the Lincolns came home from Washington.

Lincoln’s Dog Was Accustomed to the Run of the House

Fido was very much a “house dog” and the President specified that Fido was to be allowed to come into the Roll family home; if his paws were muddy, Fido should not be scolded for it.  The Lincolns had always shared table scraps with Fido at mealtime, so the Lincolns also asked that Fido be permitted to join the Roll family at mealtimes as well.


Fido slept on a favorite sofa. Arrangements were made to leave this horsehair sofa with the Roll family so that Fido would have every reason to feel at home.

It is unclear when the photo of Fido was taken. It may have been taken before the Lincolns departed for the White House. Perhaps they wanted a memento of their beloved dog.  However recently, it has been speculated that Fido’s photo was taken after the assassination. The town was overrun by people who arrived for the funeral, and visitors wanted to buy items related to Lincoln. A townsperson may have decided that that a photo of Fido would sell well.

Either explanation leaves us with the undeniable fact that we have the first photo ever taken of a Presidential dog.

A couple of years after Lincoln had assumed the presidency, the barber wrote a letter to the president, filling him in on local happenings.  He added: “Tell Taddy that his (and Willy’s) Dog is alive and Kicking, doing well, he stays mostly at John E. Roll’s with his Boys who are about the size now that Tad and Willy were when they left for Washington.”

Fido at the Funeral

Fido was still living with the Rolls family when Lincoln was assassinated.  When the funeral was held, mourners stopped in at the Lincoln family home in Springfield to pay their respects. The Roll family brought Fido there to say good-bye to his master, too.

At the time, photographs were sometimes copied and made into carte-de-visite (calling cards of a sort which were very popular during the Civil War when family members wanted to be remembered).  Shortly after Lincoln’s death, the photo of Fido was reproduced as a carte-de-visite and sold to souvenir collectors.

Fido is Killed

Within the year of Lincoln’s death, Fido himself was killed. John Roll wrote of Fido’s sad fate: “We possessed the dog for a number of years when one day the dog, in a playful manner, put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing [who] in his drunken rage, thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido. He was buried by loving hands. So Fido, just a poor yellow dog met the fate of his illustrious master- Assassination.”

 Other Animals in the Lincoln White House

Nanny and Nanko were two goats kept at the Lincoln White House.  The boys liked hitching the goats to carts—or even kitchen chairs—and being pulled around.  The goats were not always popular with the White House staff as they tended to chew up things that they weren’t supposed to.

The boys also had ponies and some white rabbits, and Tad became very attached to a turkey that was being raised for Christmas dinner.  At Tad’s behest, Lincoln had little choice but to spare the turkey. The turkey lived on with the Lincolns as a pet, and Tad gave him full run of the White House.  (Lincoln’s own childhood was filled with fear and disappointment, so he chose to raise his boys with much more leniency.)

Lincoln himself was particularly fond of cats. According to the staff at Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, if Mary Lincoln was asked about whether her husband had a hobby, she was very likely to answer “cats.”

In March of 1865 as the Civil War was winding down and all the requirements of rebuilding the country were being presented to the President. He would frequently sit at the telegraph office in Washington so he could send and receive messages easily. While there one day, Lincoln became distracted by three stray kittens.  When he was informed that the kittens’ mother had died, he sat with them on his lap for a few minutes and then before he left, he made certain someone there committed to taking care of them.

Lincoln called his horse, Old Bob.  In the funeral procession, Old Bob, wearing a mourning blanket with silver fringe, walked immediately after the hearse carrying the President’s body.


23 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln’s Dog, Fido”

  1. Thank you Linda! I’ve just added a piece about Mary Lincoln on the home page. You might enjoy it as well.

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