The first Siamese cat in the United States was named Siam and came from — drumroll, please — Siam. OK, that’s not all that fascinating. It isn’t where the cat originated that makes its story interesting. It is the destination. The country’s first such feline resided in the White House.
Siamese cats originated in Siam (modern-day Thailand). They are easily identifiable from their blue eyes, cream and black fur, and sharp facial features. In their country of origin, they are known as Moon Diamond cats.
The first Siamese cat was carried into the USA in 1878 by David B. Sickels, an American diplomat at the U.S. Consulate in Bangkok. He sent the prized animal to the nation’s best-known animal lover: President Rutherford B. Hayes.
The cat, unimaginatively named “Siam,” arrived at the White House with a note from Sickels: “Having observed a few months ago in an American newspaper a statement that you were fond of cats, I have taken the liberty of forwarding you one of the finest specimens of Siamese cats that I have been able to procure in this country… I am informed that it is the first attempt ever made to send a Siamese cat to America.”
President and Mrs. Hayes made no secret of their love of animals. Siam would fit right in with the pack of dogs and cats that already resided there. First Daughter Fanny immediately fell in love with the new addition to the household and claimed Siam as her own.
Newspaper reporters were quick to notice the cat’s presence and reported that Siam was especially friendly, and “always… [entered] the room when Mrs. Hayes had visitors… The cat marched in and show[ed] no hesitation, though the parlor was full of strangers….”
Sadly, Siam was destined to grace the halls of power for just a few months. In 1879, the cat fell ill and passed away. William Crump, an assistant to President Hayes, took the rare Siamese cat to the Department of Agriculture for preservation. Its remains from that point became a mystery. It is possible Siam is filed away in the midst of endless government records, only to be discovered by some enterprising researcher of the future.
Siam was the first but not the last Siamese cat to live in the Executive Mansion. Shan, owned by Gerald Ford, and Misty Malarky Ying Yang, belonging to Jimmy Carter, joined the long list of presidential pets, thankful for the precedent set by their distinguished forerunner.