On this day in 1977, President Jimmy Carter joined first lady Rosalynn Carter in hosting children at a White House post-Easter egg roll. They added a circus and petting zoo to what was a firm tradition.
The first such public egg-rolling frolic occurred in 1872 on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. While parents picnicked, children rolled colored eggs down an embankment, tearing up the sod. The environmental damage prompted Congress in 1876 to pass the Turf Protection Law, outlawing such events.
Two years later, President Rutherford B. Hayes filled the void by hosting the first official Easter egg roll on the White House grounds. Since then, the event has been established, more or less, as a permanent White House fixture, although not every presidential family member has attended. Over the years, participants also have been treated to music, games, food, pony rides, souvenirs and, of course, a visit by the Easter Bunny.
In the early years, children came to the White House with baskets of brightly dyed hard-boiled eggs. On Easter Monday, 1885, the young egg rollers marched into the East Room, hoping for an audience with President Grover Cleveland.
When he came down from his office to greet them, he was charmed. The visitors ruined the East Room carpet, which, as The Washington Post reported, was “ground full of freshly smashed hard-boiled egg and broken egg shells.” Still, when Cleveland returned in 1893 for a second, nonconsecutive term, he continued to grant egg rollers free reign of the house and grounds.
No egg rolls occurred for a dozen years from America’s entry into World War II to the end of major White House renovations in 1953. Gerald Ford reinstated the tradition of a presidential appearance in 1976 — the first one since President Dwight D. Eisenhower had hosted the event in 1960.
In 1969, first lady Pat Nixon donned an Easter Bunny costume. In 1974, her husband contributed spoons on loan from the White House kitchen for the egg roll. During President Ronald Reagan’s two terms, Ursula Meese, wife of Ed Meese, the U.S. attorney general, wore a bunny costume six times. Under Reagan’s tenure, young post-Easter revelers could attend a Broadway show on the South Lawn or climb into the basket of a tethered hot air balloon.
Under President Bill Clinton, planners invited each state to send an egg decorated by one of its native artists to be displayed in the White House. At the 2013 egg roll, by then underwritten in part by corporate donors, President Barack Obama shot basketball and read stories to his young guests.
The most recent egg roll, held on April 2, 2018, a chilly and cloudy Monday, saw nearly 30,000 adults stream through the White House gates. Most of President Donald Trump’s five children and nine grandchildren attended. First lady Melania Trump added lawn bowling as a new event to the activities.