The White House Easter Egg Roll officially dates back to 1878 and the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, but first-hand accounts suggest that informal festivities began with egg-rolling parties under President Abraham Lincoln. Starting in the 1870s, Easter
Monday celebrations on the U.S. Capitol’s west grounds grew so popular that President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill that banned the rolling of eggs on Capitol grounds, citing landscape concerns.
In 1878, a group of bold children walked up to the White House gate, hoping to be allowed to play egg-rolling games there. President Hayes told his guards to let the children enter, and soon Easter Monday on the White House grounds became an annual tradition. President Benjamin Harrison added music to the festivities in 1889 with the United States Marine Band.
Egg roll attendance grew so popular that the number of guests had to be limited, and in 1939, the Secret Service had to go so far as shutting down a “racket” of children trying to sneak adults into the event for a fee.
The planning of the egg roll traditionally falls on first ladies, each incorporating her own tastes and interests to the event. First Lady Lou Hoover had part of the South Lawn roped off for folk dancing. First Lady Pat Nixon introduced the traditional egg roll races.
Because of World War I and World War II, there were no egg rolls from 1917 to 1920 and from 1943 to 1945. Food conservation and then construction on the White House prevented any celebrations from 1946 to 1952, as well. Fortunately, President Dwight D. Eisenhower reinstated the tradition in 1953.
The custom to receive a wooden Easter egg when leaving the event began in 1981 — an idea instituted by First Lady Nancy Reagan — and became a keepsake cherished by guests that donned the signature of the President and First Lady.
This year’s 140th White House Easter Egg Roll will be hosted by First Lady Melania Trump on April 2, 2018.
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