If you are excited about the newest panda at the National Zoo, you should thank Richard Nixon.
President Nixon’s historic trip to China in February 1972 opened diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries and was one of the most successful achievements of his administration. The result that sticks most keenly in the popular memory, though, is the arrival of two chubby black and white furry goodwill ambassadors—Ling-Ling (shown here) and Hsing-Hsing.
Mrs. Nixon had been captivated by the pandas at the zoo in Beijing and was delighted to head up the delegation to welcome the pandas to the National Zoo.
On April 16, 1972, she officially accepted the gift of the People’s Republic of China and declared, “I think ‘panda-monium’ is going to break out at the zoo.”
She was right. Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were the top attractions at the zoo until their deaths in in the 1990s.
Watch Mrs. Nixon’s speech from 1972 on the Prologue blog.
Image: Ling-Ling munches on her snack on her first day in the new Panda House at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, April 16, 1972. (Nixon Presidential Library)