National Archives News

On 50th 'Pandaversary' Archives Marks Gift of Pandas to the Nation

By Mary Ryan | National Archives News

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One of the giant pandas enjoys a bamboo snack in its enclosure at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC. (Nixon Library, WHPO-E2028-22-I-2020-RP)

WASHINGTON, April 13, 2022 — Fifty years ago, on April 16, two new celebrities arrived at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, DC. A few days later, on April 20, First Lady Pat Nixon, on behalf of the American people, officially accepted a gift from the People’s Republic of China—two giant pandas named Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling.

The exchange of gifts (musk oxen Milton and Matilda were the U.S. gift to China) followed President Richard Nixon’s historic trip to China in February 1972 to open diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries. During that trip, Mrs. Nixon had admired the giant pandas at the Beijing zoo, and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai told her, "I'll give you some." When pandas’ arrival date was set, President Nixon asked the First Lady to lead the welcoming party at the zoo. His recorded telephone call on March 13, 1972, is among the holdings of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.

Mrs. Nixon declared at the ceremony, “I think ‘panda-monium’ is going to break out at the zoo.” She was right. Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling were the top attractions at the zoo until their deaths in in the 1990s. On their first day of public display at the zoo, the two pandas drew a reported 20,000 visitors. The current panda pair are Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who arrived in 2000.

Read more in "'Panda'monium at the National Zoo" in the Pieces of History blog.

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Ling-Ling (the female panda) in her indoor enclosure at the National Zoo.

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First Lady Pat Nixon officially accepts the gift of giant pandas at the National Zoo on April 20, 1972.