Although someone definitely coined the phrase “a chicken in every pot,” it was not, as frequently claimed, President Herbert Hoover. There is no record of Herbert ever having referred to “a chicken in every pot” in any of his speeches or writings, although many of us were taught that he coined this phrase as part of his campaign platform, or during one of his presidential addresses. Surprisingly, the actual origin of the phrase goes back much further, to King Henry IV of France, which means it comes from the 1500’s.
King Henry IV is said to have coined many a famous phrase. Franklin Roosevelt borrowed his “le Grand Dessein” (great design) for world peace. The king also said “Je veux qu’il ait si pauvere paysan en mon royaume qu’il n’ait tous les diamaches sa poule au pot.” Which means, “I wish that there would not be a peasant so poor in all my realm who would not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” Another version was: Si Dieu me prête vie, je ferai qu’il n’y aura point de laboureur en mon royaume qui n’ait les moyens d’avoir le dimanche une poule dans son pot! Which translates to “If God keeps me, I will make sure that no peasant in my realm will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot on Sunday! For this, he started being called le Roi de la poule au pot: King of the chicken in the pot. Don’t get the wrong idea, though. He meant it, and he was also called Good King Henry or le bon roi Henri, and, of course, Henry the Great.
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So how did Hoover get connected with the phrase, even though he seems never to have said it? It’s reemergence has been traced to a Republican campaign flyer in 1928 which was titled “A Chicken for Every Pot.” What Hoover did say, on October 22, 1928, is “The slogan of progress is changing from the full dinner pail to the full garage.
Democratic candidate Al Smith mocked the chicken in every pot flyer in a Boston Campaign speech, holding it up and quoting from it, saying:
‘Republican prosperity has reduced hours and increased earning capacity.’ And then it goes on to say, ‘Republican prosperity has put a chicken in every pot and a car in every backyard to boot’…Here’s another good one for you. ‘Republican efficiency has filled the working-mans dinner pail and his gasoline tank besides, and placed the whole nation in the Silk stocking class’…
Smith went on to make the point that the average working man could not afford a chicken dinner every Sunday, let alone go out to get it in his car wearing silk stockings.
Later on, after Republican promises of prosperity became an embarrassment to the party, Hoover’s statement concerning a full garage, and Smith’s tirade about the flyer were conflated in such a way that Hoover was said to have promised “A chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage.” Later politicians, such as Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy, who undoubtedly new good and well that it was a misquotation, went right ahead and repeated it as if Hoover himself had really made the promise.
Hoover’s actual campaign slogans were who But Hoover?, which was his main one, and also Hoover and Happiness Or Smith And Soup Houses. Al Smith, on the other hand, had the campaign slogan All for Al. So, yeah, Hoover won.