“Chicken in every pot” was Republican campaign slogan of the late 1920s. The slogan is often incorrectly attributed to Herbert Hoover; it became a means for Democrats to attack Republicans as out of touch with economic reality.
The desire for there to be a “chicken in every pot” dates back at least to 16th century France. That’s when Henri IV supposedly wished that every peasant in his kingdom, no matter how poor, could have a chicken in his pot every Sunday. (It’s not clear whether Henri ever actually uttered these words, but the story persists.)
Centuries later, the phrase resurfaced in the United States. In 1928, a group of Republican businessmen created an ad touting the supposed gains the Republican Party had made for working Americans. The ad ran in the New York World and the headline read, “A Chicken in Every Pot.”
“The Republican Party isn’t a poor man’s party,” the ad began. It went on to say that “Republican efficiency has filled the workingman’s dinner pail – and his gasoline tank besides…Republican prosperity has reduced hours and increased earning capacity, silenced discontent, put the proverbial “chicken in every pot.” And a car in every backyard, to boot.”
Later that year, Al Smith, the Democratic candidate for the White House, waved the ad around and quoted from it derisively. According to William Safire, Smith read out some of the ad to a waiting crowd and then asked his audience, “just draw on your imagination for a moment, and see if you can in your mind’s eye picture a man working at $17.50 a week going out to a chicken dinner in his own car with silk socks on.”
Hoover easily beat Smith in the 1928 election. It’s worth noting that Hoover never actually promised Americans a chicken in every pot, as Smith suggested. But Hoover did run on a “prosperity” platform, promising ordinary Americans a better life. That may be why the “chicken in every pot” slogan stuck to him so well, and caused him so much trouble later on.
In 1932, Hoover was running for re-election and America was in the throes of the Great Depression. Many Americans blamed the president for the economic downturn, and the language of the time reflects it. Slums were known as “Hoovervilles,” and empty, turned-out pockets were known as “Hoover flags.” The promise of a car in every back yard and a chicken in every pot seemed laughable to many, which helps explain the record turnout to vote Hoover in.
Decades later, when John F. Kennedy was running for president, he dredged up the “chicken in every pot” slogan all over again. JFK attributed the quote to Hoover, expanding the original slogan to include twice as many chickens as before. In a speech in Blountville, Tennessee, JFK said,
“It is my understanding that the last candidate for the Presidency to visit this community in a Presidential year was Herbert Hoover in 1928.President Hoover initiated on the occasion of his visit the slogan “Two chickens for every pot”, and it is no accident that no Presidential candidate has ever dared come back to this community since.”