He was known as “Nixon’s Nixon,” and not in a good way. As vice president of the United States under Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973, Spiro T. “Ted” Agnew became the voice of the Establishment, a critic of the critics of society in general and the Vietnam War policy in particular.
Even today, his quotes are legendary. The press corps, to him, were “nattering nabobs of negativism” because of their constant criticism of the conduct of the War. He disliked the “radiclibs” as he called the radical liberals, and openly called student radicals “impudent snobs.” He insisted that “liberal intellectuals” had a “masochistic compulsion to destroy their country’s strength.”
Agnew didn’t even get the support of his fellow Republicans. They considered him difficult, constantly self-aggrandizing, and insistent that he have more power and prestige at every turn. Even Richard Nixon tried to force him to resign before the election. But, thinking Agnew could bring together conservatives for the reelection campaign of 1972, he would be encouraged to speak out, as Agnew says, “until the self-righteous lower their voice a few decibels. . . . I intend to be heard over the din even if it means raising my voice.” Difficult to do as he always spoke in a quiet monotone.
Then in 1970, a college joke was making the rounds that asked simply “Did you know that Mickey Mouse wore a Spiro Agnew watch?” It was meant to demean Agnew as a cartoon character even a cartoon character could make fun of. But to Dr. Hale E. Dougherty, a California physician and Democrat, it became no joke. He actually had just such a watch designed and sold. It was an instant national phenomenon.
Everyone had to have one. Elizabeth Taylor bought a dozen. A White House lawyer bought two. John Lennon, other celebrities, and middle America made the Spiro Agnew watch a national joke you could wear.
Even Spiro Agnew liked it, for awhile. When it became successful, he sued to stop it. The publicity only sold more watches. It was settled out of court with a donation to the National Cancer Society.
And, naturally, when something is successful, knockoffs appear.
As originally designed, by a Long Beach art student, you see Agnew in profile to the right wearing a red, white, and blue outfit similar to the one Mickey Mouse wears in his iconic watch. The hands on the Agnew watch are red gloves, with the number 12 just behind Agnew’s head (the only other numbers to appear are 3, 6, and 9; the rest are blue stars).
On the left of the watch are the words “Spiro Agnew” with the smaller word “original” underneath. On the right side are the words “Dirty Time Company”. On either side of the number 6 are the words “Swiss Made”. The red, white, and blue band was attached to metal pieces rather than from the face of the watch itself.
In great condition, the original Spiro Agnew watch should bring $75 or so. The knockoffs, and there are many, are valued for less.
By the way, Agnew was forced to resign the vice presidency on October 10, 1973 because he was convicted of taking a bribe of about $2,500 in his White House office from a previous business deal while he was a Maryland county executive. Just about 10 months later on August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon himself resigned over Watergate making this duo the only president/vice presidential team to resign because of scandal.
Agnew was fined, but served no jail time after which he faded into well deserved obscurity. He died in 1996 in Maryland.
However, the watch that Mickey Mouse can wear as a joke, lives on.