There was a popular joke in the ’70s. “Did you know Mickey Mouse wears a Spiro Agnew watch?”
Perhaps 50 years have killed the punch line. See, Vice President Agnew, who began his career as a Baltimore County executive, was considered to be somewhat dim. So dim that even a cartoon mouse would wear his face on his watch. And this was before Agnew was found to be receiving bribes from contractors.
A Baltimore lawyer named Zelig Robinson was with his then-wife, Karen, at a dinner in Washington when they heard the joke. “That’s a good idea,” Robinson recalled thinking. “Let’s have a watch made.”
He commissioned a Baltimore Sun cartoonist named Richard Q. Yardley to draw up Agnew’s face for the watch. The Sun was on strike at the time, so Yardley “had nothing better to do,” Robinson recalled. He got the trademark for the watch, and it was manufactured by a company called Sheffield.
But the Robinsons’ Agnew watch was not the only Agnew watch to pop up around that time. A California doctor launched a version that supposedly became fashionable with none other than Elizabeth Taylor, who ordered 12 of them.
The Veep, perhaps wanting to show he was in on the joke, called a news conference to issue a “universal license” of his persona. Karen Robinson placed the watch on Agnew’s wrist, and in a picture he was seen beaming while wearing it.
“It was made to lampoon him, but it didn’t matter,” Robinson told The Sun in 2017. He still had a stash of Agnew alarm clocks in their original red boxes, at his home in Roland Park.
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Agnew resigned from office in 1973, pleading nolo contendere to a tax charge.