History Podcasts

White House - History

White House - History

White House - center of the executive branch and official residence of the President and his immediate family. The President's key personal and political staff have offices in the White House. Most work in the West Wing, which also contains the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room. Aside from the Vice President and Cabinet members, the major Executive advisors are: the Chief of Staff of the White House; the Counsel to the President; the Press Secretary; the President's Physician; and the Director of Staff for the First Lady.

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The U.S. government didn&apost own slaves, according to the National Archives, but it did pay slave owners to hire them to help build the White House. According to the White House Historical Association, Washington, D.C.’s city commissioners originally planned to spirit workers from Europe for the construction, which started in 1792 and took eight years to complete. When they got little response, they instead enlisted the labor of both free and enslaved African Americans to work alongside local white laborers and craftsmen, plus a handful of Europeans to build not just the president&aposs home, but other government buildings such as the U.S. Capitol as well.

James Hoban, an Irish immigrant and architect hand-picked by President George Washington, designed the original building. After the British set fire to it in 1814, during the War of 1812, Hoban led the effort to rebuild the structure.

View of the south facade of the White House, c. 1840s. 

Stock Montage/Getty Images


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30 Amazing Facts You Never Knew About the White House

These tidbits might surprise even the biggest history buffs.

As the longtime home of the U.S. president and the location of countless momentous decisions and historic moments, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is immediately identifiable and familiar to any American—and plenty of non-Americans, too. But as well as you know it, how well do you really know the White House?

It turns out, the White House is not only home to the president, but home to a number of surprising facts. For example, did you know the residence has a chocolate shop, a florist, and a seriously famous ghost? Probably not. So the next time you're eager to regale your friends with your political knowledge, put these amazing White House facts to good use. You'll probably also want to share a few of the 25 All-Time Greatest One-Liners by Politicians.

First and foremost, the White House is a mansion. Consider this: The White House Residence spans six floors and includes 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms. That makes for 412 doors, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators, and the setup for an epic game of hide-and-seek. Wondering how much a place like that would cost? A recent appraisal valued the property at just under $400 million. For more fun Americana, check out the 50 Facts About America That Most Americans Don't Know.

The White House was designed by James Hoban, an Irish architect who began his stateside career in Philadelphia in 1785. Think you know all there is to know about the United States? Find out with the 28 Most Enduring Myths in American History.


The name wasn't officially adopted until 1901, when Teddy Roosevelt decided to change it from the "Executive Residence." He noted that state governors had executive residences, and he wanted to make sure that the POTUS's residence had a more distinguished title.


Though George Washington was responsible for commissioning the construction of the White House, choosing the site, and approving its design, he never actually lived there. That honor went to president number two, John Adams.

Washington's term ended in 1797, three years before the White House was completed in 1800. He died in 1799, meaning he never set even set foot in the completed building. He is the only U.S. President to have not lived in the White House. And for more great history lessons, check out the 20 Crazy Facts You Never Knew About One Dollar Bills.


Nobody likes moving day, but you can bet yours is nowhere near as stressful as moving day at the White House. It all takes place as soon as the sitting president leaves the White House for the president-elect's inauguration ceremony. From then, staffers and movers have five hours to move out all of the sitting president's belongings and move in the belongings of the president-elect. Not only is furniture changed and artwork swapped, but the walls are even repainted too, as per the requests of the incoming first family. All in five hours!

James Hoban/Wikimedia Commons

Since Michelle Obama struck a nerve by expressing her feelings about waking up every day in a house built by slaves, this White House fact has become common knowledge. And it shouldn't be surprising considering the state of the U.S. at the time the White House was built. White House records show that African American slaves were trained on the spot to fill certain capacities, such as quarryman, brick-maker, and carpenter.


Sure, one of the perks of being president is living rent-free, but that hardly makes up for the hefty expenses that come with moving into the White House. Despite making a six-figure salary, the President is still responsible for paying for all meals, at the White House and elsewhere, all events (and the wages for those working the events), and even transportation. Many presidents have left the White House in serious debt, such as Bill Clinton, whose debt totaled between $2.28 million and $10.6 million by the time he left office.


Presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor both died in the White House. Three First Ladies—Letitia Tyler, Caroline Harrison, and Ellen Wilson—passed away there, too. To date, a total of 10 people have died within the White House walls. If that made your ears perk up, check out The Weirdest Urban Legend in Every State.


If there's anything to be learned from horror movies, it's that old buildings are often haunted. Obviously, this doesn't bode well for the White House. Staffers, guests, presidents, and first ladies have all claimed to have experienced paranormal activity during their time there. Rumor has it that Abraham Lincoln's ghost still haunts the home. In fact, there have been reported sightings of our sixteenth President's specter in the White House since 1903. And for more truth bombs, here are the 20 Crazy Facts That Will Blow Your Mind.

White House/Wikimedia Commons

What purpose could 132 different rooms possibly serve? Well, it turns out some of the past residents have come up with quite creative ways to fill these spaces. Harry Truman, for example, commissioned the White House's first bowling alley. FDR oversaw the transformation of a cloakroom into a 42-seat movie theater. Hillary Clinton even converted one sitting room into the Music Room so that her husband could play the saxophone.

While the White House still has an exterior pool, its interior pool is now hidden beneath the floors. The indoor pool, which opened in 1933 for use by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is underneath the current James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.


If anyone in the White House deserves caffeine, it's the press (not including the President, of course). So you can imagine Tom Hanks' shock when, on his first tour of the White House in 2004, he found the press room to be missing a coffee machine. And as the kind man he is, he bought them one. Six years later, he sent them a new one after noticing it was getting run down. Finally, in 2017, he sent the White House press corps a third gift. This time, it was a $1,700 espresso machine, along with a note reading "Keep up the good fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Especially for the truth part."


The White House was entirely lit by gas lights until 1891, when electricity was first installed. And as electric lighting was still a fairly new concept, the leader at that time, President Benjamin Harrison, was skeptical of the dangers and worried he would be shocked if he touched a light switch. His solution? He never once touched one himself.


While George Washington never lived in the White House and was long dead before the Oval Office was first used in 1909, Washington was an inspiration for the room's unusual shape. Washington reportedly insisted upon having rounded walls in his Philadelphia home so that it would be suitable for hosting formal gatherings, or levees. This design was followed when the Oval Office was constructed, although such formal receptions are no longer hosted in the space.


While John Adams moved into the White House in 1800, it wasn't until 1833 that indoor plumbing was installed. However, it wasn't until 1853 that all of its bathrooms had hot and cold water run to them.

Samantha Appleton/Wikimedia Commons

The executive residence has hosted its fair share of parties, including many banquets. The State Dining Room is the larger of two dining rooms in the White House and can seat up to 140 guests. Otherwise, the kitchen can serve hors-d'oeuvres to as many as 1,000 people. The White House kitchen is staffed by some of America's greatest chefs, who adjust their menus to the President's taste. Some requests include pork rinds covered in Tabasco for George H.W. Bush and Coca Cola-flavored jelly for Bill Clinton.


If you think back long and hard to your middle school history lessons, you'll remember that during an invasion in 1814, the British burned the White House down. Only 14 years after the original construction was finished, the same architect, James Hoban, was tasked with rebuilding. The White House 2.0 finally finished in 1817, though Hoban would return on occasion in the following years to add porticos on the north and south sides.


While it's unlikely that you can host your own nuptials there, there have been a number of weddings at the White House since it was first built. In fact, eighteen couples have gotten married at the White House, the most recent of whom tied the knot in 2013.

Samantha Appleton/Wikimedia Commons

When Michelle Obama's biography was recently published, readers were shocked to learn about the lonely, confining rules of living in the White House. In one detail, she revealed how she was never allowed to open a window in her own home. Residents are constantly monitored and not allowed to go anywhere alone, which can feel quite straining. President Truman called it a "great white jail" and a "glamorous prison." Julie Nixon complained of a lack of privacy due to the press and the guards.


If the president loses a crown, he won't have to go far to get it replaced. Seriously: There's a dentist's office in the basement of the building. In fact, the basement is essentially a mini-mall! With a chocolate shop, a florist, a carpenter, and more, there's little need for the residents to ever leave. The basement level is also where you'll find Nixon's bowling alley and Dwight Eisenhower's broadcast room.

After plans with French architect Pierre L'Enfant fell through, George Washington opened a contest to find a replacement design for the White House. The winner was an Irish immigrant named James Hoban, who, it turns out, was greatly influenced by a building in his native Ireland. The Leinster House, in Kildare, Dublin, strikingly resembles the American monument in several ways, including a triangular pediment supported by four columns, dentil moldings, and opposite-facing chimneys.

MOSSOT/Wikimedia Commons

Just outside of Bordeaux in the Perigord Noir region of France is the Chateau de Rastignac, a building that also bears an impressive resemblance to the White House. The building's records were mostly destroyed after the chateau was torched during World War II, but some claim that it was the inspiration for Thomas Jefferson's remodel of the White House during his two terms in office. Jefferson spent significant time in France as the U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the man responsible for making the White House entirely wheelchair accessible. Today, it's common knowledge that FDR was paralyzed below the waist due to polio, but at the time, he kept his condition hush-hush. His additions of elevators and ramps made the White House one of the first wheelchair-friendly buildings in Washington.

Because of the Great Depression, Roosevelt had very little budget for annual repairs to the White House, and as a result, the building was literally collapsing. Nobody had realized how structurally unsound the old building was until engineers working on President Truman's balcony in 1948 found that, not only were the floorboards cracking and swaying beneath people's feet, the building's weakened wooden beams were at risk of giving way at any moment.

Most of what we associate with the White House takes place in the West Wing there's the Situation Room, the Cabinet Room, and of course, the Oval Office. However, none of that existed before Teddy Roosevelt called to have an executive office building built alongside the Residence in 1902. He moved his cabinet into the West Wing immediately, but not himself. It wasn't until 1909, when President Taft doubled the Wing's size, that the Oval Office was included. Taft was the first president ever to use it.


Part of the routine upkeep at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is making sure the White House stays true to its name. That means repainting every now and then to maintain its bright, white exterior. And that's a task that requires a whole lot of paint. At 55,000 square feet, it takes 570 gallons of paint to cover the entire surface. Naturally, painting isn't the only maintenance required at the White House. In fact, between $750,000 and $1.6 million is spent on maintenance each year.

Image via The White House Historical Association

When the first family moves into the Executive Residence, they take their pets with them. The White House has seen its fair share of cats and dogs, but it's also housed a number of more unusual pets. When the Coolidges were sent a raccoon to cook for Thanksgiving dinner, they opted instead to keep it as a pet, naming her Rebecca. President Harrison kept two opossums named Mr. Protection and Mr. Reciprocity. The craziest pets, though, were a pair of tiger cubs gifted to President Van Buren.

Vlad Podvorny/Wikimedia Commons

Like all high-profile buildings, the White House has a secret entrance for the president and secret visitors. It opens onto H street in Washington D.C. and passes through two tunnels and an alleyway before arriving at the White House basement. This secret entrance was designed in part as a response to World War II, as was an underground bomb-shelter the was built beneath the White House.

The book "The Residence" by Kate Anderson Brower, which was published in 2015, takes a look at the lives of the White House service staff and reveals the hidden world of what they call, simply, "the house." One of the particularities revealed in this book is that open staff positions are never advertised. All employees are found via word-of-mouth or recommendations. As a result, many employees belong to families that have been working in the White House for generations.


While you might assume that being the Commander-in-Chief means that everything at the White House is free, you'd be wrong. In fact, presidents and their families pay for meals, dry cleaning, hair and makeup, and staffer for parties.

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The White House since 1900

During the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, the mansion’s second-floor rooms were converted from presidential offices to family living quarters, not least because of the president’s six children. For them, one observer said, “nothing [in the White House] was too sacred for amusement and no place too good for a playroom.” Additional space was needed for the children’s exotic pets, which included raccoons, snakes, a badger, and a bear. To accommodate a growing presidential staff and to provide more office space for the president, the West Wing was constructed in 1902. More office space was made available with the building of the East Wing in 1942. (The East and West wings are connected to the main building by the east and west terraces.)

In 1948, during the presidency of Harry Truman (1945–53), the main building was discovered to be structurally unsound during the next four years the entire interior was carefully rebuilt, though the original exterior walls were left standing. A second-floor balcony was likewise added on the south portico. The last major alterations to the White House were made in the 1960s by Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of Pres. John F. Kennedy (1961–63). Renowned for her beauty and refined taste, she collected and displayed items of historic and artistic value throughout its rooms. She made the White House a centre of national culture and awakened public interest in its beauties by conducting a televised tour of the mansion in 1962.

The White House building complex has a total of more than 130 rooms. The main building still contains the presidential family’s living quarters and various reception rooms, all decorated in styles of the 18th and 19th centuries. Parts of the main building are open to the public. The west terrace contains the press briefing room, and the east terrace houses a movie theatre. The presidential office, known as the Oval Office, is located in the West Wing, as are the cabinet and press rooms the East Wing contains other offices.

Over the years the White House has become a major American historic site, attracting more than 1.5 million visitors annually. In 1995 the section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to automobile traffic because of concerns about terrorism, and the area has since became popular with pedestrians and skaters. The allure of the building has never waned, and few who enter its environs—visitors and occupants alike—leave unaffected by its ambience and rich history. Jefferson thought that the White House was too large, “big enough for two emperors, one Pope, and the grand lama,” and Caroline Harrison, wife of Pres. Benjamin Harrison (1889–93), complained that there was “no feeling of privacy” on the property. But Franklin Roosevelt found it warm and comfortable. “My husband liked to be in the White House on New Year’s Eve,” remembered Eleanor Roosevelt:

We always gathered a few friends, and at midnight in the oval study the radio was turned on and we waited with the traditional eggnog in hand for midnight to be announced. Franklin always sat in his chair and, as the President, would raise his glass and say: “To the United States of America.” All of us stood and repeated the toast after him. Somehow, the words were especially meaningful and impressive in that house.

The White House is a unit of the National Capital Parks system and was accredited as a museum in 1988.

The White House Residence History

Original caption: "Work on the installation of a new heating plant at the White House was started today.
Heat for the mansion is to be piped from the State War and Navy Bldg. 6/25/23" (Library of Congress)

The White House south side, circa 1920 (Library of Congress)

Overview of the White House in 1919 (Library of Congress)

The White House north face, circa 1909 (Library of Congress)

South face of the White House from the Washington Monument,
showing the extensive conservatories on the west side, circa 1901 (The Outlook magazine, 1902)

The White House, circa 1901 (Library of Congress - Underwood & Underwood)

Hand-tinted photo of the White House north face, circa 1900

Hand-tinted photo of the White House south face, circa 1899

The White House, circa 1898 (Derek Jensen collection)

The White House, circa 1894 (Library of Congress - BL Singley)

The White House, circa 1890 (Derek Jensen collection)

Etching of the north face, circa 1881 (John Anderton collection)


The north face in mourning, following the assassination of President Garfield, 1881 (Library of Congress)

Etching of the north face, circa 1880, with Jefferson statue set up by President James Polk ( The Pictorial History of the United States 1882 )

The south face, circa 1870, with the new conservatories on the west side (Library of Congress)

The south face, circa 1867, with the old conservatories on the west side (Library of Congress - moderately restored)

The north face in 1866 (Mike Fitzpatrick collection - GD Wakely)

The north face, circa 1865, with the large conservatories just visible on the west side (Library of Congress)

Illustration of the south face, circa 1860, with the first greenhouse (1857-1867)

The north face, circa 1860, with Jefferson statue (Library of Congress - heavily restored)

The north face, circa 1855, with iron fence (Library of Congress - Bohn's hand book of Washington)

The north face, circa 1853, with iron fence (Library of Congress)

The south face, circa 1848, a century before the Truman Balcony (Library of Congress - John Plumbe - moderately restored)

Painted depiction of the south face, circa 1833

Etching of the White House around 1832 (Library of Congress)

Etching of the White House around 1830 (Library of Congress)

Illustration of the White House around 1824, just before the portico was added
the reddish exterior is apparently fanciful (New York Public Library)

Illustration of the White House in 1822 (Library of Congress)

Painted depiction of the south face, circa 1820, before the portico was added
by Baroness Hyde de Neuville ( John Anderton collection )

"A view of the president's house in the city of Washington after the conflagration of the 24th of August 1814"
(very high res version - 60 MB) (Library of Congress)

Etching of the White House around 1811, showing a plan to add eagle statues,
that were likely never installed (Singleton - Story of the White House)

Etching of the White House around 1810 (Singleton - Story of the White House)

Illustration of the White House around 1809 (Library of Congress - CW Janson)

Recreation of the the White House in 1801, east and north views (Patrick Phillips)

The original design of the White House in 1800 (Library of Congress)

Recreation of Hoban's original plan of the White House north face
note the main entrance on the ground floor, as in Leinster House (William Ryan and Desmond Guinness)

Recreation of Hoban's original plan of the White House south face
note the full-width ground floor portico (Michael Fazio)

Queen Victoria's Gift

In the 1870s the Resolute was taken out of service and was going to be broken up. Queen Victoria, who apparently harbored fond memories of the ship and its return to England, directed that oak timbers from the Resolute be salvaged and made into a gift for the American president.

The enormous desk with elaborate carvings was crafted and shipped to the United States. It arrived in a huge crate at the White House on November 23, 1880. The New York Times described it on the front page the following day:

The building was built between 1792 and 1800 out of white-painted sandstone from Aquia Creek in Virginia. Hundreds of black slaves were forced to build the White House along with free workers. [3] It was designed in the Neoclassical style. It has been the home of every U.S. President since John Adams. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the house in 1801, he (with architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe) expanded the building outward. They made two colonnades that were meant to hide stables and storage. [4] It was originally called the Executive Mansion before being renamed the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt. [5]

In 1814, during the War of 1812, the mansion was set on fire by the British Army in the Burning of Washington. Some of the soldiers who burned it were former slaves who had run away from their owners to fight with the British. They ate dinner in the house before setting it on fire. [6] The fire destroyed the inside of the house and charred much of the outside. Reconstruction began almost immediately. President James Monroe moved into the partially reconstructed house in October 1817. Construction continued with the addition of the South Portico in 1824 and the North in 1829.

Because of crowding within the executive mansion itself, President Theodore Roosevelt had all work offices moved to the newly constructed West Wing in 1901. Eight years later, President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office. This was eventually moved as the section was expanded. The third-floor attic was changed into living quarters in 1927. A newly built East Wing was used as a reception area for social events. Jefferson's colonnades connected the new wings. East Wing changes were completed in 1946. These changes made more office space. By 1948, the house's load-bearing exterior walls and internal wood beams were found to be close to failure. Under Harry S. Truman, the interior rooms were completely taken apart and a new internal load-bearing steel frame was built inside the walls. Once this work was done, the interior rooms were rebuilt.

Today, the White House Complex includes the Executive Residence, West Wing, East Wing, Blair House, and the Old Executive Office Building, a separate building west of the West Wing, which houses the executive offices of the President and Vice President.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 at the White House in October 2020. [7] During the outbreak, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were diagnosed with the infection. [8]

13. Tom Hanks Keeps Buying New Coffee Machines For The White House

Tom Hanks recently gifted the White House press corps a new espresso maker, replacing a coffee maker he sent in 2010. He previously bought one for the press in 2004, when he toured the break room and saw there was no coffee maker.

The most recent gift came with a note, reading, “Keep up the good fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Especially for the Truth part.”

The note that accompanied the new coffee maker from @tomhanks pic.twitter.com/Qfkli2TgCt

&mdash Jordan Fabian (@Jordanfabian) March 2, 2017

About the Show

The White House is one of America’s most iconic buildings it is a symbol of shared national history and is home to the most powerful person on Earth. Here, the president charts the course for the country, and the First Family lives in the spotlight. It's a home, an office, and a museum. It's a bunker in times of war, a backdrop for command performances or state visits, and the heart of the American body politic.

In this two-hour presentation, "The White House: Inside Story" takes viewers behind-the-scenes to meet those who keep the house running smoothly, supporting the president and guarding the First Family’s privacy.

We’ll see how the building has evolved over 200 years, changing with the currents of history and the tastes of its occupants. At the epicenter of global politics, in the heart of the nation’s capital, the story of the White House is the story of America itself.

We’ll join the chief usher as she oversees butlers, groundskeepers, kitchen staff, and florists in preparation for a state dinner. Former staff members reflect on the daily chaos – and the unmatched thrills – of working at the White House.

Curator Bill Allman shares the demands of maintaining a museum that is also a working office and a family home. Historians Doris Kearns Goodwin, William Seale, Hari Jones, Mark Updegrove, Doug Wead, and Richard Norton Smith bring the story of “the people's house” alive, recounting events from the days of Washington and Adams to the most recent administrations.

First Children Lynda Johnson Robb, Susan Ford Bales, and Jenna Bush Hagar, recall what it was like growing up in the White House. The Carters recount the story of daughter Amy roller-skating through the East Room. Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama share how they managed to make the White House a home for their families.

President Jimmy Carter marvels at the power of the Oval Office and how he used its aura to negotiate with other world leaders, while President Obama invites us in for a moment of reflection as he reads letters from American citizens.

Laura Bush and former staff members remember how the White House struggled to remain the nation’s calm center, despite the imminent threat of a terrorist attack.

Through original footage and archival film and photos, the President’s home is opened as never before, revealing moments of majesty and intimacy inside the White House.

Watch the video: Λευκός Οίκος E01 (November 2021).