The White House

Where the President Lives

The White House

10 Things You Didn't Know About The White House

(Hover over boxes to see the facts)

1. What's in a Name?

The White House wasn't always known as was finally called ``The White House`` when President Teddy Roosevelt officially named it that in 1901.

3. Built by Who?

Washington, D.C. commissioners had slaves, in addition to white laborers and European immigrants, construct the president's house.

5. The Office

The Oval Office, where the president works inside The White House, wasn't built until President William Howard Taft designed it in 1913.

7. Shocking!

The White House got electricity during Benjamin Harrison's presidency in 1891, but his family was so scared of touching the switches that they left the lights on all night.

9. A Jacuzzi in The White House?

President William Howard Taft was a very large man, weighing around 325 pounds. Several times he got stuck in The White House bathtub and had to be helped out by advisers. He eventually had a new tub was seven feet long, weighed about a ton, and accommodated four average-sized men.

2. Take a Tour

It is the only private residence of a head of state that the public can visit for free.

4. Washington Never Slept There

Even though his portrait hangs in several places inside The White House, President Washington never lived in the presidential mansion. The building of The White House started in 1792. However, Washington died in 1799, less than a year before The White House was completed.

6. Handicap Accessible

After Franklin D. Roosevelt moved into The White House in 1933, it became one of the first wheelchair-friendly government buildings in Washington, D.C.

8. Get Your Credit Cards

The basement of The White House is like a mini shopping mall, with a flower shop, a dentist office, and more.

10. Move It!

White House staff only have 12 hours to move in a new president's belonging on inauguration day!

Other Facts About the President's Home

The White House has:

132 rooms, 32 bathrooms, and 6 levels; there area also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 7 staircases, and 3 elevators.

To Provide Food for The White House:

There are 5 full-time chefs and The White House kitchen is able to serve dinner to as many as 140 guests and hor d’oeuvres to more than 1,000.

Visits a Day:

The White House receives approximately 6,000 visitors a day.

Painting The White House:

requires 570 gallons of paint(white!) to cover its outside surface.

Because of a stingy Congress, improvements to the White House often had to wait and were sometimes paid for out of the sitting president’s pockets. Running water didn’t appear until 1831, during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, by which time such a convenience was already common in hotels and inns. Martin Van Buren had central heating installed in 1837, and the White House kitchen staff cooked meals with colonial-era pots over wood fires until Millard Fillmore bought a real stove. (Fillmore made a personal trip to the U.S. Patent Office for instructions when his cook failed to understand how the new stove worked.) Gas lighting replaced candles during President James Polk’s term, and by the time Zachary Taylor was in office, the gas bills were already huge-until it was discovered that private tenants along Pennsylvania Avenue were illegally into the White House gas line.


Oh Rats!

But if keeping up with the times was always a challenge at the White House, the old building’s greatest problem came with four legs and a hairless tail. Rats infested the building throughout the 19th century. Andrew Johnson, a devout animal lover, took to leaving flour and water out for them, while his daughter, Martha, waged a losing battle against them with traps and poison. Rutherford Hayes claimed that rats nibbled on his toes at night while he struggled to sleep, and by Grover Cleveland’s second term in office, the rodents were joined by armies of roaches and spiders. The tide finally turned against the rats during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, who enlisted not only professional exterminators, but also ferrets, [what are ferrets?]which were allowed to roam throughout the White House in search of their prey. Hundreds of rats perished in the resulting carnage.

And what about the underground complex we’ve all heard about? If there really is a vast underground room beneath the White House, it’s a closely guarded secret. It is known that Franklin Roosevelt built a bomb shelter during World War II. There is also a tunnel that extends from the Treasury Building into the White House basement below the East Wing. Though it was originally planned as part of the bomb shelter, its primary use throughout the past 100 years was for secretly shuttling party guests into the White House.*

The Treasury Building (in red square) and the East Wing of the White House (in yellow square)…the tunnel runs beneath the street separating the buildings.
* OBrien, C. (2004). Secret lives of the U.S. presidents: what your teachers never told you about the men of the White House. Philadelphia: Quirk Books.

The History of The White House

The South Portico

President Andrew Jackson oversaw the addition of the North Portico in 1829. During the late 19th century, various proposals were made to significantly expand the President’s House or to build an entirely new house for the president, but these plans never were developed.

Our first president, George Washington, selected the site for the White House in 1791. The cornerstone was laid in 1792 and a competition design submitted by Irish-born architect James Hoban was chosen. After 8 years of construction, President John Adams and his wife Abigail, moved into the unfinished house in 1800. During the War of 1812 [click here], the British set fire to the President’s House in 1814. James Hoban was appointed to rebuild the house, and President James Monroe moved into the building in 1817. During Monroe’s administration, the South Portico was constructed in 1824.

The North Portico

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt began a major renovation of the White House, including the relocation of the president’s office from the second floor of the residence to the newly constructed temporary Executive Office Building (now known as the West Wing). The Roosevelt renovation was planned and carried out by the famous New York architectural company McKim, Mead and White. Roosevelt’s successor, President William Howard Taft, had the Oval Office constructed within an enlarged office wing.

Less than 50 years after the Roosevelt renovation, the White House was showing signs of serious structural weakness. President Harry S. Truman began a renovation of the building in which everything but the outer walls were dismantled. The reconstruction was overseen by architect Lorenzo Winslow [who?], and the Truman family moved back into the White House in 1952.

The interior of the White House during the Truman reconstruction.

(click for larger image) courtesy of the Truman Library

Every president since John Adams has occupied the White House, and the history of this building extends far beyond the construction of its walls. From the Ground Floor Corridor rooms, transformed from their early use as service areas, to the State Floor rooms, where countless leaders and dignitaries have been entertained, the White House is both the home of the President of the United States and his family, and a museum of American history. The White House is a place where history continues to unfold.**

** OBrien, C. (2004). Secret lives of the U.S. presidents: what your teachers never told you about the men of the White House. Philadelphia: Quirk Books.