Located in Washington D.C., the White House is an American president’s official residence. The building was named the White House in 1901 by Theodore Roosevelt. Prior to that, the mansion was referred to as the President’s House, President’s Palace, and Executive Mansion. Though the first American president George Washington laid plans for building the House, it was the second American president John Adams who first moved into the place during the last few months of his term.

Image credit: Flickr
The White House main entrance. Image credit: Flickr

The White House is every current American president and his/her family’s home and office. The House also serves as an entertainment area to the president’s guests and dignitaries. But perhaps more than anything else, the House is a museum of American history. The House is open to the general public (for free) and has stayed so ever since 1805, when Thomas Jefferson was president. The House welcomes approximately 6000 visitors every day. Entry is, however, restricted during wartime and other similar critical scenarios.

Infrastructure Overview

  • Approximately, the House has 142 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 147 windows, 412 doors, 8 staircases, 28 fireplaces, and 3 elevators. The total floor area is 55,000 square feet approximately.  
  • The building has 6 floors – a couple of floors for the President and his family, two public floors and two basements.
  • There’s a master kitchen that’s equipped to prepare food for 140 guests at a time.
  • For the residents and visitors’ recreation and fitness requirements, the White House also has a jogging track, tennis court, movie theater, swimming pool, and bowling lane.

Construction and Design

The site for the White House was chosen by George Washington in 1791. The House’s first cornerstone was put in October, 1972. James Hoban, an Irish-born architect who won the competition to design the House, created the House’s overall design and structure. The construction started in 1792 and ended in 1800. When John Adams moved in in 1797, the House’s interiors were not complete, with only 6 rooms ready for occupancy. The work was completely finished during Thomas Jefferson’s presidential term (1801-1809).  

The White House West Wing. Image credit: Flickr
The White House West Wing entrance. Image credit: Flickr

Every American president that moved in to the House had some changes done to the House as per his/her preferences and comfort. At the time of the War of 1812, the House was set on fire by the British. Mr. Hoban was called again to recreate the design and the reconstruction took three years. Over the years, there have been several changes and additions to the House. For instance, the porticos and the additional pavilions were not part of the original design.  

  • 1824: South Portico was constructed
  • 1829: North Portico was completed, under the supervision of Andrew Jackson, the seventh American President.
  • 1859s: The White House got its stove. Food was previously cooked in fireplaces.
  • 1877-1881: The House got its first telephone connection, during Rutherford B. Hayes’ term.
  • 1889-1893: Electricity connection was added during Benjamin Harrison’s period.
  • 1902: The president’s office and residence were relocated to the Executive Office Building (West Wing). This was under the purview of Theodore Roosevelt. The renovation was carried out by McKim, Mead and White, the renowned architectural company.
  • 1909: The president’s office was remodeled during William Howard Taft’s administration, changing the room to an oval-shaped space.
  • 1948-1952: A complete remodeling of the House took place, once the building was found to be no longer structurally sound.
  • 1969-70: A circular drive and porte-cochere were appended to the West Wing’s exterior.
  • 1992: Internet made its way into the House during the George H.W. Bush period.

Collapsing White House and the Renovation

Initially built from sandstone and brick surrounding a timber frame, the building lost its original strength and rigidity after the British army destroyed the House’s exterior and interior in 1914. All the renovation work carried out by subsequent presidents ended up putting major stress on the building. The East Room ceiling was found sagging, marble grand staircase and supporting bricks were disintegrating, wooden beams got weak with all the continuous drilling and cutting over the years, and adding an additional floor and a steel roof placed additional weight the building couldn’t handle anymore.

The White House East Wing entrance. Image credit: Flickr
The White House East Wing entrance. Image credit: Flickr

In 1948, President Truman decided to carry out major renovations. The option to tear the building apart completely and start the process from scratch would have been more cost-efficient, but it wasn’t taken as the president was keen on maintaining the original cultural value of the building. The renovation began in December 1948 and ended in March 1952, costing $5.7 million. The major changes effected were:

  • Original wooden joists replaced with steel and concrete beams.
  • Addition of 660 tons steel for strengthening the fresh concrete floors and inner walls.
  • Grand staircase repositioning that led to the Entrance Hall, and not the Cross Hall.
  • Bathrooms attached to guest rooms, and separate baths built for servants.
  • New central air conditioning units.
  • Adding a couple of sub-basements to make space for storage, workspace, and bomb shelter.