The Robinson LibraryTHE ROBINSON LIBRARY
The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> Middle Atlantic States >> District of Columbia
The White House

The official residence of the President of the United States sits on an 18-acre plot at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Originally known as the "President's House" and then the "Executive Mansion," it was officially named "The White House" by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.

south view of the White House
south view of the White House

north view of the White House
north view of the White House

Building History

Construction of the President's House began on November 10, 1792, on a site chosen by President George Washington (with help from Pierre L'Enfant, architect of the nation's capital). The house itself, a Georgian mansion in the classical Palladian syle popular in Europe at the time, was designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban, who was selected in a competition sponsored by the federal government. The basic structure was completed on November 1, 1800, and President John Adams and his wife Abigail became its first residents soon after.

The Adamses found life in the Executive Mansion unpleasant, as it was never fully functional during their residence. President Thomas Jefferson oversaw the mansion's completion, and, with the assistance of architect Benjamin Latrobe, added terraces to the east and west ends of the original structure.

On August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812, British troops set fire to the nation's capital, including the President's House. Although many government officials thought the ruined city should be abandoned, President James Madison insisted that it be rebuilt, and it was during the rebuilding process that the residence acquired its now famous white color, thanks to the generous coat of white paint needed to cover the scorch marks. President and Mrs. James Monroe moved into the refurbished residence in 1817. The north and south porticos were added in the 1820's.

President Theodore Roosevelt had the building expanded in order to accomodate his large family, which included six very active children and an impressive array of pets. He rebuilt the east terrace, added a third floor to the original structure, and added both the East and West Wings to allow more room for his staff. At this time the public entrance was moved from the north side to the east side to accomodate guests arriving by automobile. Both the east and west wings were expanded to their current sizes during Franklin Roosevelt's administration, which also oversaw construction of an underground bunker to protect the President and his family (World War II was underway at the time).

Serious structural defects discovered in the early days of President Harry Truman's administration led to an extensive rebuilding program (1948-1952), during which the building was virtually gutted to accomodate the addition of a structural steel skeleton. The third floor was expanded during this period, as was the basement, a second-story portico was added for the President's private use, and the total number of rooms was increased from 125 to 132.

current general layout of the White House complex
current general layout of the White House complex

Facts and Figures

Dimensions of Executive Mansion 175 feet by 85 feet

Number of Floors 6

Total number of rooms 132
Bathrooms 32

Doors 412
Windows 147
Fireplaces 28
Staircases 7
Elevators 3

It takes 570 gallons of paint to cover outside surface.

Inside the White House

Tourists and casual visitors enter the White House through the East Wing, which contains office space for the First Lady and her staff and for various White House officials, as well as a 42-seat movie theater (added by Franklin Roosevelt).

The State (Main) Floor is the only part of the White House that is open to public tours on a regular basis, but its rooms exemplify the elegance and beauty of the entire interior.

map of the State Floor
map of the State Floor

Formal visitors and dignitaries enter the White House through the Entrance Hall, which served as the very public front door of the residence until 1902. Believe it or not, until the early 1900s the front door of the White House was unlocked and people could walk in without even having to knock. President Thomas Jefferson turned this space into an informal exhibition space for artifacts from the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1806. President Ulysses Grant began the tradition, which is still followed today, of hanging presidential portraits in both the Entrance Hall and the perpendicular Cross Hall, which connects the Entrance Hall to the rest of the White House.

Entrance Hall
Entrance Hall

The East Room is the first one seen by most visitors. The largest room in the White House (79 feet by 36-3/4 feet), it has served an incredibly diverse array of uses over the years. Abigail Adams used it for a laundry room, while Thomas Jefferson divided the still-unfinished space into an office and a bedchamber for his aide and James Madison used it as his Cabinet Room. Finally finished and decorated during Andrew Jackson's administration, the East Room has since been used for large public gatherings such as dances, concerts, weddings, awards presentations, press conferences, and bill-signing ceremonies. During the Civil War, the East Room served as quarters for Union troops, while the children of Theodore Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter found it to be a great rollerskating arena. On a more somber note, the bodies of both Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were lain in state in the East Room.

East Room
East Room

The Blue Room has served as the formal reception area for guests of the President since the White House's first years. The room owes its oval shape to George Washington, who believed that hosting groups of guests in an oval room allowed him to greet everyone at one time from an equal distance, thus avoiding unintentional slights caused by someone being overlooked. Most of the furnishings in the room were purchased during James Monroe's administration, while the blue color itself was introduced by President Martin Van Buren. It was in this room on June 2, 1886 that Grover Cleveland became the only President to get married in the White House.

Blue Room
the Blue Room

Like the East Room, the Green Room has served many purposes over the years. John Adams used it as a "Lodging Room," while Thomas Jefferson used it as an informal dining room, complete with a green canvas floor cloth to prevent damage to the floor (it is this geen cloth that is said to have given rise to the room's common name and subsequent wall color). James Madison made it into a sitting room, and it was here that he signed the nation's first-ever declaration of war, in 1812. The Monroes hosted card games in the Green Room, while President Abraham Lincoln held the funeral for his youngest son, William Wallace, in this room. Many Presidents and First Ladies alike have found the Green Room to be a nice place to relax and unwind afer a particularly hard day.

Green Room
Green Room

The Red Room has traditionally been used by First Ladies for formal and informal functions, beginning with Dolley Madison, who held Wednesday Drawing Rooms for the wives of political opponents and allies alike. The Red Room was originally furnished by James Monroe, who appears to have also been responsible for introducing the red decor, but Jacqueline Kennedy had the original "fire engine red" color replaced by a more muted red tone (and the room retains her color choice to this day).

Red Room
Red Room

The State Dining Room has hosted dignitaries and guests from around the world. Once a relatively small and unimpressive room, it underwent a major transformation during the 1902 renovations and was expanded to its current capacity of 140 seated guests.

The Ground Floor of the main residence (the State floor is actually above street level) contains the Diplomatic Reception Room, a library, map room, offices for the White House household staff, and storage for furnishings and decorations not currently in use. The Second Floor contains the private living quarters for the President and his family, while the third floor contains guest rooms, staff quarters, and storage. There are two basement levels, used primarily for utility space (heating, cooling plumbing, etc.). None of these levels are open to the public.

map of the Ground Floor
Ground floor

map of the Second Floor
second floor

The West Wing houses the offices of the President and his staff, the Cabinet Room, and space for the press.

map of the West Wing

The Oval Office is by far the most famous room in the West Wing. The official office of the President was moved from the main residence into the West Wing by President William Howard Taft, who also gave it its shape. Franklin Roosevelt moved the Oval Office from the center of the West Wing to its current position in 1933, and it has been a part of presidential lore ever since. Some of the most memorable images of the presidency originated in the Oval Office, including John F. Kennedy, Jr. peering through the front panel of his father's desk, President Richard Nixon talking on the phone with astronauts after a successful flight, and Ronald Reagan's emotional address to the nation following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

the Oval Office
The Oval Office

The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room was originally built in 1933 as a swimming pool for Franklin Roosevelt, who enlisted private funding for the project (as well as for the theater in the East Wing). The pool room was converted into its present use by Richard Nixon in 1970, and (on February 11, 2000) was named in honor of President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, who was seriously injured in an assassination attempt on Reagan. The original "hole" that was once the pool itself still exists under the current floor, but now provides room for the electronics that allow the room to transmit breaking news from the White House to the public.

White House Grounds

The White House complex sits on an 18-acre plot that also includes magnificent gardens, a helicopter landing pad, and an array of amenities added over the years to satisfy the desires of the President in residence.The Rose Garden, which has provided a back drop for many presidential news conferences, was first planted by Ellen Wilson in 1913, while the equally splendid Jacqueline Kennedy Garden was started in 1965. The magnolia trees that shade the south portico were planted by Andrew Jackson in memory of his late wife, Rachel. Ulysses Grant held horse racing meets on the grounds during his administration, while President Herbert Hoover regularly engaged his staff in a game called "Hoover Ball," which was a kind of cross between dodge ball and football. Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the most athletic President in U.S. history, had a tennis court built on the grounds (since converted into a basketball court by Barrack Obama); Dwight D. Eisenhower, an avid golfer, had a putting green installed; and a jogging path was created for Bill Clinton after the President's doctor advised him that he needed to watch his weight and get more exercise. Other unusual things that have graced the White House lawn over the years include a flock of sheep kept during Woodrow Wilson's administration to reduce groundskeeping costs.

White House Rose Garden
White House Rose Garden

White House Firsts

Esther Cleveland was the first child of a President to be born in the White House. She was fittingly born to the first presidential couple to marry in the White House, Grover and Frances Folsom Cleveland, on September 9, 1893.

The first telephone was installed in the White House on March 23, 1929.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE
The White House http://www.whitehouse.gov

LINK OF INTEREST
The Rugseller http://www.therugseller.co.uk/infographics/white-house-renovations-interior-design

SEE ALSO
President George Washington
Pierre L'Enfant
James Hoban
President John Adams
President Thomas Jefferson
War of 1812
President James Madison
President James Monroe
President Theodore Roosevelt
President Franklin Roosevelt
World War II
President Harry Truman
President Ulysses Grant
Abigail Adams
President Andrew Jackson
Civil War
Jimmy Carter
Abraham Lincoln
John F. Kennedy
President Martin Van Buren
Grover Cleveland
President William Howard Taft
President Richard Nixon
President Ronald Reagan
President Herbert Hoover
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
President Woodrow Wilson

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> Middle Atlantic States >> District of Columbia

This page was last updated on May 17, 2017.