The White House is a mansion which is obviously full of rich history, made by the people who have contributed to its greatness as one of the most famous and enduring American landmarks. Here are the interesting facts and fun trivia that you may not have known.
The White House
One of the most identifiable landmarks in the United States, the White House has been the official residence of the president since 1800. The building was designed by Irish architect James Hoban and it was constructed from 1792 to 1800. The house was built in the white Neoclassical and Palladian style.
When Thomas Jefferson moved into the White House in 1801, he and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe added an outward expansion that consisted of two colonnades that were meant to cover up the stables and storage. However, the mansion was set ablaze by the British Army in the Burning of Washington in 1814, during the War of 1812. This led to the destruction of much of the interior and most especially the exterior of the building.
Reconstruction began almost immediately. In 1817, President James Monroe resided in the Executive Residence in October 1817 when the building was still halfway under construction. The reconstruction continued with the addition of the South and North Porticos from 1824 to 1829.
The White House Has Been Called By Many Names
The White House has been called by lots of names, including “President’s Castle,” (named by President James Madison’s wife), “President’s Palace,” “President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion.” In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt officially adopted the name “The White House,” which has been the name ever since.
White House Rooms
We all expect that a building as big as the White House has lots of rooms. But do you know how many there are? According to the White House’s official website (whitehouse.gov), it has a total of 132 rooms. The official residence also has 35 bathrooms and six levels; there are also 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, 3 elevators, 147 windows, and 412 doors.
The six levels also contain two basements, two public floors, and two private floors for First Family.
Boredom strikes all sorts of people at any time of the day or night, including the First Family occupying the White House. The presidential residence offers a number of leisure spots and activities that the First Family can do to help them pass the time. The White House boasts a swimming pool, a tennis court, a walking/jogging track, a billiards room, a home theater, and a bowling area.
It’s not at all unusual for a President and the First Family to have pets living in the White House. Dogs and cats are the most favored pets — among them are Bill Clinton’s Labrador Buddy, Barack Obama’s Portuguese Water Dog named Bo, Gerald Ford’s Siamese cat Shah, George Bush’s pet cat Willie, and Teddy Roosevelt’s cats Tom Quartz and Slippers.
Along with dogs and cats, many Presidents have owned unusual pets such as Thomas Jefferson’s mockingbird named Dick, and his two bear cubs, Calvin Coolidge’s pygmy hippopotamus, and Teddy Roosevelt’s garter snake, hyena, owl, and a one-legged rooster.
White House Food
It’s not at all surprising that the a residence as big and important as the White House can host dinner parties for guests on a regular basis. So it only seems natural that the White House employs five chefs on hand to help cook and prepare meals. Typically, White House chefs can prepare dinner for up to 140 persons, and serve appetizers to at least a thousand visitors!
As the president has a big responsibility to his citizens, the chefs also have a big responsibility of serving food for the President and his family, as well as to his guests.
The Oval Office
The President’s official office is inside the White House, The Oval Office is located in the presidential palace’s West Wing. True to its name, it is an oval-shaped room with three large south facing windows, right behind the President’s desk, as well as a fireplace the north end.
The Oval Office also features four doors:
- east door – opens to the Rose Garden
- west door – opens to the dining room and private study
- northwest door – opens to the main corridor
- northeast door – opens to the office of the President’s secretary
During their tenures, presidents typically decorate the Oval Office to suit their personal style. They usually choose new furniture, draperies, and the oval-shaped carpet. As for the artwork, they are chosen either from the White House’s own collection, or borrowed from museums for the length of a president’s administration.
First Family of the United States
The term “First Family” is the unofficial name given to the family of the President of the United States. Typical “First Family” consists of the President, the First Lady, and any of their children. However, other close relatives of the President and the First Lady, such as parents, grandchildren, in-laws and step-children, may also be regarded as members of the First Family if they also occupy the White House Complex’s Executive Residence.
The White House Has a Twin in Ireland
James Hoban was the Irish architect who designed the White House. Many historians believe that Hoban based his idea for the White House on this Leinster House, the home of the Duke of Leinster in Ireland which was built in the Gregorian style. Today, the Leinster House is the seat of the Irish parliament.
George Washington Never Lived in the White House
Despite being the first President of the United States, George Washington never lived in the White House.
Washington chose architect James Hoban’s plan. However, he found it too small, lacking ornament and not grand enough for a president to reside in. Under Washington’s supervision, Hoban went on to expand his plan to create a grander reception room down to the elegant window hoods. But Washington never lived in the White House. The building was not completed during Washington’s presidency which ended in 1797. The building’s construction began in 1792 and was completed in 1800.
America’s second president John Adams became the first president to reside in the White House. He and his family moved in the mansion on November 1, 1800. His wife Abigail complained at how the building was still unfinished at the time they moved in.
The White House Was the Largest House in America
The White House was part of the French-American engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant original plans for Washington, DC, which was a newly-established federal city then. When he drafted the original plan for the city, he wanted an enormous, grand, and elaborate presidential palace.
However, L’Enfant’s plan was later scrapped due to factors such as shortages in labor and materials. Architects James Hoban and Benjamin Henry Latrobe designed a much smaller “palace.” Nevertheless, the White House was still quite a huge house for its time. Bigger homes weren’t built until after the end of the Civil War and the advent of the Gilded Age, which was noted for its large, beautiful mansions.
The British Torched the White House
During the War of 1812, the Americans burned the Parliament Buildings in Ontario, Canada. So the British retaliated by setting Washington, D.C. ablaze. The White House wasn’t spared from the great fire. As a result, the mansion’s interior was destroyed and the exterior badly charred.
Reconstruction started almost immediately after the fire. President James Madison moved in to the Octagon House to make it his official presidential residence while the White House was being re-built. In 1817, President James Monroe moved into the Executive Residence, which was then partially completed.
Franklin Roosevelt Made the White House Accessible
The White House’s original builders didn’t think about there every being the possibility of a the US having a handicapped president. So when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in 1933, the White House was re-designed to become wheelchair-accessible. Roosevelt suffered paralysis from the waist down due to polio.
Slaves Helped Build the White House
The land that would become Washington, D.C. was acquired from Virginia and Maryland, where slavery was widely enforced and practiced. Many of the workers hired for the construction of the White House were both free and enslaved African-Americans, who toiled alongside European immigrants.
President Truman Saved the White House From Collapsing
The White House had started to become unstable after standing for over 150 years. The mansion’s wooden support beams and exterior load-bearing walls had weakened due to the constant cutting and drilling for plumbing, and wiring. In 1948, this led to the White House being declared unsafe by engineers, who said that it would be in imminent danger of collapse if not repaired immediately.
There were initial plans to demolish the White House and build a new one in its place, exactly to the same original design. But in the end, President Harry Truman went on with the reconstruction. New steel support beams were installed inside the mansion. While parts of the White House were being dismantled and repaired, Truman and his family moved to Blair House which was located just across the street. The reconstruction started in 1948 and ended in 1952.