Two hundred twenty-four years ago, on Oct. 13, 1792, the cornerstone of the White House was laid.
The building’s designer, Irish-born architect James Hoban, had his design selected from a number of designs submitted for a contest. He modeled his ideas for the building after an Anglo-Irish villa in Dublin called Leinster House.
The construction took eight years and cost $232,372. The house was built with Aquia Creek sandstone, and the builders were a combination of slaves, freed blacks and European immigrants. The sandstone was coated with a lime-based whitewash that produced the white color that gave rise to the house’s name.
On Nov. 1, 1800, with the building almost complete, President John Adams moved in and took up residence. When Thomas Jefferson moved in the following March, he began adding his own personal touches, including two water closets and bookending terrace-pavilions.
In 1805, Jefferson held the first inaugural open house and also opened the building’s doors for public tours and receptions on New Year’s Day and Independence Day.
In August of 1814 – during the War of 1812 — British soldiers set fire to the White House in retaliation for the burning of several government buildings in Canada, burning it to the ground. After the war, lawmakers considered moving the capital to another city. But when they determined the capital would remain in Washington, D.C., Hoban was again commissioned to rebuild the White House. He incorporated some of the original charred walls into the new building. The rebuild was completed in 1817.
President James Monroe and wife Dolly decorated the building with extravagant French furniture, and Monroe also oversaw the construction of a South Portico in 1824.
During his term, John Quincy Adams established the residence’s first flower garden. A North portico was added in 1829 by Andrew Jackson. President Millard Fillmore added a library on the second floor, and President Chester A. Arthur oversaw the redecoration of several state dining rooms.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt began a major renovation. He relocated the president’s offices from the second floor to the newly constructed Executive Office Building, which is now known as the West Wing. President William Howard Taft later had the Oval Office built within an expanded office wing. The Rose Garden was added in 1913.
A fire in 1929 destroyed the executive wing and resulted in more renovations. A new East Wing was built in 1942 and its cloakroom was transformed into a movie theater.
With the building showing signs of structural problems in 1945, Harry Truman began a major overhaul that required the building’s interior be stripped bare and a new concrete foundation installed. The Trumans redesigned most of the state rooms and decorated the second and third floors. The overhaul was completed in 1952.
During 1969-1970, a porte-cochere and circular drive were added outside the West Wing and a new press briefing room built inside.
The first computer and laser was installed in the White House by President Jimmy Carter. President George H.W. Bush brought the White House into the information age by connecting computers to the internet in 1992.
White House trivia
- There are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels in the Residence. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators.
- At various times in history, the White House has been known as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion.” President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White House its current name in 1901.
- Presidential Firsts while in office… President James Polk (1845-49) was the first President to have his photograph taken… President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09) was not only the first President to ride in an automobile, but also the first President to travel outside the country when he visited Panama… President Franklin Roosevelt (1933-45) was the first President to ride in an airplane.
- The White House kitchen is able to serve dinner to as many as 140 guests and hors d’oeuvres to more than 1,000.
- The White House requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its outside surface.
- The White House is said to be the only private residence of a head of state open free of charge to the public.
On November 2, 1800, on his first night in the new mansion, Adams wrote to wife Abigale:
I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but the wise men ever rule under this roof.
Unfortunately that has not been the case. Especially not lately.