The White House, north side

The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States.

It is a white building located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in Washington, D.C As the office of the President, the term White House is often used symbolically to refer to the President's administration, as in, "The White House announced today a major new health care initiative."

Table of contents
1 History
2 Structure
3 The West Wing
4 The East Wing
5 External links


The White House was built after the creation of the District of Columbia by an Act of Congress in December, 1790. President George Washington himself helped select the site, along with city planner Pierre L'Enfant. The architect was chosen in a competition, which received nine proposals. James Hoban, an Irish-American, was awarded the honor and construction began with the laying of the cornerstone on October 13, 1792. The building he designed was modelled on the first and second floors of Leinster House, a ducal palace in Dublin, Ireland that is now the seat of the Irish Parliament.

Befitting the times, the building was originally referred to as the Presidential Palace or Presidential Mansion. First Lady Dolley Madison called it the "President's Castle" although starting in 1818 became known the to public as the "White House." The name Executive Mansion was often used in official context until President Theodore Roosevelt established the formal name by having The White House engraved on his stationery in 1901.

John Adams became the first president to take residence in the building on November 1, 1800. In 1814, during the War of 1812, much of the city burned, and the White House was gutted. Only the exterior walls remained, but it was rebuilt. The walls were painted white to cover the smoke damage.

The White House was attacked again on August 16, 1841 when US President John Tyler vetoed a bill which called for the establishment of the Second Bank of the United States. Enraged Whig party members rioted outside the White House in what was (and still is, as of 2003) the most violent demonstration on White House grounds in US history.

19th Century view of the White House as seen from the southwest, with the old West Wing visible

The White House was remarkably open to the public until the early party of the twentieth century. President Thomas Jefferson held an open house for his second inaugural in 1805, when many of the people at his swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol followed him home, where he greeted them in the Blue Room.

Those open houses sometimes became rowdy: in 1829, President Andrew Jackson had to leave for a hotel when roughly 20,000 citizens celebrated his inauguration inside the White House. His aides ultimately had to lure the mob outside with washtubs filled with orange juice and whiskey. Even so, the practice continued until 1885, when newly-elected Grover Cleveland arranged for a presidential review of the troops from a grandstand in front of the White House instead of the traditional open house.

Jefferson also permitted public tours of his home, which have continued ever since, except during wartime, and began the tradition of annual receptions on New Year’s Day and on the Fourth of July. Those receptions ended in the early 1930s.

The White House remained open in other ways as well; President Abraham Lincoln complained that he was constantly beleaguered by job-seekers waiting to ask him for political appointments or other favors as he began the business day. Lincoln put up with the annoyance rather than risk alienating some associate or friend of a powerful politician or opinion-maker.

19th Century photo of the White House Red Room


Very few people realize the size of the White House, since much of it is below ground or otherwise minimized by landscaping. In fact, the White House has:

  • 132 rooms
  • 35 bathrooms
  • 6 stories
  • 412 doors
  • 147 windows

  • 28 fireplaces
  • 8 staircases
  • 3 elevators
  • 5 full-time chefs
  • 5,000 visitors a day
  • a tennis court
  • a bowling lane
  • a movie theater
  • a jogging track
  • a swimming pool

It is one of the few government buildings in Washington that is wheelchair-accessible, modifications made during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was confined to a wheelchair as a result of polio. In the mid 1940s, the building was found to be structurally unsound and in imminent danger of collapse. President Harry Truman was moved out to Blair House, while the White House was gutted; its interior was dismantled with the house left as a shell. It was then rebuilt using concrete and metal beams in place of its original wooden joints. Some modifications were made; the presidential residence on the top floors was extended, while a new balcony was added to the circular portico.

Though the structural integrity of the building had been corrected in the 1940s, the interior, as a result of decades of poor maintence and then the process of removal and reinstatement, had been allowed to deteriorate. Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of President John F. Kennedy (1961-63) remodelled the interior of many rooms to return them to their nineteenth century look, often using high quality furniture that had been put in storage in the basements and forgotten about. Later remodelling was undertaken by Nancy Reagan, wife of President Ronald Reagan, in the 1980s.

The West Wing

In the early twentieth century, as the number of political staff working for the President of the United States grew and presidents ceased to use the presidential office located in the Capitol, new buildings were added to the wings at either side of the main White House. Both however were concealed by being built at a lower level than the main house. The West Wing houses the President's office and offices of his political staff.

The West Wing

The West Wing was substantially remodeled and expanded for President Theodore Roosevelt, and contained a new cabinet room, with a small square office next door that served as the President's office. Before the building of the new West Wing, presidential staff worked on the second floor. President William Howard Taft had the interior remodelled. Central to the remodelling was a new presidential office in the dead center of the building, which given its shape was nicknamed the 'Oval Office'.

On December 24, 1929 (Christmas Eve), the West Wing was destroyed by fire. When in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt became president, he had the third and final major re-organization take place, with a new Oval Office being constructed; he disliked the original central location because it lacked windows, as a result being entirely reliant on skylights. The new office's location also allowed presidents greater privacy, they being able to slip back and forth between the main White House and the West Wing without being in full view of the West Wing staff, a problem with the two earlier offices. Roosevelt also constructed a swimming pool, to enable him to exercise.

In 1969, to accommodate the growing number of reporters accredited to the White House and based also in the West Wing, President Richard Nixon had the by now unused pool covered over. The swimming pool is now the location of the Press Centre, where the President's spokesperson gives daily briefings. Nixon also renamed the room which, prior to the rebuilding after the 1929 fire had been the first Oval Office as the Roosevelt Room, in honour of the two presidents Roosevelt; Theodore who first built the West Wing, and Franklin, who built the current Oval Office.

As presidential staff numbers climbed substantially in the latter half of the twentieth century, the West Wing generally came to be seen as too small for its modern governmental functions, some members of staff are located in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB, formerly known as the Old Executive Office Building or OEOB) that formerly housed the Departments of Defense and State, a short distance away. When asked whether The West Wing, an early twenty-first century television drama set in the building, accurately captured the working environment, some former White House staffers observed that it made the real West Wing look bigger and less crowded than the reality!

The East Wing

The East Wing, which contains additional office space, was added to the White House in 1942 . Among its uses, the East Wing has intermittently housed the offices and staff of the First Lady. Rosalynn Carter, in 1977, was the first to place her personal office in the East Wing and to formally call it the "Office of the First Lady".

External links