The White House serves two primary purposes. First, it’s the private residence of the President of the United States and the First Family. Second, it’s the Chief Executive Office of the United States.
The White House is also a symbol that is recognized around the world. It stands for freedom, democracy, leadership and perseverance. The White House has undergone several major renovations since its inception in 1800, but the exterior has remarkably remained unchanged; a stunning neoclassic design.
The White House is comprised of several parts including: the Executive Residence, West Wing, East Wing, Cabinet Room, Roosevelt Room and the Executive Office Building. The construction took approximately eight years to complete and was ready for its first tenants in 1801.
The White House is open to the public at designated times, but only in certain areas. The First Family’s living quarters, as well as all of the private offices are restricted. The media has their own area, the Press Room. It was even gifted two espresso machines by actor, Tom Hanks. He delivered the first espresso machine after finding they had none. A few years later he returned with a 2nd, more updated model. The Press Corps was shocked and extremely grateful for his generosity. And this is just the beginning of the weird facts about the White House that you never knew.
15. An Animal House
Yes, the White House has been the home for many various species of animals. President Hoover had not one but two gators that had free rein of the house. President Jefferson had a mockingbird that he let fly around the house. President John Q. Adams even had a gator that he kept in an upstairs bathroom! One of his attendants had the unlucky job of feeding and taking care of his beloved reptile.
Now, you could say that in addition to actual animals in the house there was a period of time when the White House was very much like the frat house in the John Belushi comedy Animal House. You see in the 1820s there was pretty much an open door policy. The public would come and go as they pleased. The President would even provide the alcohol! There were many instances where the President’s assistants had to lure the guests out of the White House by moving the liquor on to the White House lawn. Now that’s a party! Can you image if they did that today? A Secret Service nightmare.
14. Big, Bigger, Biggest!
When the White House was being designed, the original architect Charles L’Enfant wanted an extremely ostentatious mansion. He envisioned the President’s residence to be more of a palace—similar to the palaces of the French royals.
President George Washington, who was overseeing the construction of the President’s new residence, detested L’Enfant’s work. They did not see things eye-to-eye. Washington eventually fired L’Enfant. The work was completed with James Hoban’s construction plans. The resulting residence was five times smaller than L’Enfant wanted the Presidential ‘Palace’ to be. It was still the largest home in the United States. It wasn’t until after the Civil War when mansions started popping up everywhere that the White House lost the title of being the largest house.
13. White House On Fire
On December 24th, 1929, an electrical fire broke out in the White House’s West Wing. It was a four alarm fire. The fire caused major interior smoke and water damage. Unfortunately, the White House didn’t even have insurance to cover the fire and water damage! They were able to get money from Congress and a majority of the interior rooms were completely taken down to the studs and rebuilt.
The fire started up in the attic area. A messenger happened to smell the smoke while walking around the halls. At the time there was a Christmas party going on downstairs. He discreetly told the President and the President’s key assistants. They were able to save many of the President’s belongings and carry out desk drawers, file cabinets, and even covered the President’s desk to protect it from further water damage. The press room was a complete and total loss. The press lost photographs and articles in-progress.
12. The Ghost Of Abe Lincoln
When Winston Churchill stayed at the White House he spent the night in President Abraham Lincoln’s old bedroom. Well, the following day Churchill left in a hurry. He had supposedly seen the ghost of the late President Lincoln stepping out of the bathtub in the Lincoln bedroom. Churchill did return to the White House again but he refused to stay the night in Lincoln’s bedroom again. Could you blame him?
Churchill isn’t the only one to admit to seeing the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. There have been numerous other sightings over the years including sightings by Lady Grace Coolidge and Mary Eben (the personal secretary of Eleanor Roosevelt). Mary Eben believed to have seen Lincoln sitting on his bed putting on his boots! She became hysterical and ran screaming from the bedroom.
11. The White House Has A Twin
The Leinster House was built between 1745-1747 and is located in Ireland. It is called the ‘mini White House’. It is widely thought that James Hoban, the architect who designed the White House, perhaps saw the sketches and drawing plans for the Leinster House before he submitted his own draft for the ‘design the Presidential residence’ contest President George Washington was holding. There is also the possibility that he was inspired by the Aran a Uachtarain, also just called the Aran. The Aran is the home of Ireland’s President.
James Hoban grew up in Ireland. He studied in Ireland. After his White House design won, he opted to stay in America. He enjoyed a rather illustrious, successful career in architecture and design.
10. The Secret Tunnels
There are indeed secret tunnels underneath the White House. There is a bunker located approximately six stories underground underneath the East Wing. It is believed that there are trap doors inside the Oval Office that lead down into the secure bunker. The only thing that is known for sure is that after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did have a bomb shelter built and there was access to the vaulted basement of the Treasury Building directly from the White House. The room specifically for the President was basically just a concrete box. President Franklin D. Roosevelt only went to see it once. Several Presidents since Roosevelt have seen it, but just as a symbolic gesture, acknowledging the turbulent and challenging times of America’s great history.
9. Homemade Air Conditioning Fail
In 1909, President Taft wanted air conditioning so he went and got himself air conditioning–sort of. How did he do this? He decided to install large fans in the attic that blew the outside air over giant vats of ice cubes. The cool air would then be piped through the heating ducts and cool off the entire house.
Maybe it was okay in theory but it didn’t work at all. It didn’t even cool off the attic. There was no feasible way to keep the air cold as it traveled through the heating ducts and around the house. Warm, dusty air would just blow out which was more of nuisance for the cleaning staff than for President Taft. Thankfully he gave up and stopped using his homemade air conditioning system.
8. Johnson’s Shower Surprise
President Nixon was unimpressed when he first saw the Presidential bathroom’s shower. The previous President, Lyndon B. Johnson, had made some very peculiar demands of this shower. Very peculiar demands. The plumber in charge of designing his shower spent five long years–yes–five LONG years—attempting to get the shower up to Johnson’s standards. The poor plumber even ended up in the hospital due to suffering a complete nervous breakdown. Johnson was obsessed with getting the shower just right.
President Johnson had demanded nozzles that shot extremely high pressure and boiling hot water. He wanted the nozzles positioned ‘just right’. He wanted one that shot up his rear and one that shot directly at his package. Johnson’s unreasonable demands even made their way into Vanity Fair magazine. President Johnson never publicly commented on the matter or responded to questions concerning his shower.
7. Let’s Eat!
The White House kitchen is state-of-the-art. It is well-equipped to serve 140 guests at a time. There are five full-time chefs that cater to the First Family, White House staff, and guests. State dinners are elaborate affairs and to be behind-the-scenes at a state dinner is like watching a theatrical performance. Everything is planned to perfection. There is no detail left out.
President John Adams and his wife Abigail, started a fruit and vegetable garden where they grew and ate all their own fresh produce. President Jackson had a greenhouse constructed which was demolished in 1902 to make room for the West Wing addition to the White House. At one point, there was even tropical fruit grown in the White House garden.
First Lady Michelle Obama planted the largest vegetable garden to-date. She grew discouraged with what her children were eating and their pediatrician recommended more vegetables and fruits. The First Family eats the fresh vegetables and they also donate produce to the local soup kitchens. They also have a beehive and make their own honey. The White House has a number of gardeners and even a professional beekeeper.
6. Design Contest
President George Washington was not happy with the original architect’s work. He was so unhappy that he fired him and decided to hold a competition to find the perfect Presidential residence. The aforementioned contest grew plenty of attention and attracted a fair share of extraordinarily talented designers. Nine submissions were seriously considered after having been sent in to the ‘design the White House’ contest. They were all wonderful designs but only one could be crowned the winner. One of the contestants was actually Thomas Jefferson himself. He sent his design without using his actual name.
The winner of the contest was Ireland’s James Hoban. Hoban replaced L’Enfant and what you see today is the Hoban designed White House. President Jefferson’s anonymous entry didn’t win but it certainly surprised a lot of people. He was a very talented man– you can see his love of architecture in Monticello. Both iconic structures were built by slaves.
5. Extreme Real Estate Value
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was the location of the largest house in the United States until after the Civil War. The White House began construction in 1792 and the first residents, President John Adams and his wife Abigail, moved into their new home in 1800. The total cost was $232,372!
Today if the White House was put up for sale, according to Zillow, it would be worth around $320,000,000! Not too surprising when you think of all the amenities the White House has to offer. There’s the movie theatre, dentist office, bowling alley, swimming pool, tennis court, and of course 16 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms. The White House is basically an entire city, capable of running itself, located under one roof. It’s super luxurious and contains every amenity you could ever want!
4. Here Comes The Bride
Who was married at the White House? In 1820, Maria Monroe married her first cousin, Samuel Gouverneur in the East Room or Blue Room of the White House. In 1828, Mary Hellen married the youngest of the three sons of President John Quincy Adams. This was a bit of conundrum because Mary had been engaged to the oldest son and was stringing along the middle son when she went off and married the youngest–John II! Holiday dinners were probably a bit awkward for those first few years….
In 1886 the only President to get married at the White House was Grover Cleveland. 49 year old Cleveland married 21 year old Frances Folsom. In 1906, wild child, Alice Roosevelt married Nicholas Longworth. It was a huge affair with over 1,000 guests! In 1971, Tricia Nixon (pictured) married Edward Cox in the White House Rose Garden. Her wedding was televised for the world to watch. There were several other Presidents to get married while they served in office but did not get married inside the White House.
3. Let There Be Light
In 1891, electricity was installed at the White House. President Benjamin Harrison and his wife Caroline were so terrified of it that they refused to turn it on themselves. They would have butlers turn it on and off for them.
President Lyndon B. Johnson was nicknamed “Light Bulb Johnson” for his near-OCD behavior of turning off lights—even if people were working in a room! His explanation was that he didn’t want to waste tax-payer dollars. In 1979, President Carter installed solar panels over the West Wing. These weren’t too efficient and in 1989 the solar panels were removed when President Reagan was having work on the roof completed. In 2003, the first solar electric panel system was put in place under the direction of President George W. Bush. It wasn’t put over the main residence due to the expenses involved. In 2014, under President Obama the solar panels were installed over the main residence.
In 1926, President Coolidge installed the White House’s first refrigerator. In 1933, the private family rooms of the White House received air conditioning. In 1993, President Clinton changed out windows with more energy efficient replacements.
2. First Residents
The first President of the United States, George Washington, was not the first President to live in the White House, that title goes to John and Abigail Adams. Washington did get to see the plans for the White House and was reportedly unimpressed. He believed it to be too small.
The original White House was burned to the ground by the British in 1814 (this was during the War of 1812). The White House was rebuilt and ready for its new tenants in 1817. President Monroe moved into the newly rebuilt White House in 1817. People speculated that the burned walls were just covered and patched in white paint. Yes, white paint was used to cover some exterior markings, especially smoke damage around the windows, but the interior walls were completely taken down and it was rebuilt from the ground up. Then in 1901, it was officially named the White House by Teddy Rosevelt.
1. Serious Protection
The White House has top-of-the-line security features. Many of its security details are unknown or just speculation but there are some that are known, those include: a bunker that’s six stories underground (under the East Wing of the White House), 147 bullet-proof windows, and whenever the President (or in the case of President Obama–code name “Renegade”) goes anywhere he has an entire armed swat division on the roof of the White House.
The White House is said to have the ability to take down aircraft that is deemed threatening with anti-aircraft missiles. There are snipers situated on the roof at all times! There are also no less than four secret service agents positioned in the hallways in front of the West Wing at all times. It was after the assassination of President McKinley that the Secret Service took on the duties of protecting the President full-time.
Sources NYTimes, HuffingtonPost, Wikipedia, Architecture, CNN