The White House is a large structure and from its earliest days domestic operations have demanded a general manager. For this purpose President John Adams employed John Breisler and Thomas Jefferson through his two administrations, relied heavily on his French steward Etienne Lemaire. These general managers, later called stewards or ushers, held a powerful and delicate position that called for the ability to communicate with politicians and officials as well as with the family and servants. The title of "chief usher" became official in 1897.
The White House today is managed by the chief usher, a title that is a holdover from the days when the chief duty was "ushering" people in to meet the president and first lady.
Today, however, the chief usher is the general manager of the building, including construction, maintenance, remodeling, food, as well as the administrative, fiscal and personnel functions.
The chief usher oversees the White House staff of butlers, maids, housekeepers, chefs, cooks, doormen, housemen, florists, electricians, plumbers, storekeepers, engineers and others.
"During all my years of managing the White House … my loyalty was not to any one President but rather to the Presidency and to the institution that is the White House," J.B. West wrote.
Since the turn of the 20th century, there have been seven chief ushers:
- Thomas E. Stone, 1903-1909
- Irwin H. (Ike) Hoover [author of 42 Years in the White House], 1913-1933
- Raymond Muir, 1933-1938
- Howell G. Crim, 1938-1957
- James B. West [author of Upstairs at the White House], 1957-1969
- Rex Scouten, 1969-1986
- Gary Walters, 1986-2007
- Admiral Stephen W. Rochon, 2007-present
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