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The White House kitchen in 1908

The White House kitchen in 1908. Library of Congress
1900s

By the time Theodore Roosevelt took office, the use of electric light was common in American houses. The entire wiring system was replaced during a major restoration of the White House in 1902. Only the service areas of the house retained their gaslight fixtures, and these were used only in case of a power failure. A large main kitchen and an everyday kitchen were built in 1902 with white tile, nickel plate, and gloss white painted wall and floor finishes that gleamed. The large kitchen used to prepare meals for state functions had four gas ovens and two hotel-size gas ranges. President William H. Taft's administration began the White House fleet's transition from coaches and carriages to cars in 1909. Taft also attempted the installation of an air-conditioning system, in which electric fans blew over great bins of ice in the attic, cooling the air, which was forced through the air ducts of the heating system. This never worked and was soon abandoned.

Source: William Seale, The President's House, 749, 759; and William Seale, The White House: The History of an American Idea, 169.





With microphone in hand, President Wilson demonstrates ground-to-air communication in 1918

With microphone in hand, President Wilson demonstrates ground-to-air communication in 1918. National Archives
1910s

First Lady Helen Taft loved entertaining and White House hospitality during the Taft administration centered on the dining table, where the Tafts' tastes were regal. A "Forty-quart Peerless Ice Cream Freezer," with a direct current motor and a twelve-foot long Imperial French Coal Range were added to the large kitchen in 1912. On January 25, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson joined the first transcontinental telephone call from New York to San Francisco via a loop connection that also extended to Jekyll Island, Georgia. From Washington, Wilson greeted Alexander Graham Bell in New York, Bell’s associate Thomas Watson in San Francisco, and AT&T President Theodore Vail in Jekyll Island. President Wilson also demonstrated ground-to-air radio communication in 1918.

Source: William Seale, The President's House, 754, 794.





An Atwater Kent radio and cabinet similar to one owned by Herbert Hoover while he was president

An Atwater Kent radio and cabinet similar to one owned by Herbert Hoover while he was president. InHeritage
1920s

By the 1920s electric vacuum cleaners were cleaning the White House carpets, and an electric refrigerator was humming in the kitchen. Warren G. Harding had the house's first radio set installed in his study in 1922 on the second floor. To further advance the use of electricity, Calvin Coolidge celebrated the holiday season of 1923 by lighting the first National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse. Herbert Hoover installed 13 radios when he took office in 1929, and also ordered an expansion of the telephone system.

Source: William Seale, The President's House, 886.





President Franklin Roosevelt addresses the nation in a fireside chat

President Franklin Roosevelt addresses the nation in a fireside chat. Library of Congress
1930s

Reconstruction of the West Wing in 1930 after extensive damage by a Christmas Eve fire in 1929 included a central air-conditioning system installed by Carrier Engineering Company. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his staff experienced their first warm season at the White House in 1933, air-conditioning units were added to the private quarters on the second floor. Roosevelt swam as therapy for polio, so an indoor pool featuring modern water circulation and sterilization technology was built for him in the West Terrace in 1933. Broadcasting equipment was moved into the Diplomatic Reception Room, the setting for Roosevelt's fireside chats. In the mid-1930s the house's electrical system was rewired and both the large and small kitchens were remodeled to feature such modern conveniences as hotel-size electric ranges and ovens. The result was modern streamlined kitchens of stainless steel, immaculate and uncluttered; indirect lighting fell on cream-colored walls and on green and cream-colored linoleum with borders. The small kitchen was converted into a pantry, with refrigerators and warming ovens, serving both the kitchen and the State floor pantry, to which it was linked by electric dumbwaiters and a narrow, twisting stair.

Source: William Seale, The President's House, 897, 920, 924, 927, 948, 957, 959.





The “Hat Box” as it appeared during the Reagan administration

The “Hat Box” as it appeared during the Reagan administration.
1940s

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, White House security became a much more serious concern than it had been in the past. Bulletproof glass in the three south windows of the Oval Office and a "bomb-barrier," concrete poured along the West Wall of the Executive Office Building, were installed. Special outdoor lighting was designed by General Electric to dimly illuminate the grounds without casting a glare on the house itself. Despite protests from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, an air raid shelter was also built under the newly constructed East Wing. In 1942, Roosevelt ordered an East Terrace cloakroom called the "Hat Box" converted into a movie theater. Here the president enjoyed watching news reels and took special interest in the battles fought in Europe and Asia.

Source: William Seale, The President's House, 976, 977, 980, 983, 995, 1052.



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