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Learning the Ropes: Training, Tasks, and Teamwork

White House workers have frequently come to their jobs with experience in hotels and resorts, in large town or country houses, or in the railroad industry as conductors and porters. In these settings, workers developed the poise, polish, and professionalism needed to attend to the most discerning patrons.

Their prior training served these individuals well in the White House, but each employee quickly had to learn the ways of the Executive Mansion: what to do and when to do it, who was in charge, how to offset a crisis, and how to adjust to the first family’s tastes and preferences. Some new workers were assigned mentors; others were on their own to discover what was expected of them at America’s most recognized address.

White House workers share a cooperative spirit that in turn helps to foster strong bonds among the staff. Employees from many different units collaborate regularly to help each other prepare for special events or accomplish daily tasks.



State dinner, 1871

Valentino Melah immigrated to America as a child in 1834 and became a shoe salesman and innkeeper. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant hired him to serve as White House steward. He may have been the first White House worker to come from a hotel background, but he was certainly not the last. In an 1871 article, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper referred to Melah as “Professor,” observing that he had “graduated” from some of the East Coast’s leading hotels. The man standing, left, with beard and moustache, is believed to be Melah.

White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

Image: State dinner, 1871.
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