State Dining Room, 1871
State Dining Room, c. 1890
State Dining Room during the Roosevelt administration, 1902
The Eisenhower family, Christmas 1960
The State Dining Room
The State Dining Room, which now seats as many as 140 guests, was originally much smaller and served at various times as a drawing room, office, and Cabinet Room. Not until the Andrew Jackson administration was it called the "State Dining Room," although previous Presidents had used it for formal dinners.
Today’s State Dining Room incorporates the space that President Thomas Jefferson used as a private office. Tall and generously proportioned, the room had fireplaces on the east and west and was flooded with daylight through tall south and west windows. When President and Mrs. Madison took residence in 1809, the room became an art gallery and dining area. They displayed Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington, now in the East Room, on its walls. Mrs. Madison rescued the painting before the British arrived to burn the house in 1814.
As the nation grew, so did the invitation list to official functions at the White House.
As early as 1856 a reporter wrote that the State Dining Room was too small for the number of congressmen, diplomats and other distinguished guests. The Cross Hall was used for large dinners even though drafts from the front door made it chilly. Seating for dinners was a matter of studied concern. Guests and their partners marched in unison with music to the table. Places were arranged by a seating chart reflecting diplomatic rank. The president always was served first, and no one could rise to leave the table before him.
President Rutherford B. Hayes and Lucy Hayes abstained from alcohol and often served soft drinks instead of liquor at White House dinners and receptions. By the close of the Hayes administration in 1881, teas had become a central part of White House entertaining and Lucy Hayes had acquired the nickname "Lemonade Lucy."
President Chester Arthur commissioned designer Louis Tiffany to redecorate the State Dining Room in 1882. By far the greatest cost was Tiffany’s artistic painting. The walls were painted in many shades and textures of yellow and highlighted in silver.
During the 1902 renovation, President Theodore Roosevelt greatly enlarged the State Dining Room. He mounted a large moosehead above the fireplace, and placed other game trophies on the natural oak panels. In 1909, Roosevelt ordered the carvings on the main stone mantle to be changed from lions to North American bison heads. The current woodwork, eagle side pedestal tables, chairs, and lighting fixtures remain from the 1902 renovation.
In the final year of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered John Adams’s famous blessing carved on the stone fireplace of the State Dining Room where it can be seen today. On November 2, 1800, Adams wrote to his wife:
"I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof."
Franklin D. Roosevelt hung George P. A. Healy’s 1869 portrait of Abraham Lincoln, donated to the White House in 1939, above the mantel where it remains today.
After the Truman renovation, the rich oak-paneled walls were painted a light celadon green to hide damage marks and a new black marble mantel was installed.
In 1962, the Kennedys had a replica of the 1902 mantle, complete with bison heads and the Adams' quote, installed in the State Dining Room and painted the walls ivory white. Today, the State Dining Room serves as a banquet hall and ceremonial chamber for all manner of official events. It is the center of White House hospitality.