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  • Congress has always been tasked with appropriating funds for the care, repair, refurnishing and maintenance of the White House and its grounds. Each incoming president has found furnishings that were worn out and in need of replacement due to everyday wear and tear. Congress approved funds enabling a new president to carry out structural improvements and purchase new furnishings from auctions, private sales and other sources, as well as occasionally authorizing the sale of furnishings that were out of repair or unfit for use.
  • The amount of allowances for redecorating of the residence has risen over time. The $14,000 appropriated to John and Abigail Adams in 1800 remained steady until it was raised to $20,000 in 1833 for Andrew Jackson’s second term; it was raised to $50,000 in 1925 during Calvin Coolidge’s term; and to $100,000 in 1999 during Bill Clinton’s second term. This allowance covers both the private residence and the oval office.
    • Occasionally presidents and their wives spent so much on new furnishings that they exceeded the moneys Congress had originally appropriated. In some cases they were able to make up the difference out of their own pockets, but not every president had the financial resources to do so.
    • Congress had established a special $20,000 furniture fund in 1817 for incoming President James Monroe to revamp the recently rebuilt White House. Monroe and his wife Elizabeth nearly spent this entire amount on furniture shipped from France alone. When Monroe asked for additional funds Congress appropriated another $30,000, some of which paid for Monroe’s tour of the southern states in 1819. When Samuel Lane, Commissioner of Washington, D.C. and Monroe’s furnishings agent died in 1822, Monroe was surprised to learn that he owed Lane’s estate $6,500.
    • Mary Lincoln’s $20,000 allowance quickly evaporated during 1861 as she purchased carpets, china, cut glass, draperies, wallpaper and other items at the finest department stores of Boston, New York City and Philadelphia. Mrs. Lincoln ended up with a cost overrun of $6,858, which she unsuccessfully tried to conceal from the president. With the help of some budgetary legerdemain from commissioner of public buildings Benjamin Brown French and an additional $4,500 from Congress, she was eventually able to pay for her spending spree.
  • As of late, most Presidents rely on the White House collections of furniture, rugs, portraits, and objects to furnish the residence and the Oval Office. Others, such as Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, have declined to use the appropriated money in favor of using private funds.
  • In 1961 Congress enacted Public Law 87-286 declaring that the furnishings of the White House were the inalienable property of the White House, legislating the White House’s status as a museum and extending legal protection to donated period furnishings and all White House objects.
  • In March 1964, to continue the efforts of Jacqueline Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson issued Executive Order 11145, establishing the advisory Committee for the Preservation of the White House to guide the maintenance of the museum character of the State Rooms, and a permanent position for a White House curator.
  • The color of the White House is protected by a matter of tradition rather than law. President Teddy Roosevelt made the name “White House” official in 1901 by using it in official correspondence. The White House as a building was designated a historic site in 1960. As a National Heritage Site/National Historic Landmark in the care of the National Park Service, extensive regulations would govern attempts to institute any significant changes.
  • In 1979 First Lady Rosalynn Carter helped create the White House Preservation Fund, which provides an endowment for new acquisitions and for the refurbishing of state rooms.
  • First Lady Barbara Bush appointed curators and art historians to a revived Committee for the Preservation of the White House to establish procedures to review objects for the collection, and she also worked to activate the White House Endowment Fund under the White House Historical Association. The goal was to raise an endowment for acquisitions, the refurbishing of the public rooms, and conservation of the collection.

Additional Information

Compiled by the White House Historical Association. Please credit the Association by its full name when using this as background material. Specific sources consulted available upon request.

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