When George Washington began his presidency in 1789, the government appropriated funds for a house in New York City, then the nation’s capital. Dinnerware likely consisted of French and Chinese exports, readily available and commonly used in the Federal period.
Before the 1814 fire that destroyed the President’s House, presidents used a mix of both personal and china services already in the home.
James Monroe ordered the first dinner service created specifically for official use by an American president. Dagoty and Honoré of Paris manufactured thirty place settings and matching dessert service. A handsome eagle with wings spread, designated in the shipping list as the arms of the United States was at the center of each plate. Five vignettes with an amaranth border represent Strength, the Arts, Commerce, the Sciences and Agriculture.
President Andrew Jackson ordered a new blue and gold dinner and dessert services in 1833. The government purchased the 440-piece dinner set and 412-piece dessert set from L. Veron & Company of Philadelphia at a cost of $2,500.
The Polk porcelain china services of 1846 were manufactured by Edouard D. Honoré in Paris and purchased from the merchants Alexander Stewart & Co. in New York City. Both dinner and dessert services cost $979.40. The white dinner plate featured a shield of the United States behind a ribbon bearing the national motto at the top of the plate and the rim was molded and gilded with a scroll design. The green-bordered dessert plates displayed a wide selection of boldly painted flowers, and the dessert service also featured fruit baskets and compotes.
When President Franklin Pierce dedicated the “Exhibition of the Industry of All the Nations” in New York City in July 1853, a porcelain display by Haughwout & Dailey impressed him and soon afterwards an order was made for a 287-piece White House china service costing $536.24. The dinner plate had a lined gold and blue scalloped rim with a border stippled with gold dots.
When Abraham Lincoln was president, his wife, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, went to New York City and ordered new china service from E.V. Haughwout & Co. The 190-piece china set, made with imported porcelain blanks from various French factories and hand painted by E.V. Haughwout & Co., was delivered in September 1861 and cost $3,195. The distinctive dinner plate has a royal purple border lined with gold dots and edged with a gold cable design featuring two intertwined threads. A version of the Arms of the United States is painted in enamel colors in the center of the plate.
In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant and First Lady Julia Dent Grant authorized Washington, D.C. dealer J.W. Boteler & Bro. to order china from Haviland and Co. in Limoges, France. Delivered to the White House in February 1870, the 587-piece service cost $3,000. The dinner plate had a buff band framed by gold and black lines overlaid with flowers in different colors and a version of the Great Seal of the United States in red and gold.
First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes wanted to commemorate North American flora and fauna in her new White House china and commissioned artist Theodore R. Davis to create 130 distinct designs for the set. Cost for the order came to $3,120. Davis designs were so lifelike that Washington socialite Clover Adams observed that when she dined at the White House she could hardly eat soup peacefully if she had to watch a coyote leap at her from behind a pine tree.
First Lady Caroline Harrison enjoyed painting china as a hobby and was interested in acquiring a new set of china for the White House. The design featured a wide, dark blue border decorated in gold with corn and golden rod, a symbol of American agriculture and as a tribute to the Harrisons’ home state of Indiana. At the center was the Arms of the United States. Washington, D.C. china importers M.W. Beveridge filled the order, and the china was manufactured by Tressemannes & Vogt of Limoges, France. The new 288-piece china set cost $732.00 and arrived at the White House in December 1891.
Until the 20th century, the presentation of desserts, which included a tremendous variety of sweets, fruits, ice creams, and nuts, was a signifier of a host’s sophistication and social status. Elegantly decorated porcelain baskets, coolers, and china sets were needed to stage this key and often breathtaking last course. Most presidential china service ordered in the nineteenth century included a beautiful dessert service.
In the summer of 1901 Colonel Theodore Bingham, Commissioner of the Public Buildings, asked Abby Gunn Baker to research and write the first history of the White House china. Ms. Baker (1860-1923) was a journalist who wrote articles on White House china for popular magazines. She later assisted First Lady Edith Roosevelt in selecting pieces of White House china from the collections of earlier presidents and displaying them in custom made oak cabinets on the Ground Floor of the White House.
President Theodore Roosevelt and First Lady Edith Roosevelt wanted their set of official china to be manufactured in the United States. However, when Knowles, Taylor & Knowles Pottery Co. of East Liverpool, Ohio, received the Roosevelts’ $50,000 china order, it turned down the purchase request on grounds that it was too large and filling it would unsettle their business. The china was manufactured instead by Wedgwood in England and ordered from Van Heusen Charles Co. of Albany, New York. The 1,344-piece set, decorated with the Great Seal of the United States and a border pattern of gilt bands and a pattern called “Ulanda” by Wedgwood, cost $8,094 and arrived at the White House in 1903.
First Lady Edith Wilson moved the china collection to a specially designated space, the China Room, on the Ground Floor of the White House.
In March, President Woodrow Wilson commissioned Lenox of Trenton, New Jersey, to produce the first American-made state service for the White House. All services in the past had been manufactured in either France or England. Wilson’s 1,326-piece china cost $11,251.60, and featured a dark cobalt border framed by a heavy gilt line of stars and stripes at the shoulder. In the center is the presidential arms in raised 24-carat gold.
As a result of continued breakage of china, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt announced in November 1934 that a new Lenox set would be purchased that contained 1,722 pieces and cost $9,301.20. The dinner plate had a narrow blue rim bearing gilt stars for the then forty-eight states of the Union, lined by gilt roses and plumes and interrupted by the presidential arms in enameled colors. The service made its debut on January 24, 1935, at the annual dinner given for the heads of diplomatic missions in Washington.
President Harry Truman and First Lady Bess Truman purchased a china set for use in the newly refurbished State Dining Room following the extensive White House renovation of 1948-1952. The china was ordered through B. Altman and Co. of New York City, a department store that had been granted the contract to redecorate the White House after its renovation. The service plate had a heavy gold rim and celadon-green border. The presidential seal is at the center and the eagle’s head was turned toward the olive branch of peace by President Truman’s 1945 Executive Order redefining the seal. The 1,572-piece china service cost $26,944.10 and was first used on April 3, 1952 at a small luncheon for Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. The Trumans had moved back into the White House from Blair House just a week earlier.
First Lady Mamie Eisenhower decided to supplement the new Truman china set with 120 gold service plates with a raised-medallion border in coin gold from Castleton China, Inc. of New Castle, Pennsylvania at a cost of $3,606.40.
During the John F. Kennedy administration, the Truman china was used along with gold service plates that had been ordered by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower in 1955. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wanted to order a new china set and studied some design proposals; however, an order for new china was never placed.
When Lady Bird Johnson in 1968 requested the first new china set since 1952 for use at ever-increasing state visits in 1968, an anonymous donor funded its purchase through the White House Historical Association, setting a new precedent for the private funding of presidential state services. The 2,208-piece Johnson china was decorated with American wildflowers. Tiffany and Co. of New York City executed the design and the set was manufactured by Castleton China of New Castle, Pennsylvania. The total cost was $80,028.24. The china was first used for a state dinner (for Australian Prime Minister John G. Gorton) on May 27, 1968, eighteen days after it had been first presented to the public.
The Reagan state china service was manufactured by Lenox China in New Jersey and consisted of 4,370 pieces, enough to accommodate 19-piece place settings for 220 guests. The service featured gold-latticed bands on a scarlet border and cost $209,508, contributed by the J.P. Knapp Foundation through the White House Historical Association. The china service was first used on February 3, 1982 for a state dinner in honor of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
A presidential service was added in 2000 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the occupancy of the White House. The service consisted of 300 12-piece settings, incorporated architectural motifs from different White House rooms into their yellow and gold borders, and show some images of the mansion itself—a first for White House china. The set was purchased by the White House Historical Association for $205,850. It was first used for the November 9, 2000 dinner celebrating the 200th anniversary of the White House and guests President and Mrs. George H.W. Bush, President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, President and Mrs. Gerald Ford, and Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson.
First Lady Laura Bush unveiled the Bush State Service china on January 7, 2009. Lenox manufactured the service of 320 14-piece place settings, which was purchased by the White House Historical Association for $492,798. Mrs. Bush also presented to the public a smaller set of 75 place settings for use in the private family quarters of the White House, manufactured by Pickard China of Antioch, Illinois. The additional $75,000 cost was funded by the Bush Redecoration Fund.
There were 320 place settings, each featuring 11 pieces, in the Obama service produced by Pickard China in Antioch, Illinois. First Lady Michelle Obama designed the service, drawing inspiration from the French china service in the White House collection that belonged to President Madison. The Obama service was purchased for $367,258 by the White House Historical Association.
For all media inquiries and image requests, contact email@example.com.
About the white house historical association
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the nonprofit, nonpartisan White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $50 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission.
To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit WhiteHouseHistory.org.
Find us on...
Gallery National Student Art Competition K-3 Winners
The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C.
The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington D.C. was founded in 1802, shortly after Washington D.C. became...
Video The Outlier - Jimmy Carter and the White House
In his new one volume definitive biography The Outlier, Pulitzer Prize winner Kai Bird discusses Jimmy Carter’s remarkable life an...
Event 2021 Presidential Sites Summit
The White House Historical Association will host the Presidential Sites Summit at the historic Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, Texas, from...
Event The Official White House Christmas Ornament
Since 1981, the White House Historical Association has had the privilege of designing the Official White House Christmas Ornament. Since their...
Enslaved Labor and the Construction of the U.S. Capitol
“Would it be superstitious to presume, that the Sovereign Father of all nations, permitted the perpetration of this apparently execrable tr...
Event The Man I Knew: The Amazing Story of George H.W. Bush's Post-Presidency
As chief of staff, Jean Becker had a ringside seat to the never-boring story of George Herbert Walker Bush's life...
Event James Hoban: Designer and Architect of the White House
When considering the design of the President’s House yet to be built in the emerging Federal City of Washington, Pr...
Event Vacationer in Chief: A History of Presidential Getaways
Since the creation of the American presidency, the country’s leaders and their families have taken vacations away from the Wh...
Collection Olympic Celebrations
Honoring some of the greatest moments in sports history has become a tradition at the White House. Presidents and their...
Event White House History Live: Zero Fail - A History of the Secret Service
Join us in learning more about White House History right from your own home. Our Facebook Live series, White House...