President John Adams used the connected levee room (the southwest corner of the present State Dining Room) and dining room (northwest corner) for meals, receptions, and entertainment.
President Thomas Jefferson used this tall and generously proportioned room as his office and cabinet room. Flooded with daylight through tall south and west windows, a contemporary described the room as having a large table in the center, and “maps, globes, charts, &c.” around the walls.
When President James and Mrs. Dolley Madison took residence in 1809, the room became an art gallery and dining room. They displayed Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, now in the East Room, on its walls. Mrs. Madison rescued the painting from this room before the British arrived to burn the house in 1814.
A Madison dinner guest, British Lord Francis Jeffrey, described the State Dining Room in 1813 as a “large lofty handsome room…. with five or six tall narrow windows without any drapery or curtains. The walls are papered, the floor covered with an ordinary Scotch carpet—the chairs pretty little rush-bottomed articles, and a long table with a tarnished flat plateau in the center.”
President James Monroe acquired the State Dining Room’s monumental “plateau,” a historic centerpiece of gilded bronze and mirrors made in Paris in 1817 that is often on display for public tours. Reconstruction of the White House included custom carved Italian “statuary marble” mantels installed in 1819; two of these survive in the White House that were originally in the east and west ends of the State Dining Room. They were moved to the Green and Red Rooms in 1902.
Elizabeth Dixon in 1845 described a dinner for forty people in the State Dining Room, noting the windows were hung with purple-and-gold figured curtains and the rosewood dining table chairs were covered in purple velvet. Sixteen of the balloon-backed chairs with cabriolet legs and heart-shaped crests carved with a central fan remain in the White House Collection.
The first photograph of a president and his advisers was taken by John Plumbe, Jr., of President James K. Polk and his cabinet assembled in the State Dining Room at the start of the Mexican War, in May or June of 1846.
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.
Harriet Lane, niece of President James Buchanan and White House hostess, added two 12-burner chandeliers for the State Dining Room from Cornelius and Baker, Light and Gas Fixture Manufacturers, Philadelphia.
Artist Francis Bicknell Carpenter used the State Dining Room as his studio while working on his oil painting of the First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before the Cabinet.
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.
The State Dining Room reflected Tiffany’s decoration of a decade earlier with alterations made in 1891 when electricity was installed. Designer Edgar S. Yergason directed a refurbishment of the State floor and several rooms in the family quarters—including decorative painting, new draperies, curtains, and carpets. Four walnut side tables, in place along the walls by 1867, are visible under the newly electrified copper-hammered Tiffany sconces in an image of the State Dining Room taken in 1893.
President Theodore Roosevelt enlarged the State Dining Room as part of a 1902 White House renovation and added game trophies, including bison, Alaskan sheep, caribou, and Kodiak bear that were mounted above the natural oak panels. The president insisted that all of the animal heads be from North America. The neoclassical woodwork (now painted ivory white) and the Colonial Revival eagle-pedestal console tables, chairs, and lighting fixtures were custom-made by furniture manufacturer A.H. Davenport. The 13 game trophies—bought from a New York City collector and dealer and not bagged from President Roosevelt’s hunts as many visitors assumed—were removed during the Harding Administration.
President Roosevelt ordered the carvings on the main stone mantel to be changed from lions to North American bison heads.
George P. A. Healy’s 1869 portrait of Abraham Lincoln, donated to the White House in 1939, was hung above the mantel where it remains today.
In the final year of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered John Adams' 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."
After the Truman renovation (1948-1952), the oak-paneled walls were painted celadon green to hide damage marks and complement a new Truman state service that had a green border to correspond with the newly painted walls. A new black marble mantel was installed.
The Kennedys had a replica of the 1902 McKim, Mead and White mantel, complete with the 1909 bison heads and the Adams' quote, installed in the State Dining Room and painted the walls ivory white. The silvered lighting fixtures from the McKim, Mead and White renovation were gilded to coordinate with existing gold silk draperies.
New gold silk damask draperies were hung and the 1902 Queen Anne chairs received new gold fabric covers. A new wool carpet, made for the room in 1975, replaced a similar carpet. The walls were painted antique ivory white, the same color they had been painted in the 1960s.
The walls of the State Dining Room were painted a stone color in keeping with the Colonial Revival design. New floral brocade draperies, based on an 18th century design, and a new carpet using motifs of the 1902 ceiling plaster design were added. Several of 1902 furnishings were restored, including the rich mahogany finishes of the eagle pedestal consoles that had been painted and gilded in the early 1960s.
Refurbishing with new rugs, draperies, and historically-inspired chairs was completed in 2015. Custom-made rugs, drawing on elements of the room’s ceiling, were installed in 2012 and feature a border of continuous wreaths based on a band of interwoven ovals in the ceiling panel and a blue-green mottled field dappled with oak leaves based on the oak leaf molding that frames the ceiling panel. New draperies were custom-woven and suspended from carved and gilded poles taking their influence from poles installed in the Green and Red Rooms in 1902. Six new armchairs are reproductions of the original Monroe armchairs and twenty-eight side chairs are adaptations of those original chairs. All are upholstered in a brown grid-patterned “horsehair” fabric. This refurbishment was underwritten by the White House Endowment Trust, administered by the White House Historical Association.
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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 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 $45 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission.
To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit WhiteHouseHistory.org.
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