There is a popular misconception that the White House was first painted white to cover the scorch marks left by British soldiers who burned the house on August 24, 1814. In fact, the White House first received a lime-based whitewash in 1798 to protect its sandstone exterior from moisture and cracking during winter freezes. The term “White House” was occasionally used in newspapers and periodicals throughout the nineteenth century, but most journalists, citizens, and visitors referred to it as either the “President’s House” or the “Executive Mansion.”
On October 17, 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary George B. Cortelyou sent a letter to Secretary of State John Hay. At Roosevelt’s direction, Cortelyou asked Secretary Hay and his staff to change “the headings, or date lines, of all official papers and documents requiring his [Roosevelt’s] signature, from ‘Executive Mansion’ to ‘White House.’” Similar directives were sent to other cabinet secretaries, and Roosevelt changed the presidential stationery shortly thereafter as well.