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Electricity was first installed at the White House in 1891 during President Benjamin Harrison’s administration as part of a project for wiring the State, War, and Navy Building next door, today’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The Edison Company installed a generator for both buildings, with wires strung across the lawn and into the White House. Wires were buried in plaster, with round switches installed in each room for turning the current on and off.

Irwin “Ike” Hoover, an electrician who later became White House Chief Usher, recollected that “the Harrison family were actually afraid to turn the lights on and off for fear of getting a shock…I would turn on the lights in the halls and parlors in the evening and they would burn until I returned the next morning to extinguish them.” (Forty-Two Years in the White House, 7).

Read more about Hoover’s career.

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