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The White House has been pulled apart, rearranged, gutted by fire and renovation, reassembled; yet it is always the same. Its idea has become its essence.

— William Seale, White House historian

Following a competition for the design of the President's House in the spring of 1792, Irish architect James Hoban was commissioned to build a home and office for the President of the United States. With guidance from President George Washington, Hoban employed craftsmen brought from as far away as Scotland and oversaw a free and enslaved labor force that constructed one of America's finest 18th-century stone buildings. The cornerstone for the residence was laid on October 13, 1792. Labor and material shortages contributed to revisions in the original plan. Most significantly, there would only be two main floors not three, and a less expensive brick made at the site was employed as a lining for the stone facades.

A map planning the construction of the nation's capital, 1800.

White House Collection/White House Historical Association

The name "White House" probably came into colloquial use soon after the stonemasons whitewashed the house in 1798 to protect the walls. The white finish brought out the fine exterior ornamentation, although "Executive Mansion" and "President's House" were more commonly used until 1901, when the building was officially named the "White House."

On November 1, 1800, President John Adams became the first occupant of the house. The exterior and a handful of rooms were finished in time for the Adams' brief four-month residency. Thomas Jefferson was the next president to reside in the house. During his presidency, he had two water closets installed and fit fireplaces with coal-burning fixtures. With architect Benjamin Latrobe's assistance, Jefferson also built long, columnar terraces extending on the east and west.

In 1810, Latrobe installed a "Pettibone" furnace for James and Dolley Madison. It used a series of kettles and clay pipes to force hot air up from the basement. When British troops set fire to the house on August 24, 1814, the system was destroyed and never replaced.

Folk painting celebrating the rebuilt White House, c. 1824.

White House Collection/White House Historical Association

Burned to a charred skeleton during the War of 1812, the President's House became an object of shame and wonder. Talk spread of moving the capital inland with a suggestion to go as far as Cincinnati, Ohio. But Andrew Jackson's victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans restored national pride and the idea of rebuilding in the nation's capital became symbolic of triumph.

James Hoban was hired to rebuild the Executive Mansion in 1815. Two years later, President James Monroe took up residence and purchased furnishings for the still unfinished interiors. In 1824, during Monroe's administration, Hoban completed the South Portico. Double stairs curved up to a much-needed porch, and columns lent a vertical sweep to the architecture of the house. In 1829, Hoban started construction of the North Portico and finished it a year later during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. The fine carved stone of the North Door surround and garland of roses and acorns over the north portal were overshadowed by the mass of the portico.

This half-plate daguerreotype by John Plumbe shows the White House in 1846.

Library of Congress

Running water was introduced to the Jackson White House in 1833. An ingenious system was devised to pump water to an East Terrace bathing room. In 1840, Martin Van Buren hired a live-in fireman to manage the boilers of a monstrous new furnace. In 1848, James Polk directed that gas lights replace candles in the chandeliers and wall fixtures. It was an era of great innovations.

I would not wish to exchange this house for any other. I think it beautiful. I love this house for the associations that no other could have.

— First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes, 1877-1881

From the 1830s until 1902, changes to the main block of the White House occurred principally to its interiors. Under Andrew Jackson the East Room was completed and fully decorated. Succeeding presidents and their wives periodically refurbished the house to reflect the changing tastes of their time.

The White House, c. 1860.

White House Collection/White House Historical Association

Abraham Lincoln was too immersed in the crisis of the Civil War to care about "flub dubs for this damned old house", but after Lincoln's presidency, the White House returned to its routine pattern of changes which came with each new administration.

In 1877, the first telephone was connected for President Rutherford B. Hayes. Electric wiring was installed in 1891. President and Mrs. Benjamin Harrison, afraid of being shocked, were nervous about working the lights.

Chester A. Arthur, president from 1881 to 1885, called on Louis C. Tiffany to add his touch to the White House. A number of spaces on the State Floor were transformed by his decorative patterns, glazing, and trademark colored glass technique, most notably in the Entrance Hall, Transverse Hall, and Blue Room. In 1890, First Lady Caroline Harrison promoted a major expansion of the White House complex that included an art wing open to visitors, but Congress refused to fund the project.

I don't think that any family has ever enjoyed the White House more than we have.

— President Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1909

One of Theodore Roosevelt's earliest acts as president was to issue an order establishing the "White House" as the building's official name. Previously, it had been called the "President's House" or the "Executive Mansion." In 1902, Mrs. Roosevelt asked the distinguished architect Charles McKim for his advice concerning the cramped Second Floor quarters. His recommendations for a complete renovation of the house doubled the space allocated to the family living quarters, provided a new wing for the president and his staff, and created a new area on the east for receiving guests. The plans changed the interior and the functioning of the White House. With a few exceptions, much of the complex as we know it today reflects the design of 1902.

A color lithograph depicting the South Portico of the White House in 1902.

White House Historical Association

In 1909, President William Howard Taft had the West Wing enlarged, adding the first Oval Office. Herbert Hoover remodeled the wing and rebuilt it after a fire in 1929. With the expansion of the staff in the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt requested additional space, and the wing was renovated under the eye of architect Eric Gugler. He built a second story, excavated a larger basement for staff and support services, and moved the Oval Office from the south to its present location in the southeast corner, adjacent to the Rose Garden. The term "West Wing" for the new executive office space came into common usage in the 1930s.

In 1948, architect Lorenzo S. Winslow built a balcony on the South Portico for Harry Truman. Soon after, the entire building showed signs of significant structural damage. The brick that Hoban had used to line the stone facade was being stressed to its limits. Winslow began a full renovation of the White House, which, as one inspector put it, "was standing up purely from habit."

The Truman renovation retained the original walls, the third floor and the roof, while removing and then reinstalling the interiors within a skeleton of steel structural beams on a new concrete foundation. Two levels of subbasements, and service areas under the North Portico were constructed, and the Grand Staircase was substantially changed. Of the State Floor rooms, only the State Dining Room wall panels were reinstalled, but then were painted. Updated conveniences were added, including central air. On March 27, 1952, Truman moved back into his new home.

The White House during the Truman renovation, 1950.

Harry S. Truman Library Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

Since 1952, attempts to preserve the history of the President's House and new research have resulted in decorative interior changes but no substantive architectural work. Beginning in 1980, as many as forty successive layers of paint were removed from the exterior walls. Following the removal of the paint, masons restored the stone. In 1990, the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) began a documentation project to record the exterior elevations and the interior architecture of the White House. This comprehensive record of the historic main house will be used for future renovation, restoration, maintenance, and interpretation of the house.

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