Top 12 Interesting Facts About The White House

The most famous and iconic house in the world is located in Washington D.C., the capital of the United States.

In this post, you’ll discover our top 12 list of interesting facts about the White House, the official residence of the President of the United States which has a fascinating history!

1. It’s located just south of Downtown Washington D.C.

The White House is the iconic residence of the US President and one of the most famous landmarks in Washington D.C. It’s located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

The house is located just south of Downtown Washington and the street it’s located at directly connects the White House with the US Capitol Building as it runs diagonally through the city.

Just to the south, we can find the National Mall which features other monuments such as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

The structure is located in the so-called President’s Park and is a National Heritage Site that is owned and operated by the National Park Service. This park covers an area of 77.48 acres (313,536 square meters) and was a prominent feature of the original “L’Enfant Plan” of the new US capital which dates back to 1791.

Washington Monument and White House
Washington Monument and the White House / Wiki Commons

2. The White House was built in the late 18th century

The construction of the original White House was completed between 1792 and 1800. After all, it was an integral feature of the plan of Washington D.C. drawn up by Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant in the year 1791.

The cornerstone of the President’s House is assumed to have been laid on October 13, 1792, even though no official ceremony was attached to this event.

John Adams (1735-1826), one of the Founding Fathers and the second president of the United States between 1797 and 1801 was the first man to occupy the structure as his official residence.

White House in Washington DC
Aerial view of the complex / Wiki Commons

3. Multiple houses were built before the president officially moved in

George Washington (1732-1799) was inaugurated as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789, an event that took place at Federal Hall in New York City.

Following this even, Washington used 2 executive mansions in New York as his official residence, before the capital was officially moved to Philadelphia in July 1790. Following the move to Pennsylvania, he also occupied a house there:

  • Samuel Osgood House, Manhattan, New York – From April 1789 to February 1790.
  • Alexander Macomb House, Manhattan, New York – From February to August 1790.
  • President’s House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – From November 1790 to March 1797.
  • John Adams also occupied the President’s House in Philadelphia between March 1797 and May 1800.

There were also 2 additional houses built to serve as the president’s residence, one in New York and one in Philadelphia, but neither was used.

The humble President’s House in Philadelphia / Wiki Commons

4. The Irish architect modeled it on a house in Dublin

The design of the White House was chosen through an architectural competition, and George Washington himself approved the submission of Irish-born architect James Hoban (1755-1831).

Even though it was officially a competition, it’s pretty certain that Washington already had his mind made up before the event took place. While visiting Charleston in South Carolina he had seen the “Charleston County Courthouse” (built between 1790 and 1792) which was then under construction and also designed by Hoban.

It’s also assumed that Washington met with Hoban in Philadelphia a month before the winning design was chosen. His submission was quickly chosen on July 16, 1792.

The Neoclassical design was modeled on the Leinster House in Dublin, the original ducal palace of the Dukes of Leinster which now serves as the seat of the “Oireachtas Éireann,” the legislature of Ireland.

Leinster house in dublin
Leinster House in Dublin / Jean Housen / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

5. The White House wasn’t referred to as such initially

One of the most fascinating facts about the White House is that it was constructed using Aquia Creek sandstone, a type of freestone which is brown to light-grey in color. This means that the building is merely painted white as it would look a lot duller in its natural color.

This also means that the structure originally wasn’t referred to as such and had a couple of different names initially. These included the “President’s Palace“, “Presidential Mansion“, or “President’s House.”

It wasn’t until the year 1811 that the first mention of “White House” was made, and until 1901, during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, that the name on official documents was changed from “Executive Mansion” to “White House–Washington.”

white house sandstone
The painted house / Wiki Commons

6. The British set it ablaze during the War of 1812

The “War of 1812” was a conflict that took place between June 1812 and February 1815. A devastating event happened on August 24, 1814, referred to as the “Burning of Washington.”

British troops invaded and occupied the city and set many of its buildings on fire, including the Presidential Mansion as it was called back then. The result was that only the exterior walls were still standing.

They eventually ended up being torn down as they were severely weakened from the fire. The structure was completely rebuilt between 1815 and 1817. Following this reconstruction, the iconic northern and southern porticos were completed in 1824 and 1830 respectively.

White house 1814
The White House following the burning in 1814 / Wiki Commons

7. The West Wing solved the overcrowding problem in 1901

Ever since the period around the American Civil War (1861-1865), the structure was deemed too small and suffered from overcrowding. Some even suggested completely moving the president’s residence elsewhere due to the conditions, but instead, smaller renovations were conducted.

It wasn’t until the year 1902, during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, that the West Wing was completed. This structure was originally deemed to serve as additional office space and still serves this purpose today

This 4-story structure now houses the offices of the president of the United States, the vice president, the White House chief of staff, and various other supporting staff members.

White House west wing entrance
Entrance to the West Wing / Josh Berglund / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

8. The first Oval Office dates back to the year 1909

The West Wing was a very important addition to the White House Complex. 7 years following the completion of the building, the first Oval Office was created as the building was expanded.

This happened in the year 1909 during the presidency of William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States. The original office of the president in the West Wing was not oval shaped.

Oval Office replica
Replica of the Oval Office at the LBJ Presidential Library. / Wiki Commons

9. The structure was about to collapse by the late 1940s

The state of the building deteriorated quickly in the first decades of the 20th century. The Great Depression following the Roaring Twenties didn’t help as well as the maintenance budget had to be cut.

This resulted in the building crumbling as the brick and sandstone structure built around a timber frame was in imminent danger of collapsing.

President Harry S. Truman had no other choice but to completely renovate the building and live on the other side of the street in the Blair House between 1949 and 1951.

During this renovation, the interior spaces were completely dismantled and a steel frame was integrated to reinforce the building in order to prevent it from collapsing.

truman renovation white house
Interior of the building during the Truman Renovation / Wiki Commons

10. Jacqueline Kennedy redesigned many rooms in a particular style

The Truman renovation, which was completed in the early 1950s, was the final major structural change made to the building. Just about all presidential families have made small changes to the interior of the building, though.

The most prominent redecoration was conducted by Jacqueline Kennedy in the early 1960s. She added fine art and completely refurbished the interior in order to integrate a historic character into every room.

Paris-based interior design firm “House of Jansen” created the following themes for these specific rooms:

  • Federal for the Green Room.
  • French Empire for the Blue Room.
  • American Empire for the Red Room.
  • Louis XVI for the Yellow Oval Room.
  • Victorian for the Treaty Room (former president’s study).

The entire restoration was featured in a television special on Valentine’s Day of the year 1962 by Jackie Kennedy herself!

Yellow Room white house
Yellow Room / Wiki Commons

11. There are a total of 132 rooms inside the White House Complex

If you’re into some interesting White House facts, then here are some interesting figures about the entire complex:

  • 55,000 square feet (5,100 m2) of floor space
  • 132 rooms
  • 35 bathrooms,
  • 412 doors
  • 147 windows
  • 28 fireplaces
  • 8 staircases
  • 3 elevators
  • 5 full-time chefs
  • 1 tennis court
  • 1 (single-lane) bowling alley
  • 1 movie theater referred to as the White House Family Theater which can seat 42 people
  • 1 jogging track, a swimming pool, and a putting green
White House south portico
Detail of the southern portico / Wiki Commons

12. Tours of the residence have been permitted since Thomas Jefferson

Ever since the early days of the United States, the official residence of the president has been open to the public. This tradition dates back to the days of Thomas Jefferson in the early 19th century.

Up until today, you can schedule a public tour referred to as the “White House Tour.” Just remember, reservations have to be made in advance!

White House fun facts
Northern side of the building / Wiki Commons