How the White House Was Built

the white house

Standing as one of the most iconic buildings in the world, as well as a monument signifying our nation's democracy, the White House is an important part our national identity. This historic building is easily one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, but how much do you really know about its construction? Let's take a closer look at how the White House was built for a deeper understanding every proud American needs!

A Competition

When looking at how the White House was built, an interesting fact is that it was the result of a competition. In 1791, artist and engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant worked with George Washington to create a city plan for Washington, D.C. with 82 acres designated as "President's Park" for a presidential residence. While officials for New York and Philadelphia both campaigned to persuade George Washington to make their cities the official capital of the nation, Washington chose a place centrally located between Virginia and Maryland on the Potomac River. While George Washington chose the spot for the White House, the actual design of the building was a competition with many architects submitting proposals. The design was selected in 1792 from James Hoban, an Irish immigrant to the U.S. who had molded his design loosely on the Dublin residence of the Duke of Leinster. The original plan for a "President's Palace" house was four times the size of Hoban's design, but was scaled back during the final design approval. While it was scaled back considerably, the White House was still the largest sized house in the nation until after the Civil War.

The Construction

Once the competition was over and the plans approved, construction could begin on the project. The White House was officially under construction in 1792 and would take 8 years for a president to move in after completing the construction which cost a whopping sum in that era of $232,372. To put that figure into perspective, it would amount to $100 million today. The White House was built by slave labor as well as immigrant labor from Ireland, Scotland, and other various parts of Europe. The first president to move in was John Adams in 1800.

Changes in Original Design

When looking at how the White House was built, most people are shocked to find out the current design looks nothing like the original from James Hoban. For starters, the original did not have the East and West Wings which were added on in later years. The building also wasn't always called the White House. It wasn't until 1901 that name took hold thanks to Theodore Roosevelt making it the official name of the residence.

The Fire of 1814 and Truman

The White House was set on fire on August 24, 1814 as a retaliation from the British during the War of 1812. The president at the time, James Madison, was not in the residence at the time, but the First Lady Dolly Madison was tasked with saving important state documents before fleeing the building. She also famously saved a full-sized portrait of George Washington which still hangs in the White House today. The building was rebuilt by James Hoban, the original designer, after the fire.

While the building was rebuilt, there were later reports that the building was on the verge of collapse in many ways as time progressed. Theodore Roosevelt made some major renovations in his time in office. He was also the first president to move the official presidential office to what is now called the Oval Office on the ground level instead of a smaller office on the second floor. From 1948 to 1952, the White House underwent changes even more major than the ones caused by the fire of 1814 under the overseeing eye of President Harry S. Truman. These changes made the building safer and more comfortable for future generations of workers and presidential families.

Fun Facts about the White House Building

  • It has 132 rooms including 35 bathrooms! While there are obvious rooms you expect in such an institution such as the Oval Office, the Situation Room, the Cabinet Room, and the Press Briefing Room, and other official areas of business, there are also quite a few residential spaces for the First Family during their years living in this not so humble abode. For example, there are multiple kitchens all serving different purposes, workout rooms, and 16 family guest rooms. A few other fun facts of this nature include such figures as there are 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators all housed in this special building.
  • There are some interesting add on rooms you might not know about. Every president makes changes to the White House during their time serving in office and it has created a few fun, unexpected rooms. For instance, the White House has a bowling alley, family movie theater, music room, florist, and chocolate shop!
  • The total floor space is approximately 55,000 square feet when you combine all six floors of the White House.
  • A house this big takes a lot of paint to cover the exterior. A fun fact is that it takes 570 gallons of white paint to cover the outside of the White House in one coat of paint!

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