On Display March 10 - December 31, 2017


When the Trumans moved into the White House they were shocked to see the state of the house. Mrs. Truman quickly got to work on developing a plan for some superficial changes. Little did they know, the building was going to need a massive and complete renovation during the Truman presidency. Although there were a series of signs, such as creaky floorboards and sagging ceilings, it was Margaret’s piano leg falling through the floor that made them realize the building was desperately in need of repair. An inspection completed in February 1949 claimed that the walls were “staying up only from force of habit” (Truman 1986, 328-329) The final report concluded that something had to be done; the First Family was not safe inside the White House.

wood and steel

The decision had to be made: which method of work should be used to fix the White House? The Trumans believed the best decision was to keep the outer walls intact while remodeling the interior. After considerable deliberation from the Commission on the Renovation of the Executive Mansion, the Trumans got their wish. The White House was gutted and rebuilt. Old wooden beams were replaced with steel, and even though much of the White House looks similar to before the renovation, major changes did take place.

inside white house

Unlike any other changes to the White House, the Truman renovation was documented in a completely different manner. Abbie Rowe had been hired under President Franklin Roosevelt to capture the events of the President, both in and away from the White House. Continuing his work for President Truman led Rowe to capture photographs of every instance of the renovation, providing an invaluable documentation of the entire process.