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History of the White House

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Over the years, the White House has come to symbolize the American Presidency and leadership. There have been many technological changes, as well as, wings and porches added throughout the 150 years of use, but the White House maintains a very similar look as when President John Adams moved in November of 1800.

 

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Congress passed the Residence Act in 1790, establishing a national capital that was to be permanently located on the Potomac River. Pierre Charles L’Enfant, appointed by George Washington, created a plan for the city in 1791. James Hoban was hired to design the White House after winning a competition presented by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. By 1800, under the direction of John Adams, all aspects of the United States government were moved to Washington D.C. and the White House became the home of the President.


On October 13, 1792, the cornerstone for the White House was laid. Finally, in November of 1800, John Adams and his family moved in, even though the project was not yet completed. The unfinished East Room was used to dry laundry that Abigail Adams believed should not be outside for the public to see.

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Just a short time later, during the War of 1812, Washington D.C. was attacked by the British. On August 24, 1814, the White House was burned by British soldiers leaving nothing but part of the exterior walls. After it's near destruction, a decision had to be made: was it smart to rebuild the White House and capitol where it had once stood? Or, should the capitol be built in a less vulnerable area? In the end, by choosing to rebuild in the same spot, it became clear that the United States and its government were permanent. In order to ensure the White House was rebuilt correctly, James Hoban was rehired to complete the rebuild. In 1817, the house was ready for President James Monroe.


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Over the next century, many changes were made to the president's house. Each president added something that made their style of living better. In 1824 and 1830, the South and North porticoes were completed, respectively. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, running water, central heating, and gas lighting were added. In addition, the Executive Mansion had a hydraulic elevator, a telephone, and electric lighting placed within the house. In the 20th century, even more changes took place. In 1902, the predecessor to the West Wing, a temporary executive office building, was built by President Theodore Roosevelt in an attempt to separate his work from his family inhabiting the second floor. Later, in 1909, the West Wing was expanded to include the first Oval Office. The Coolidge administration, in 1927, added a third floor in place of the existing attic when it became apparent there were issues with the roof. This addition allowed space for guest rooms and storage, however it added further strain to the existing house.

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In 1948, the Truman family realized that the White House structure had become dangerous and in serious disrepair. President Truman called for experts to examine the house and found it was in desperate need of repair or it would be lost. Many were consulted on how to handle the project, and in the end, it was decided that the outer walls and the third floor would be saved while the rest was gutted and redone.

 

 

 

The White House Through History Timeline
Provided in the exhibit located at the Truman Library and Museum

Please follow the timeline from right to left.

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