22. Secret rooms
The White House building encompasses over 180 rooms total. While most of these rooms are offices, there are also recreational rooms for the first family, like a bowling alley and movie theater.
There’s the chocolate shop that creates the Easter eggs and a gingerbread replica of the White House each year and everyday treats. The residence also has a gaming room, complete with a $40,000 golf simulator, and a presidential flower shop.
Not every room has as much flair. Hillary Clinton built a music room for Bill so the president could practice his saxophone and Hillary could have some peace.
From Grover Cleveland’s emergency oral cancer surgery on a yacht to George Washington’s whole mouth, even presidents can have dental emergencies.
While there has always been a presidential dentist, the Hoover administration was the first to install a dentist's office in the White House basement in the 1930s. The office has state-of-the-art equipment to perform checkups, X-rays and any oral surgeries that the president and his family may need.
Obama confirmed the existence of the dentist's office on Jimmy Kimmel’s TV show, where he talked about getting his loose cap fixed during his presidency.
20. West Wing was supposed to be temporary
Before the West Wing became the president’s permanent place of work, most political business took place on the second floor of the residence.
In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt’s family, comprising six children, was too large to fit into the space meant for work. During his tenure as president, the White House underwent several renovations and the Office of the President was moved to a temporary office building.
It wasn’t until Howard Taft took office that the West Wing was attached to the main residence and the Oval Office was installed.
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19. Bedroom for the queen
Before Roosevelt’s renovations, this room was occupied by the president's live-in secretary. After the construction of the West Wing, the room was converted into a family bedroom known as the Rose Room.
When Queen Elizabeth II visited the White House in 1957, under president Dwight D. Eisenhower, she stayed in the Rose Room. Since then, whenever the queen flies over for a presidential sleepover, she stays in the now-renamed Queen’s Bedroom.
The room boasts a four-post bed that has hosted other royals such as Queen Wilhelmina and Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Queen Frederika of Greece and Princess Anne.
18. There’s an actual pool
In 1933, the New York Daily Post led a fundraising campaign to help install a pool in the White House for Franklin Roosevelt, who swam as physical therapy for his polio.
The pool opened right onto the Rose Garden and was outfitted with several modern gadgets such as underwater lighting. President John F. Kennedy was rumored to host naked pool parties there with his assistants Priscilla Wear and Jill Cowen.
When Nixon took office, he closed the pool to make space for a new press room. The pool remains structurally intact, however, and houses extra electronics the press might need.
17. Tom Hanks keeps the press caffeinated
Notorious nice guy Tom Hanks has visited the White House several times over the years.
Sometime in the 1990s, during one of his visits, he wandered into the press gallery and noticed they had only an old, beat-up coffee machine. He promised to send in a new machine, and he continued to update with new models every few years.
In March 2017, once Trump took office, Hanks sent the press team a fancy new espresso machine with a typewritten note: “Keep up the good fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Especially the Truth part.”
16. Secret passageways
The first set of tunnels in the White House were installed during the reconstruction of 1950. A tunnel was built connecting the West Wing and the East Wing to provide access to a bomb shelter.
In addition, Ronald Reagan had a tunnel built in 1987 to provide access to a secret staircase outside the Oval Office to protect him against terrorist attacks. You press a secret panel to reveal a tunnel leading to the basement under the residence. There is also a tunnel from the East Wing to the Treasury Building built by FDR as an air raid shelter.
Tunnels are rumored to connect the White House to the Capitol, Blair House, the vice president’s residence, Camp David and the Pentagon, but these haven’t been confirmed.
15. Built by slaves
Enslaved people took part in every aspect of construction of the Executive Office from 1792 to 1800.
This wasn’t a radical proposition for the time, as many local slave owners rented out their enslaved labor to neighbors and businesses. They could reap all the benefits without having to worry about their responsibilities to the workers.
The enslaved worked as axemen, stonecutters, carpenters, brickmakers, sawyers and laborers alongside their white counterparts. Their status was denoted on paperwork with an “N” in front of their names.
14. Painting the White House
Painting the White House is no easy task, as white is one of the worst colors for hiding imperfections. When your entire exterior is one spaghetti spill away from disaster, you need to keep your paint job pristine.
The White House receives touch-ups every year, with full coats applied every four to six years. A total of 570 gallons of paint is required for the exterior. A special German-made type of paint is used, with the most recent paint job done in 2019 in Duron’s “Whisper White” shade. The cost can be as high as $150 a gallon.
13. Five-hour moving day
The transition of the first families can be a hectic, frenzied experience. One president leaves on Inauguration Day as another moves in to call the White House home.
Well before the incoming president takes his oath of office, permanent White House staffers meet as early as 4 a.m. to go over the plans laid out by the chief usher. Once the outgoing president says goodbye, the staff takes action, loading all the moving vans, replenishing any amenities and setting up any special requests from the incoming first family.
Moving day is an all-hands-on-deck situation. Every permanent White House employee has to participate except for the kitchen staff, who are busy preparing food for the day’s festivities.
12. First family expenses
Living in the White House comes with a lot of cool perks, but taxpayers don’t fund all of what the president does.
While there is a White House chef on staff, the first family has to foot the bill for groceries and household necessities, such as toilet paper, garbage bags and toothpaste. The president also has to pay for any vacation accommodations (except for Camp David) and any private event that takes place outside the White House.
Also, even though they are required to live in the White House, first families are still responsible for keeping up their private residences.
11. The windows always remain closed
The White House has plenty of windows for natural light. Bulletproof and shatterproof, these windows are known to be some of the strongest ever developed.
For security reasons, however, they must remain closed at all times. This rule even extends to car windows when the first family is traveling. Michelle Obama confirmed this on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert when she described a time when a Secret Service agent opened the window in the car on the way to Camp David “as a treat.”
Thankfully, the White House was equipped with air conditioning during the Truman administration, so it’s not as stuffy as it used to be.
10. People died
In its more than 200 years of existence, only 10 people have died in the White House.
William Henry Harrison was the first president to die there from pneumonia in 1847, with the only other president to die being Zachary Taylor in 1850. Other first family members who have died include first ladies Letitia Tyler, Caroline Harrison and Ellen Wilson; the father of first lady Julia Grant, Frederick Dent; and a son of Abraham Lincoln, Willie.
Two others who died were Elisha Hunt Allen, who was minister of the Kingdom of Hawaii to the U.S., and White House press secretary Charles G. Ross.
9. Gh-gh-gh- … ghosts?!
In a building with as much history as the White House, supernatural activity is bound to be reported. The most haunted room in the building is said to be the Rose Room.
Among the ghosts being sighted are first lady Abigail Adams in the East Wing doing laundry and the voice of David Burns announcing himself. Mary Todd Lincoln, who was a strong believer in the occult, held seances where she reported hearing Andrew Jackson stomping and swearing through the halls.
The most famous ghost haunting the halls is said to be Abraham Lincoln, with sightings reported by first ladies Grace Coolidge, Lady Bird Johnson and Eleanor Roosevelt.
8. Wedding destination
With wide open green spaces and a pristine appearance, the White House would be the perfect place to hold a wedding.
To date, only 18 weddings have been held on the grounds. The first was in the Blue Room in 1812, with Thomas Todd and Lucy Payne Washington, sister of first lady Dolley Madison. The first and only president to tie the knot in the White House was Grover Cleveland.
The most recent ceremony was in 2013, when former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza married Patti Lease in the Rose Garden, attended by President and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama.
7. White House 2.0
During the battle of 1812, the British stormed Washington from Ontario, Canada, and set fire to several landmarks, including the U.S. Capitol building and the President's Mansion.
President James Madison and his wife, Dolley, had fled to Maryland during the attacks and returned three days later. According to reports, Madison left the White House to meet his troops on the battlefield, but not before telling his wife to grab important documents and be prepared to leave at a moment's notice.
When restoration construction on the White House was completed, Madison did not return and spent the rest of his term in the city’s Octagon House.
6. Twin house in Ireland
Even though the White House is a historically American image, an Irish architect, James Hoban, designed the building.
Early sketches of the building looked strikingly similar to the home of the Earl of Kildare, now known as the Leinster House. Many historians think Hoban did this purposefully, but it’s more likely he drew inspiration from classical architecture and ancient temples in Greece and Rome.
Among the similarities between the White House and Leinster House are a triangular pediment supported by four round columns, window placements and shapes, dentil moldings and two chimneys on either side of the building.
5. White House knockoffs
While there is only one true White House, that doesn’t stop copycats from trying to capture its magic.
Most replicas of the White House can actually be found in the United States — in Decatur, Ga.; Anaheim, Calif.; McLean, Va.; and Prior Lake, Minn. The most interesting replica is in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., which features an immense replica flipped onto its roof.
Among the replicas that can be found abroad are the $20-million villa built by a prominent Kurdish businessman in Erbil, Iraq, and a building at Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China.
4. Wheelchair accessible
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first person with a physical disability to become president, even if he kept it a secret for most of his days.
Because of this, the White House needed renovations to become more wheelchair accessible — including the installation of a ramp along the West Colonnade. Because of this, the White House became the first government building to become fully accessible to people in wheelchairs.
Accessibility in the White House has only improved under President Biden. In the first year of his presidency, he’s revamped both the physical accessibility of his office and the technological accessibility of the White House website.
3. The White House ran on outdated technology
With all the country-changing decisions made here, you’d think the White House’s technology wouldn’t be so behind the times.
In 2016, the New York Times wrote that the White House had only recently stopped using black and white printers, old BlackBerrys and floppy disks. The Wi-Fi is so bad you couldn’t stream video from the Roosevelt Room. The reason for this slow uptake on tech is that four government bodies need to sign off on any changes.
Thankfully, White House staff are now given new iPhones. In addition, 13,000 pounds of useless ethernet cables were ripped out of the walls, and they’ve done away with floppy disks.
2. White House has its own police
The Secret Service is known for keeping the president safe, but the Uniformed Division is responsible for the safety of the entire White House.
Dressed in white shirts and black pants, there are over 1,300 sworn police officers and technicians in this division. They usually patrol the outer perimeter and are often in contact with the public.
The White House is only one of four branches of the Uniformed Division, with the other three being the Foreign Missions Branch, Vice President Residence and the Special Operations Branch.
1. No official name for a long time
While the term White House is used casually to refer to the Office of the President today, in earlier times most people referred to the building as the “President’s House” or the “Executive Mansion.”
It wasn’t until Oct. 17, 1901, that Theodore Roosevelt directed Secretary of State John Hay to change “the headings, or date lines, of all official papers and documents requiring the president’s signature, from ‘Executive Mansion’ to ‘White House.’"
Its white color has been falsely attributed to the need to cover scorch marks from the British invasion fire. In fact, in 1798, a lime-based whitewash was used to protect the sandstone exterior from moisture and cracking during winter freezes.
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