The White House
Where the President Lives and Works
Choosing a City
In the late 1700s, it was decided that our country needed a capital city. Our first president, George Washington, picked a site on the Potomac River, midway between the northern and southern states. This spot would come to be called Washington, District of Columbia.
Pierre L'Enfant, a city planner from France, designed the new city. He decided to place the Capitol Building on one hill and the "President's House" on another hill. L'Enfant had many plans for building the city, but he lost his job after too many disagreements with landowners. The streets and parks that exist in Washington, D.C., today are the result of the work of two surveyors, Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker, who made maps and plans based on L'Enfant's original designs.
The original District of Columbia was like a wilderness, and the Potomac River caused the area to be marshy. Pigs roamed the streets, and mosquitoes made people sick from malaria. Conditions improved, however, when the marshes, creeks, and canals were drained.
Building the White House
While the city of Washington, D.C. was being developed, the president's house was also getting under way. A contest was held to select a designer for the house. While it is said that our third president, Thomas Jefferson, submitted designs for the house, architect James Hoban won the contest.
Work on the house began in 1792. Stonemasons were hired from Scotland. Bricks were made on the north lawn. Sandstone was brought from Stafford County, Virginia, and lumber from North Carolina and Virginia.
President George Washington oversaw construction of the White House, but he never lived there! It was our second president, John Adams, elected in 1796, who first lived in the White House. His term was almost over by the time he moved in, and only six rooms had been finished.
While James Madison was president, from 1809 to 1817, the United States went to war with England. On August 24, 1814, British soldiers sailed up the Potomac River and set fire to the White House. A summer thunderstorm put out the fire, but only the charred outside walls and the interior brick walls remained. It took three years to rebuild the White House.
White House Facts
- There are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels to accommodate all the people who live in, work in, and visit the White House. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8staircases, and 3 elevators.
- The White House has six floors—two basements, two public floors, and two floors for the First Family.
- At various times in history, the White House has been known as the "President's Palace," the "President's House," and the "Executive Mansion." President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White House its current name in 1901.
- The White House receives approximately 6,000 visitors a day.
- With five full-time chefs, the White House kitchen is able to serve dinner to as many as 140 guests and hors d'oeuvres to more than 1,000.
- The White House requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its outside surface.
- For recreation, the White House has a variety of facilities available to its residents, including a tennis court, a jogging track, a swimming pool, a movie theater, a billiard room, and a bowling lane.
Did You Know?
The White House was the biggest house in the United States until the Civil War.