see it clearly

White House History

White House history is rich and detailed. It is much more the residence of the President of the United States; it stands as a symbol of the country and appears on several denominations of American currency.

Beginning White House History

Rooms of the White House

George Washington knew he wanted a beautiful capital building for his fledgling nation, and in 1790 he conducted a competition to find an architect who could design a handsome, stately house, worthy of the republic for which it would stand. Irish-born architect James Hoban won the honor.

What most people don’t know is that President Washington never actually lived in the house, as construction was not completed until after his death in 1799. Completed in 1800, the White House’s first official residents were President and First Lady John and Abigail Adams.

More Than One Oval Office?

While the Oval Office is known as the Official Office of President, it is not the only oval room in the White House. There are several elliptical rooms, including the Blue Room and the Yellow Oval Room. There were three oval rooms in James Hoban’s original design, though the first official Oval Office was not built until 1909 as part of an expansion of the West Wing. This office was damaged in a fire in 1929, after which it was rebuilt in the same location by President Herbert Hoover.

During President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, the president commissioned a redesign of the entire West Wing, moving the Oval Office closer to the White House’s residential quarters. The modern Oval Office was designed by Eric Gugler. Gugler’s inspiration for the layout came from the original Blue Room.

White [House] Weddings

To date, seventeen weddings have been performed at the White House. All of these lucky couples were family or close friends of the administration, and one wedding was for the president himself: in 1886, President Grover Cleveland married Ms. Frances Folsom in the Blue Room. The most recent wedding was in May 1994, when Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brother, Anthony Rodham, married Nicole Baxter.

Fires and White House History

The White House survived several catastrophes, some of which threatened the permanent structure of the great building. The British attempted to burn it down during the War of 1812, in an event that was later called “The Burning of Washington.” The entire interior of the house was destroyed, with only the outer walls remaining, many of which had to be reconstructed due to structural weakening. Scorch marks from this incident are still visible in some parts of the White House.

During this fire, many artifacts were looted and destroyed by the British. In 1939 a jewelry box was returned to President Franklin D. Roosevelt by an old man who claimed that his grandfather had stolen it during the 1812 pillaging, and legend has it that First Lady Dolley Madison stole away with Gilbert Stuart’s painting of George Washington moments before the soldiers attacked.

A few more intriguing White House fires:

  • On Christmas Eve in 1929, the West Wing was nearly destroyed during another White House blaze. President Herbert Hoover was president at the time and had to oversee the removal of classified documents from the Oval Office.
  • In 1994 a small plane crashed just twenty feet away from President Clinton’s bedroom, in what seemed to be an suicide attempt on the president’s life. Fortunately the first family was sleeping across the street at Blair House while repairs were being made to the White House ventilation system.
  • In 1995 a tour bus completely burst into flames close enough to the White House to peel the paint on the exterior of Blair House, the presidential guest quarters.
  • In 2004 an FBI informant set himself on fire in front of the White House to express his unhappiness at how the FBI had treated his case.

By Stephanie Stiavetti