For more than 200 years, the White House has been more than just the home of the Presidents and their families. Throughout the world, it is recognized as the symbol of the President, of the President's administration, and of the United States. Its location at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is often referred to as the most famous address in the country.
In 1791, President George Washington and Pierre L’Enfant, an architect who helped plan the layout of Washington, D.C., chose the site of the "President’s House." (It would later be known as "President's Palace" and the "Executive Mansion," before President Theodore Roosevelt christened it the White House in 1901.) In a contest to choose the architect, Irish-born James Hoban beat out eight other proposals with his practical and handsome design, and the first cornerstone was laid in 1792.
Though President Washington oversaw the construction of the house, he never lived in it. It was not until 1800, when the White House was nearly completed, that its first residents, President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, moved in.
...But the original building didn't last long. During the war of 1812, British forces set fire to the White House, destroying all but the exterior walls. It was rebuilt in 1817, and the new building has persisted through many revisions and crises, including another fire in 1929. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned a major expansion, including a new area for his staff to use as office space -- now known as the West Wing. Half a century later the White House underwent another extensive renovation, requiring Harry S. Truman to spend much of his second term living next door while the interior of the house was completely gutted.
After several rounds of renovation and expansion, the White House is quite large. It contains 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators. 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 a thousand. The building requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its outside surface.
In its 200 years, the White House has been home to a lot of history. President James Madison signed the nation's first declaration of war in the Green Room in 1812. The bodies of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy both lay in state in the East Room. And countless heads of state have been received in the Blue Room.
In addition to all the hard work, many presidents also left a lighter touch on the White House. Dwight Eisenhower installed a putting green, Richard Nixon installed a bowling alley, and Bill Clinton installed a jogging track.
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
The White House is the only private residence of a head of state that is open to the public, free of charge. Thomas Jefferson held the first Inaugural open house in 1805, and he welcomed visitors to annual receptions on New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July. In 1829, a horde of 20,000 Inaugural callers forced President Andrew Jackson to flee to the safety of a hotel while, on the lawn, aides filled washtubs with orange juice and whiskey to lure the mob out of the mud-tracked White House.
Inaugural crowds continued to attend receptions at the White House through much of the 19th century. But when Grover Cleveland was first sworn in as President in 1885, he held a presidential review of the troops from a flag-draped grandstand built in front of the White House -- an event that evolved into the official Inaugural parade we know today. Receptions on New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July continued to be held until the early 1930s.
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