Hashtag away my fellow Americans, because Michelle Obama has lifted the ban on photos inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and #WhiteHouseTour is so hot right now.
The White House has SO MUCH history, and it’s only fitting that it’s in my time traveling series.It is part museum, part ceremonial landmark, and has evolved right alongside American story. Though it is the home of the First Family, it nevertheless ultimately belongs to the American People.
A Brief History of the White House
After much debate of where the young nation’s capitol should be and where its leader should reside, President George Washington selected land on the Potomac river that was given by Maryland and Virginia to be the District of Columbia. Government was to operate on land “not exceeding ten miles square”, so careful planning was taken to change what was then farmland into the heart of the USA.
City planners mapped out roads and buildings for the district, and construction on the President’s home began in 1792. Irish American architect James Hoban designed the home, and the mansion housed its first President in 1800 when John Adams moved in. In August 1814 it was completely burned down during the War of 1812 by the British but was then rebuilt. The West Wing was added in 1901, followed by the East Wing in 1927. It has undergone countless renovations and construction phases, and each presidency has left a mark of some sort on the home.
There’s a really cool series about the American Presidents that The History Channel produced, and an ongoing graphic throughout it shows the chronological evolution of the White House as it was shaped and changed by different residing Presidents. I strongly recommend checking it out.
What’s in a name? Why is it white?
The exterior was first coated with lime-based whitewash that was meant to protect the porous sandstone from freezing and deteriorating during harsh winters. “The White House” then continued to be refreshed with white paint…and the nickname just kinda stuck. It became the official title in 1901 as decreed by President Theodore Roosevelt. (Fun Fact: painting the exterior takes 570 gallons of paint to complete!)
Planning Your Visit
Tours are self guided and requests must be submitted in advance to your Member of Congress. If you are from outside of the USA, you should contact your embassy in the District of Columbia to inquire about arranging a tour. Space is limited, visiting times can be found here, and all White House tours are FREE!
Cameras with removable lenses weren’t allowed in, but cell phones and simple point and shoot digital cameras were. Common sense should be good with what not to bring, but here’s a list. There’s no storage on site for items so I recommend bringing the absolute bare minimum. All you really need is your cell phone and ID.
As far as historic places go, The White House isn’t stuffed with antiques or gilded up like some of the other historic homes I’ve visited. There are portraits presidents and first ladies everywhere, and it was really cool to recognize them as you walked through. The French inspired Blue Room is where the only wedding of a President and First Lady getting married inside the home has been, and the Green Room was a personal favorite of President Kennedy. The parlors have evolved and been redecorated many times, and the Committee for the Preservation of the White House is dedicated to the mansion’s preservation and function as a museum.
The White House Historical Association has a great website with lots of information and photos of the mansion. Give it a look, read up on some history, and plan out your own visit!