The White House, one of the most recognizable buildings in Washington, DC, was
designed by James Hoban, an Irish-born and-trained architect who won a competition organized
by President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in 1792. The
competitions were held to determine who would design the nation's two most important
buildings, the President's House and the Capitol. It is believed that Jefferson, competing under a
pseudonym, submitted designs and lost both competitions.
Hoban's inspiration for the house was drawn from an Anglo-Irish villa called the Leinster
House in Dublin. Although President Washington oversaw construction, he never lived in the
house. President John Adams, elected in 1796 as the second President, was the first resident of the
White House. Abigail Adams, President Adams' wife, was known to have complained about the
largely unfinished new residence. President Thomas Jefferson, upon moving to the house in 1801,
was also not impressed, and dismissed the house as being too big. Jefferson made several
structural changes under architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe such as the addition of terrace-pavilions on either side of the main building and single-story wings for storage. In addition to
replacing the slate roof with one of sheet iron, Jefferson further improved the grounds by
landscaping them in a picturesque manner.
While James Madison was President from 1809 to 1817, the White House was torched
by the British in the War of 1812. Although the fire was put out by a summer thunderstorm, all
that remained were the outside, charred walls and the interior brick walls. Madison brought
Hoban back to restore the mansion, which took three years. It was during this construction that
the house was painted white. Hoban later added the South and North Porticos, using a slightly
altered design by Latrobe.
The White House
Photo courtesy of GSA
View of the "Avenue of the Presidents" (16th Street) and the White House, 1914.
From the collections of the Historical Society of Washington, DC
Expansion and further alterations were made when President
Theodore Roosevelt declared the house unsafe to inhabit. He had the original building
remodeled. By making the third-story attic into habitable rooms and adding the Executive Office
wing and the East Gallery, Roosevelt separated his work space from his family life. In 1909,
architect Nathan C. Wyeth extended the office wing adding the well-known oval office. Although
used informally for some time, it was President Theodore Roosevelt who gave the White House its official name.
Finally, the last major renovation took place when President Harry Truman decided that again the building was unsafe and had to be gutted. Steel replaced the original frame and paneling, and
a balcony was added to the South Portico.
The White House, an architectural symbol of the American presidency and the nation's
power, remains a stylistically simple residence and an example of the stolid republican ideals of the
White House is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW. Tours of the
White House are currently limited to parties of 10 or more people, requested
through one’s Member of Congress and will be accepted up to six months
in advance. These self-guided group tours will be scheduled approximately
one month before the requested date, from 7:30am to 11:30am Tuesday-Saturday, excluding Federal holidays.
For the most current tour information, please call the 24-hour line at 202-456-7041. The National Park Service operates the White House Visitor Center, located
at 15th and E Sts., NW, open daily from 7:30am until 4:00pm. Metro stop:
* The White House, U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Capitol, and related buildings and grounds are legally exempted from listing in the National Register of Historic Places, according to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.