While up to 100,000 visitors tour the White House each year, what goes on behind closed doors is still a mystery, even to the most impassioned amateur historians. The massive presidential manse is a treasure trove of political history, ghostly sightings, and entire floors of services visitors will likely never see. The house even has a body count.
So, the next time you’re eager to regale your friends with your political knowledge, put these amazing facts you never knew about the White House to good use. And when you want a few good quotes to accompany those stories, pepper them with The 25 All-Time Greatest One-Liners by Politicians.
The White House’s Architect Wasn’t American
The White House was designed by James Hoban, an Irish architect who began his stateside career in Philadelphia in 1785.
It Didn’t Always Have an Official Name
The White House got its official name in 1901, courtesy of Teddy Roosevelt. Prior to that, it was regularly referred to as the Executive Mansion, the President’s Mansion, or simply the President’s House. Think you know all there is to know about United States? The 28 Most Enduring Myths in American History might just prove you wrong.
John Adams Was the First President to Live in It
While the White House was under construction during George Washington’s presidential term, he never lived there. In fact, Washington is, to date, the only president who didn’t call the White House home. And for more great history lessons, check out the 20 Crazy Facts You Never Knew About One Dollar Bills.
The White House Has Been Home to Several Deaths
Presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor both died in the White House. Three First Ladies—Letitia Tyler, Caroline Harrison, and Ellen Wilson—passed away there, too. To date, a total of 10 people have died within the White House walls.
And There’s Supposedly a Ghost Still Living in It
Rumor has it that Abraham Lincoln’s ghost still haunts the White House. In fact, there have been reported sightings of our sixteenth President’s specter in the White House since 1903. And for more truth bombs, here are the 20 Crazy Facts That Will Blow Your Mind.
There’s a Hidden Pool Beneath the Press Room
While the White House still has an exterior pool, its interior pool is now hidden beneath the floors. The indoor pool, which opened in 1933 for use by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is underneath the current James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.
The White House Didn’t Have Electricity for Nearly a Century
The White House was entirely lit by gas lights until 1891, when electricity was first installed.
The Oval Office Was Inspired by George Washington
While George Washington never lived in the White House and was long dead before the Oval Office was first used in 1909, Washington was an inspiration for the room’s unusual shape. Washington reportedly insisted upon having rounded walls in his Philadelphia home so that it would be suitable for hosting formal gatherings, or levees. This design was followed when the Oval Office was constructed, although such formal receptions are no longer hosted in the space. And for more great history lessons, here are the 20 Lesser-Known Civil Rights Figures You Need to Know About.
It Didn’t Have Indoor Plumbing For Decades
While John Adams moved into the White House in 1800, it wasn’t until 1833 that indoor plumbing was installed. However, it wasn’t until 1853 that all of its bathrooms had hot and cold water run to them.
It’s Been Set on Fire
The British Army set the White House on fire in 1814, causing extensive damage to the exterior and ruining much of its interior, as well.
It’s a Popular Wedding Spot
While it’s unlikely that you can host your own nuptials there, there have been a number of weddings at the White House since it was first built. In fact, eighteen couples have gotten married at the White House, the most recent of whom tied the knot in 2013.
Presidents Can Get Their Teeth On-Site
If the president loses a crown, he won’t have to go far to get it replaced. In fact, there’s a dentist’s office in the basement of the building.
There’s a White House Double in Ireland
Leinster House, a ducal palace in Dublin, was the inspiration for Irish-born architect James Hoban’s White House design. And when you want to check out an eerie double of your favorite politician, feast your eyes on the 30 Worst Madame Tussauds Celebrity Wax Figures Ever!
It’s Bigger Than it Looks
While the White House’s size puts most mansions to shame. The house itself is 55,000 square feet and has 132 total rooms. And for more crazy real estate, check out the 10 Most Expensive Airbnb Rentals in the U.S.
It Was One of the First Wheelchair Accessible Government Buildings
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s limited mobility meant that the house had to be outfitted with elevators and ramps. These additions made it one of the first wheelchair-friendly buildings in Washington.
There’s a Bowling Alley in the Basement
The White House is the perfect place to practice your strikes. The first bowling lanes were built in the White House in 1947, and in 1969, a new bowling alley was installed by President Nixon.
The Building Wasn’t Always Structurally Sound
The White House was no exception to the structural issues that tend to plague older properties. In 1948, the White House’s load-bearing walls were found to be structurally unsound and had to be rebuilt to keep the house from caving in.
The West Wing Wasn’t Meant to Be Permanent
While the West Wing is among the most recognizable parts of the White House, it wasn’t meant to be used forever. In fact, it was created as temporary office space while the main building underwent construction in 1902, during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency.
It’s Quite the Task to Repaint
Sprucing up the outside of the White House takes more than just a trip to your local Home Depot. Covering the entire building takes 570 gallons of white paint.
Those Services the President Enjoys Aren’t Free
While you might assume that being the Commander-in-Chief means that everything at the White House is free, you’d be wrong. In fact, presidents and their families pay for meals, dry cleaning, hair and makeup, and staffers for parties. And when you want to keep more of your own paycheck, start with the 52 Ways to Be Smarter with Money in 2018.
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