The White House is arguably one of the most famous buildings in the world. In recent years, it's been home to Barack and Michelle Obama, Melania and Donald Trump and now the newly sworn in 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden and his wife, Dr Jill Biden – but there's a lot more to it than that.
Not only is it the historic landmark where every serving President has lived and worked since 1800, but its rich backstory is fascinating. The mansion features an array of on-site services, shops and err, ghosts, apparently, and it's been burnt down and rebuilt, originally had an entirely different name and so much more.
Here, in honour of the transition of power that sees Trump's controversial four years come to an end, we took a little deep dive into the White House's archives... and it makes for some excellent pub quiz trivia!
1) The White House originally had a different name
Admittedly it's a much less catchy one, but prior to 1901 it was known as the "Executive Mansion". The change came about after Teddy Roosevelt (the 26th President) pointed out that state governors also had executive mansions and decided that his needed a more stand-out moniker. The term 'White House' was already in use by that point (due to the house being... white), but not in an official capacity.
2) Staff have five hours to move the new president in
Michael S. Smith, the Obama's go-to designer, revealed in his book, Designing History: The Extraordinary Art & Style of the Obama White House, that moving day is beyond hectic. He and his team weren't allowed to enter the White House until 11am on inauguration day, after which they had until 3.30pm to get everything in order. Yikes!
3) It's big... like, really big
Ready for some large and in charge numbers, folks? The White House Residence is reportedly spread across a casual six floors, featuring 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay, so that last one is unconfirmed, but we could see it being true. 👀
4) The President still has to pay for all their meals
Yeah! You'd think that'd come as part of the whole 'being the President' package, but alas not. Although they make a six-figure salary and don't have to pay rent, past presidents have still finished their service in debt (it's reported Bill Clinton's totalled between $2.28m and $10.6m).
5) Jackie Kennedy spent two years re-vamping the White House
After moving in January 1961, the former First Lady set about a major restoration project. She introduced cocktail evenings, set up a stage for performances and ushered in antique furniture, saying at the time, "Everything in the White House must have a reason for being there. It would be sacrilege merely to redecorate it – a word I hate. It must be restored, and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship." Kennedy later gave a televised tour of the White House that drew in 80 million viewers and bolstered her reputation as a cultural genius.
6) It was partially built by slaves
A fact that Michelle Obama said made her uncomfortable during her time living there. Back in 2016 during the Democratic National Convention, Michelle told the crowd during an impassioned speech, "That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude... segregation, but who kept on striving, hoping and doing what needed to be done. [They did] so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, Black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn."
7) Ten people have died in the White House
Including two Presidents, three First Ladies and Abraham Lincoln's eleven-year-old son, Willie, who succumbed to typhoid in 1862. The most recently recorded death is that of Margaret Wallace, First Lady Bess Truman's mother, who passed away 5 December 1952.
8) The British burned it down in 1814
Yeah, sorry about that one, guys. The arson took place during the aptly named Burning of Washington invasion (a retaliation to Americans destroying Port Dover in Upper Canada), but a day in to the attack, a heavy storm hit and extinguished the blaze. It wasn't long before the White House was restored to its former glory either – reparations were completed in three years.
9) It has its own bowling alley
Well, with 132 rooms to play with, why wouldn't it tbf? There's also a gym, a cinema theatre, a music room (that Hilary Clinton created so that her husband Bill could practice playing saxophone), a florist, a dentist's office, a chocolate shop (think: desserts day or night) and 'the China Room', which - as the name suggests - houses a bunch of fancy plates, vases etc.
10) A famous ghost is said to live there
Although he didn't die in the White House, there have been multiple reports over the years claiming that guests, staff and Presidential families have all been spooked by Abraham Lincoln's ghost. Some of the strange goings-on include hearing footsteps, dogs barking for no reason and hearing knocks on the door of the Lincoln Bedroom.
11) Former residents have compared it to a prison
During a chat with her close friend, poet Elizabeth Alexander, Michelle Obama said she wasn't even allowed to open a window herself. "When you live eight years in the White House, and you can’t even open a window, you can’t walk out on your balcony without notifying three people... Your walk outside is the same over and over again, because the thought of you leaving those gates requires 50 people’s attention, and work and convenience."
Michelle isn't the only one who's aired frustrations about the lack of privacy and freedom that comes with living in the White House either. President Truman once referred to it as a "glamorous prison" and a "great white jail".
12) It almost collapsed in 1948
Following on from the war and Great Depression, necessary maintenance on the White House hadn't been carried out. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved in in 1945, it's said that floorboards moved underfoot, causing chandeliers below to shake and that in January 1948, an investigation predicted the "imminent collapse" of the Second Floor of the mansion. Thankfully works were carried out before that happened and nobody was hurt.
13) Staff have played some costly pranks
Ahead of George W. Bush entering the White House in 2001, Clinton staffers are said to have removed the 'W' key from multiple computer keyboards and then stuck the rogue buttons around the White House. It's also reported that they left glue on the undersides of desks and stole antique doorknobs, resulting in $15,000 worth of damage.
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