Whether you’re from America or not, chances are you know a thing or two about the White House. It’s big, it’s white, and it’s the home of the President of the United States. What else is there? As it turns out, a 200-year-old house that’s seen some of history’s most powerful figures walk through its doors may hold more secrets than you think.
These 17 White House secrets are so hush-hush that most past presidents don’t even know them. While some of these facts are undeniably cool, there are others that are downright terrifying…
1. Though it may be hard to believe, the name “White House” wasn’t used to refer to the presidential residence until Theodore Roosevelt adopted the moniker in 1901. Before then, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was known as the “President’s Palace” and the “Executive Mansion”.
2. Described as a mini-mall by White House staff, the basement of the storied structure has become one of its liveliest floors. The former WWII bunker comes complete with a flower shop, chocolate shop, and even a dentist’s office!
3. The White House may appear to have stood the test of time, but the glossy mansion that sits on the grounds today isn’t the original. In retaliation for the destruction of several British buildings during the Battle of York in 1812, the British army set the White House ablaze in 1814 and nearly burnt it to the ground.
4. Life in the White House may seem luxurious, but living here is anything but a free ride. Not only does the President have to foot the bill for his stay in the home, but he’s also expected to pay out of pocket for many of the White House’s extravagant events.
5. Despite commissioning and supervising its construction, George Washington never actually lived in the White House. Washington’s term as president ended shortly before the house was completed, making John Adams the first resident of the executive mansion.
6. Like most old homes, the White House is reportedly haunted by a number of ghosts, including a soldier from the War of 1812 that’s been spotted wandering the halls of the East Wing. But there’s one ghost, in particular, that’s had a number of presidential guests shaking in their boots…
That’s right: ol’ honest Abe himself! On more than one occasion, guests staying in Lincoln’s bedroom reported seeing the ghost of the former president appear before them. In fact, Winston Churchill was once scared half to death after spotting Lincoln’s ghost as he stepped out of the bathtub.
Civil War Profiles / Style Weekly
7. After noticing that the press break room was without a coffee machine during a White House visit in 2004, Tom Hanks went ahead and ordered one himself. He did so again in 2010 and even purchased the press corps an espresso machine in 2017 to go with their coffee.
8. Another White House hassle is move-in day when the new president and former president are expected to move in and out at the same time. In fact, staffers have only 12 hours to swap out all the furniture and tidy up the place on inauguration day.
9. When electricity was first introduced to homes in 1891, many people were understandably skeptical about how safe electrical appliances really were. This included President Benjamin Harrison, who never touched a single light switch in the White House out of fear of being electrocuted.
Rob Walker / Flickr
10. While the White House may seem one-of-a-kind, it actually has a twin in Dublin, Ireland. James Hoban, who designed the presidential palace, was so inspired by the architecture of the Irish Parliament’s Leinster House that he incorporated many of its features when designing the White House. But that’s not all.
Surprisingly, the White House also has another twin near Bordeaux, France. The Château de Rastignac is an almost identical replica of the White House, and some suspect that Thomas Jefferson borrowed the concept from its designer, Mathurin Salat, during his time in France.
11. Most people don’t consider the White House to be a piece of real estate, but in reality, the presidential residence does have an established price tag. With 135 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 28 fireplaces, the 550,000-square-foot home is estimated to be worth a whopping $412 million.
12. In addition to presidents, the Oval Office has also seen a number of pets pass through its doors. Woodrow Wilson kept a herd of sheep on the grounds, and Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter owned a snake named Emily Spinach. Yet these pets pale in comparison to the ones kept by Calvin Coolidge…
National Geographic Kids
Coolidge kept a literal zoo of animals on the White House grounds, including bears, lion cubs, wallabies, and a 600-pound pygmy hippo. Oh, and his wife Grace also kept a pet raccoon named Rebecca.
National Geographic Kids
13. Every President is known to put their own personal touch on the executive mansion, but some of them may have gone a little overboard. Franklin Roosevelt built an indoor pool, Nixon put in a private bowling alley, and Lyndon Johnson installed a high-pressure shower strong enough to pin a man against the wall!
14. After firing architect and engineer Pierre L’Enfant, George Washington held a contest in order to solicit designs for the presidential estate. Little did he know that future president Thomas Jefferson — under the initials A.Z. — submitted a blueprint of his own in an effort to claim the $500 ($12,700 today) prize.
15. Sorry, Graceland: the White House is easily the most popular residence in America. Aside from corralling droves of camera-happy tourists, White House staffers field 65,000 letters, 3,500 phone calls, 100,000 emails, and 1,000 faxes a day.
White House Public Domain
16. When Michelle Obama claimed that the White House was built by slaves, she wasn’t lying. Not only do historic payroll documents show that enslaved workers were heavily used during the White House’s construction, but immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Scotland were also hired for the job.
17. The White House may not have always been known as such, but it was definitely always white, right? Wrong! Before 1818, workers simply refreshed the house’s lime-based whitewash every now and again, making it the “Kind-of-White House”.
Parks and Recreation
How many of these White House secrets did you already know?
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