Facts About The White House The Public Doesn't Know

According to The White House, the home boasts 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and six floors. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, and three elevators inside the home. Some presidents have loved living in the White House and enjoyed the gardens, while others have thought it felt like a prison. President Harry Truman actually built a balcony onto the White House during his renovations in the mid-20th century so that the house would feel like less of one (via J. Mark Powell).

Whether the first families loved living there or hated it, there is some unique history behind the famous White House. Of course, this is not surprising, considering the building has existed for more than 200 years in the nation's capital city. Throughout generations, the White House has been home to torrid affairs, tragic deaths, and even a badger named Josiah. It's burned down, hosted weddings, and even been home to ghost hauntings. Even so-called White House experts will be surprised by all the history here. Keep reading for some surprising White House features and facts.

George Washington never actually lived in the White House

You might think that every president has called the White House home, but that's not actually the case. America's first leader George Washington never had the opportunity to move into the residence because his precedent-setting second term in office ended before construction finished.

According to History, construction on the White House started in October of 1792, about five years before Washington left office. However, it wasn't until the year 1800 that the home was ready for people. By then, America's second president John Adams was in office. So, he and his wife Abigail were its first official residents. Although Washington never had the opportunity to live in the home, he still oversaw the construction, ensuring things were progressing on schedule. In fact, during this time of construction, George and his wife Martha didn't even live in Washington D.C. Instead, they lived in an executive residence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which served as a makeshift capital for the country until D.C. was ready (via U.S. History).

The White House was designed by an Irish Immigrant

Did you know that an Irishman designed the president's private residence? According to White House Historical Association, James Hoban is the man behind the building's success and was proud to be selected to work on the project. Unfortunately, we don't know as much about Hoban as we would like. A tragic house fire in the 1880s destroyed many documents from his life.

However, what we know about him is still fascinating and paints a captivating picture of early America. James was born in Ireland, where he learned about general carpentry. He built upon these skills and was soon creating and constructing buildings. After he immigrated to the United States, he became involved in the Roman Catholic community in Washington D.C. and eventually landed the opportunity to design the president's residence. In addition, Hoban also worked on other buildings in the city. He was the foreman of the Capitol Building's North Wing between 1798 and 1800.

The residence burned down in 1812

Tragedy struck Washington D.C. on August 24, 1814, when British troops set fire to the White House. According to History, the attack was part of the War of 1812. British soldiers retaliated against American soldiers for their attack on the city of York in Ontario, Canada, in June 1813. The damage done to the White House was extensive.

As the war between the newly independent USA and Britain raged, President James Madison and his team of advisors kept a close eye on the movements of the red-coat soldiers. On August 22, 1814, the president left the White House to convene with his generals in Maryland, but enemy troops were closing in fast. His wife Dolley Madison saw the enemy coming over a hill and knew she needed to work quickly. She saved a few essential documents and a painting and fled the home along with her servants to meet the president at a safe house in Maryland. When the British arrived, they raided the kitchen, had a full meal, and ransacked and robbed the White House. As no one was home, they set it on fire as they left.

It wasn't originally called the White House

It's hard to imagine famous buildings called by any other name. However, as crazy as it might sound, the White House didn't start as the White House. Instead, it was just called the executive residence by most Americans. According to WUSA9, there is more behind the story of the iconic name than the white-colored exterior. 

There is a famous rumor that after the War of 1812, workers covered the parts of the home scorched by the fire with white paint to cover the burn damage. While this story sounds cool, it's not actually true. Instead, the building was painted with a lime-based white finish from the get-go to help prevent damage from the elements and freezing temperatures during D.C.'s harsh winters. Afterward, the White House was simply a nickname that nearly everyone called the building until it was made official in 1901 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The building has a symbolic location

When planning a city, buildings don't just pop up randomly. Instead, their locations are strategic. The White House's location is no exception. The building site links the Capitol Building to the president's residence. According to the White House Historical Association, Congress passed The Residence Act of 1790, which gave George Washington the task of selecting the location of the nation's new capital city.

This act was only passed after much debate between members of Congress from the northern and southern parts of the new nation, as they could not agree on a spot for the capital that would benefit everyone. When Washington made his selection and enacted the creation of the District of Columbia, he wanted to make sure that the president's residence was accessible to and visible from the Capitol Building. The two are together on Pennsylvania Avenue. This placement was a suggestion from city planner Pierre L'Enfant (via Old Town Trolley Tours).

The White House Press Room used to be a swimming pool

When you watch a press briefing at the White House, know that all the reporters should be underwater because there's actually a pool underneath them. According to Town & Country, Richard Nixon got rid of the in-house White House pool in 1969 because television was growing as news media, and he felt like there needed to be space for the press inside the building. So, Nixon had a team seal off the pool to build the James C. Brady Press Briefing Room in its place.

However, his successor, President Gerald Ford, nearly undid all of this work because he loved swimming and wanted to be able to do it in the building. The original swimming pool design was for President Franklin Roosevelt. He had polio as a child, and the physical repercussions of the disease meant that swimming was one of the only physical activities he was able to enjoy. The pool's construction was actually a community-led effort and only took about three months from idea to completion. Roosevelt went on to swim in the pool almost every day of his presidency.

The White House cornerstone has been missing for centuries

It was stolen by some local masons ... we think. According to Ancestral Findings, President George Washington oversaw the ceremonial laying of the White House's cornerstone in 1792. A local chapter of the Masonic order performed the ceremony. Washington and most other founding fathers were also members of the Masons. However, the cornerstone went missing the next day and has been gone ever since.

The staff of the White House and outside parties have attempted to locate the stone with no luck. There was even an official investigation into the incident when President Harry Truman renovated the White House in the 1940s, but nothing turned up. Legend has it that after the dedication ceremony, all involved headed to the pub to drink and celebrate. Some say they drank so much they couldn't remember where it was, but others say they stole it as a trophy. Unfortunately, since it's never turned up even after much investigation, we will never know.

The White House has hosted 18 weddings

Due to its beautiful facade and extensive gardens, the White House might seem like a dream wedding venue. However, throughout its over 200-year history, a white house wedding has only been an option for 18 couples. Most were presidential family members, but there have been a few staff weddings. You really need to have connections in high places to secure the building as a venue.

According to the White House Historical Association, the first White House wedding occurred on March 29, 1812. This event took place during the Madison Administration. Lucy Payne Washington was the sister of First Lady Dolley Madison. She married Supreme Court Associate Justice Thomas Todd. 17 ceremonies have followed over the centuries, but four other weddings occurred off the property. These couples just used the White House as a reception space, including Jenna Bush, daughter of George W. Bush, for her 2008 wedding to Henry Hager.

Many believe that the White House is haunted

There have been multiple deaths and spooky encounters on the White House property. These reports have led many to believe the building is haunted. According to The Washington Post, even President Truman thought something suspicious was happening after a scary, late-night encounter where a phantom knocked on his door.

Another presidential believer in ghosts is none other than President Abraham Lincoln. Sadly, his son Willie died in the White House in 1862 at age 11. Although the diagnosis was unconfirmed, a modern investigation into his death indicates it was probably typhoid fever. Lincoln and his wife Mary reported seeing their son after his death. Other White House residents said they saw Lincoln walking with his son up and down the halls of the White House after his 1865 assassination. Believe it or not, important historical figures like Winston Churchill and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands both report having encountered the ghost of Lincoln, making the story seem more credible.

Each president is allowed to renovate the White House

Since the White House is a private residence, each president is allowed to change things up so that the first family feels more at home. Congress sets aside a budget to ensure the house is to the president's taste. According to Slate, the amount is roughly $100,000, and it's available at the start of each term. If the president serves two terms, they have a budget of $200,000 to renovate the White House.

Historically, the first lady oversees the redecoration of the White House. The top two floors of the building are the main living quarters. Each new family typically changes the paint colors and adds new furniture, paintings and photographs, and bedding. However, there are some specific White House home decor rules the first family is forced to follow. We admit it would be weird to start a new job and sleep in the same bed as your predecessor. We can't really blame them for wanting to redecorate the place.

The White House was completely rebuilt under the Truman Administration

Since construction finished on the White House in the early 1800s, the building has received constant maintenance. However, due to the technological and industrial progress made in the 19th and early 20th centuries, things fell apart by the 1940s. Many systems and structures throughout the house were in dire need of replacement. President Harry Truman took it upon himself to complete the job during his administration.

According to the Journal of Light Construction, Truman's renovation project started in 1948 and finished in 1952. The first order of business was to ensure the White House had structural integrity, as the Coolidge Administration had made several additions and expansions to the building that placed stress on load-bearing walls. The Hoover and Roosevelt Administrations had their hands busy with the international crises of the 1930s and '40s, so it was up to Truman to come in behind them and fix up the home after things had settled down in the world.

Almost 100 people work at the White House to keep it running

While the White House is only home to one first family, it requires almost 100 people to keep things running efficiently. There are house cleaners, chefs, and even florists on the White House staff. According to The New Yorker, the most challenging part of being a White House staffer is the festivities of Inauguration Day. An anonymous staff member said, "Imagine your house is being used for a TV show while you were moving, and no one could know you were moving," to describe the chaos of preparing for a new first family. The staff has just a few hours to transition after the previous family moves out.

Some members of the White House staff have served across multiple presidents. These team members are called lifers. Being a lifer is rare, as most staff changes every four to eight years with the arrival of a new president.

There is a secret bunker under the White House

Keeping the president safe is a full-time job. If things get too intense, the president and the rest of the first family retreat to a bunker under the White House's East Wing. According to Business Insider, it's officially known as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) and is used for emergencies to keep the president safe.

The bunker was built in the 1940s for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As bombs fell over Europe, no one could be sure that the same would not happen in the USA, especially after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The bunker is a fully functional operations center, so when things get bad, the president is still fully contactable and can govern the country (via NPR). Large steel, airtight doors guard the entrance to the bunker, preventing even bio-threats from getting inside. After 9/11, rumor has it that a second bunker was built under the White House's North Lawn. This time, there are very few details available to the public. Even the alleged construction is shrouded in secrecy and written off by the White House as simple maintenance work.

Dozens of pets have called the White House home

The White House is most famously home to the first family of the United States, but it's also housed quite a few animals over the years. Cats, dogs, birds, and even a raccoon have called the White House home. According to CBS News, only two former presidents did not bring a pet to the White House: James Polk and Donald Trump.

Barack and Michelle Obama famously adopted a Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, as a gift to his daughters Sasha and Malia after winning the presidency in 2008. President George H. W. Bush had an English Springer Spaniel named Millie, who went on to have puppies in the White House. One puppy, Spot, lived at the White House with President George W. Bush just a few years later. However, apart from the parade of dogs and cats, there have been a few other unique furry friends. For example, President Calvin Coolidge and first lady Grace Coolidge had a pet raccoon named Rebecca. Teddy Roosevelt's son, Archie, had a badger named Josiah. Unfortunately, both Rebecca and Josiah were not cut out for White House life and were eventually donated to local zoos.