Top 5 Fascinating White House Facts

Written by Sean Harris

Maybe knowing some of these facts will make Donald Trump feel better about having to move out of his golden tower and slum it in a six-storey mansion. The White House has quite the history! Did you know that Obama, Clinton, and all the other presidents to live there actually have to pay for all the services they receive? Or that the house had a bowling alley, a pool, and a music room? Or that the building has These fascinating facts and more on this episode of Top 5 Facts!

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Written by Sean Harris

Top 5 White House Facts


To paraphrase president Truman, when it comes to White House trivia, the buck stops here. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Facts. In today’s installment, we’re counting down the top 5 facts about the White House.

#5: Amenities at the White House Change to Suit the Occupants

As presidents come and go, the White House is constantly changing to suit its high-profile tenants – many of whom have left their mark. Richard Nixon famously built a bowling alley in the basement after Harry Truman’s was removed; Barack Obama adapted the tennis court so it could be used for basketball too; Hillary Clinton created a music room for Bill during his time in office, and Bill also found time to have a 7-seat hot tub installed on the grounds. Disabled access was added for Franklin D. Roosevelt, as was an indoor pool that later became a favorite spot of John F. Kennedy’s. There’s also a movie theatre, running track and game room – complete with pool table! – concealed somewhere within the 132-room, 6-floor mansion. In today’s kitchen, 5 full-time chefs can serve appetizers to up to 1,000 guests at any given moment and, thanks to President Obama, the White House also serves Chemex coffee and its own craft beer. But the food hasn’t always been so highly rated, especially during FDR’s tenure when Eleanor Roosevelt instructed that menus reflect austerity during the Great Depression. Their tastelessness is now legendary, though President Roosevelt himself rarely complained.

#4: Slaves Helped Build the White House

Construction of the White House, known then as the President’s Palace, began in 1792. In 1800, John Adams became the first president to move in, although the Executive Mansion was not fully completed at the time. While designers and tradesmen from all over the world were invited to work on the build, including Irishman James Hoban who was the project’s chief architect, a large part of the workforce did consist of African-Americans – both freed and slaves. The government hired slaves from their masters, including at least four from Hoban himself, to work on all aspects of the property and on other government buildings in Washington, including the Capitol. What’s more, according to the White House Historical Association, seven U.S. Presidents owned slaves during their tenure – Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Tyler, Polk and Taylor – while it’s also believed that George Washington, who died before construction was complete, kept hundreds of enslaved people. The history of prejudice in the White House was furthered even more when “The Birth of a Nation,” a KKK-inspired movie, was chosen to be one of the first films shown in the President’s house during Woodrow Wilson’s tenure in 1915.

#3: Living in the White House Is NOT a Free Ride

Sitting at the top of American politics isn’t necessarily cheap. At the end of every month in office, the first family is presented with an itemized bill for food and incidental expenses. While the government does cover the cost of state functions and banquets, the president pays for private parties plus daily necessities like dry cleaning and toothpaste – although you don’t have to pay rent at the White House, so that’s a bonus. The billing system is said to have initially shocked some first families, and not just because of the high-priced food, while Ronald Reagan reportedly joked that living in the White House felt like staying at an 8-star hotel. White House families aren’t without their money problems either; James Monroe found himself in debt upon leaving his post as president, and Hillary Clinton claims that she and Bill were ‘dead broke’ when the latter finished his term. Of course, there are some very considerable presidential perks, however, and some higher estimates suggest that the Commander in Chief costs the taxpayers over $1 billion a year, with much of that fortune spent on travel and top notch security.

#2: The White House Was Almost Entirely Burned to the Ground

In 1814, during the War of 1812, British forces laid waste to the White House and set it on fire. In what became known as the Burning of Washington, the Presidential Mansion was almost entirely gutted. While then-president James Madison had fled the city, popular legend says that First Lady Dolley Madison saved a priceless portrait of George Washington just before the British arrived – although the rescue of the painting has since been attributed to members of Madison’s staff too. Fire also raged at the president’s place on Christmas Eve 1929, when the attic above the West Wing caught fire while Herbert Hoover was hosting a party: Hoover ditched the festivities to supervise as crucial files and papers were removed from the Oval Office. There were no flames during Harry Truman’s term but the White House was deemed unliveable, prompting large-scale restructuring work and renovations, and forcing President Truman to conduct the majority of his duties from Blair House across the Avenue. Today, maintenance at the White House is ongoing but the risk of fire is said to be small. Ultra-sensitive detection systems are in place and the Secret Service are set to respond by calling the D.C. Fire Department whenever a sniff of smoke is found.

#1: The White House Has an Irish Twin

Although it’s one of the world’s most recognizable buildings, the White House isn’t exactly a one-off: its design has served as a major influence on building architecture across the world. There are TONS of copycats and replicas all over the planet: take the several multi-million dollar homes found in Virginia, the teeny version at Austria’s Minimundus miniature park or the almost brick-for-brick reproduction situated in Hangzhou, China. Actually, China’s home to many White House knockoffs – most of which feature the iconic columns and portico, but many of which vary the design somewhat. But before you go hating on those knockoffs… James Hoban’s White House blueprint may’ve been a variation on an existing design itself: Hoban is believed to have based his plans for the structure on Leinster House, the 18th century construction in Dublin, Ireland that now serves as the home of parliament. However, if ever you need to get hold of the President of the United States, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the only address you really need.

So, what do you think? What’s the coolest thing you know about the Commander in Chief’s crib? For more 6-storey Top 10s and 7-seat hot tub Top 5s, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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