The office of President of the United States is often called the most powerful position in the world. Whether you believe that or not, it cannot be argued that it is an extremely important office. One of the perks of the pressure-packed position of President is that the holder of that title gets to live in the stately mansion known as the White House. Of course, a downside is that there are tours traipsing through your house and an innumerable number of sightseers taking photos on your front sidewalk.
The White House itself has a long history, with its cornerstone having been laid on October 13, 1792. Located in the figurative – and just about the literal – center of Washington, the iconic mansion faces the Washington Monument in the center of the National Mall. The structure is made from sandstone with a lime-based whitewash covering it that eventually led to its name. It was in the year 1800 when the first executive inhabitants moved in – President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams.
Expansion began rather quickly after President Jefferson moved in, only a few months after the Adams family moved out. Jefferson added single-story wings for storage and greatly improved the landscaping. All was for naught, however, as in 1814 the British burned the White House into little more than a shell during the War of 1812. James Hoban, the original architect, was enlisted with rebuilding the President’s House – he completed the project in less than three years, despite the original taking eight.
Adding onto or redecorating the White House became a right of passage for many Presidents. Features that became necessities such as running water and electricity were naturally added, but porticos, libraries, gardens, and Tiffany glass were also all introduced to the mansion over time. The most drastic changes came in 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt – in addition to officially establishing the name “White House” – oversaw a complete renovation expanding the wings into offices and extra living spaces that are still there today.
In the early 1950’s, the foundation and structural supports were updated to catch up to the massive strain the additions were placing on them. Since their completion in 1952, there have been no major architectural or design changes, although each President and First Lady still like a little redecoration now and again.
There are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 147 windows, and 28 fireplaces in the mansion that serves as a constant symbol of the office of the President of the United States of America. There are few buildings that combine opulence, power, history, and relevance quite like the White House.
Tours are available for the White House although they are self-guided tours. It is akin to walking through a museum – there are no guides, merely guards in each room that are willing to answer questions (and to make sure you don’t do something you’re not supposed to). As you might expect, most of the White House is off limits, with only a selection of public rooms open to touring. That said, it is an interesting experience and one that everyone should attempt to have.
Getting a tour of the White House, however, is the single most difficult reservation to obtain in Washington. Tickets have to be requested from your member of Congress (or embassy for non-U.S. residents) and whether or not you are selected is based largely on the number of tickets that congressional office has and their responsiveness. You are allowed to make a request for tickets six months in advance and all requests must be made at least 3 weeks ahead of your visit. While we can sadly not guarantee a White House tour, here are the steps that give you the best chance:
If you do participate in a tour, limit what you bring with you. Compact cameras with a lens no longer than 3 inches and cell phones are allowed, but for still photography only. Video recording, live streaming, talking on the phone, or texting while inside the White House is not allowed. No bags, strollers, or food are permitted and there are no storage facilities, meaning that you either have to abandon your tour or throw out the offending object. If you’re in doubt about whether something will be allowed, don’t bring it.
Another important note is that there are no restrooms available for public use in the White House – despite having 35 of them. So make sure you use the ones in the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion just south of the White House before you go in.