History Of The White House: Facts And Trivia You Didn't Know About The Building

By | November 2, 2020

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A view of the south facade of the White House in Washington. (Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)

When Was The White House Built?

George Washington recognized the need for a presidential home and even selected the site for the White House in 1791, but he never lived in it. Construction of the building began in 1792 with the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone, but eight years later, when President John Adams was elected, the house was still unfinished. Adams and his wife, Abigail, moved in anyway, becoming the first residents in White House history, and the work continued around them until construction on the White House was finished later in 1800. It's a truly impressive building: With six floors spanning a total of 55,000 square feet, it houses 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators, and 412 doors. No wonder it took so long to build.

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Grace Coolidge with Rebecca the Raccoon. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Who Lives In The White House?

In addition to the president and their family, an assortment of animals—some of them rather exotic—have called the White House home over the years. Early on, farm animals were kept on the White House property, as they were on many homesteads in the 19th century. President Woodrow Wilson famously owned a herd of sheep that kept the grass neatly trimmed. On the less practical side, John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator, Calvin Coolidge had a pet raccoon, and Martin Van Buren owned two tiger cubs, a gift from the Sultan of Oman.

Perhaps one of the strangest things to occupy space in the White House was a two-ton block of cheese. A gift from Andrew Jackson's admirers in the dairy industry of rural New York, the enormous block of cheese went on a short East Coast tour before arriving at the White House. Jackson kept the huge block of cheese on display in the White House for a year before flinging open the doors and inviting the whole city over for a cheese party. Guests ate their fill and even cut out small blocks of cheese to take home with them, and by the end of the evening, only a small slice of cheese remained.