Building and Refurbishing the White House

Repainting the White House, 1981
Courtesy of National Park Service

John and Abigail Adams moved into a partially completed White House in late 1800. Construction started eight years earlier, based on James Hoban's design in an architectural competition. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson influenced the building's final look.

The two-story house was one of the nation's largest. East and west wings and other additions came later. Initially referred to as the President's House, it was called the Executive Mansion when rebuilt after the British burned it in the War of 1812. However, the name White House became popular with the general public and in 1902 Theodore Roosevelt made it official.

President George Washington inspecting the unfinished White House with architect James Hoban, in a photolithograph based on a 20th-century painting by N. C. Wyeth.
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution
Charred timber found during the Truman administration's 1948-52 renovation of the White House. The timber is believed to have survived from 1814, when the British burned the building during James Madison's presidency.
Souvenir pieces from White House renovation
Some materials removed during the Truman-era White House renovation were made available to the public as kits from which mementos could be made. This plaque is constructed of pieces from kit no. 5.

In 1952, upon completion of the renovations, Harry Truman was presented with the master key to the White House. The accompanying inscription read:

To Harry S. Truman
President of the United States of America
This key to the White House is presented by the Yale & Towne Manufacturing Company

In a free society, the key to a man's house symbolizes his and his family's rights to those privacies and freedoms which are the heart and sinews of the American way of life.

This key and the locks it operates are products of the skills and ingenuity of American men and women living and working safe in their liberties.

With God's help, may it ever be so!
April 23, 1952