The White House is recognized around the world as the symbol of the presidency. It is associated with countless occasions of state, has housed the president’s staff and visiting dignitaries, and has served from its earliest years as a place for the president to receive the public.
Officially named the Executive Mansion, the White House very quickly assumed its common name from the whitewash applied to its Aquia Creek sandstone walls; President Roosevelt adopted the name officially in 1902.
The design of the house, by Irish-born architect James Hoban, was selected in competition in 1792. The cornerstone was laid that same year, and the house was occupied in 1800, although construction continued until 1803. In addition to hired European laborers, enslaved and free African Americans constructed most of the main residence. After the fire of 1814, set by British troops during the War of 1812, the gutted house was reconstructed from 1815 to 1818 under Hoban’s supervision. He also supervised construction of the south portico in 1824 and the north portico in 1829, based on designs prepared in 1807 by Benjamin Latrobe.
The house has been repeatedly remodeled and expanded, most significantly by architects McKim, Mead & White, who added the East and West Wings in 1902. In 1909, architect Nathan C. Wyeth expanded the West Wing, adding the first Oval Office. Further rebuilding efforts culminated in a complete reconstruction of the interiors and internal structure of the house between 1948 and 1952. The south portico balcony was added at that time.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)
Exempt from National Register listing (per Section 107 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966)
National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960
This site is included on the Capital City Slavery Tour due to its construction by enslaved laborers. In similar fashion to the U.S. Capitol Building, enslaved workers were employed in a variety of roles in the building’s construction, from acquiring materials in difficult and dangerous conditions (sawing/felling trees and quarrying stone) to the physical assembling of the structure. In the developing capital city, enslaved laborers were often brought into the city from the slaveholding states of Virginia and Maryland through the “hiring out” system, whereby slaveholders would “rent” their enslaved property to white overseers for various labor and projects.
Both male and female slaveholders participated in this system of “hiring out” that took place at the White House. Various politicians and landholders in Washington City are recorded in this system; many of Washington’s original proprietors were paid by the federal government for the labors of enslaved individuals under their legal ownership.
For further information on the role of enslaved laborers in the development of Washington, D.C. please view the sources below or explore DC Preservation League's Capital City Slavery Digital Exhibit.