It can be tricky to get a tour of the Whitehouse…but we were finally able to pull it off so that we can tell you all about it! The history, what we expected, and what we didn’t expect.
Visiting the Whitehouse: What you can see on the tour
Jenn: And really every president has touched it somehow, except.
Scott: Well, George Washington, he touched,
Jenn: but he picked the place. Oh, he picked the place? Yeah, he picked the location in 1791, George Washington picked the location of where it was going to be built.
Scott: actually didn’t realize that. Cause I, he was, I think one of the facts we saw was he was the, like the only president who hadn’t lived there. He’s only
Jenn: president who’s never lived there. But he knew where it was gonna be. Oh, okay. So it was him, it was like, I want 1600, not 1601. Yeah. And now I don’t want the 15 hundreds.
Scott: Yeah. I don’t want 1700 Ohio place. I want 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Jenn: Penn Avenue. Yeah, exactly.
[00:00:44] Visiting the Whitehouse
Scott: Welcome to Talk With History. I am your host Scott, here with my wife and historian Jen. Hello. On this podcast, we give you insights to our history inspired world travels YouTube channel journey, and examine history through deeper conversations with the curious, the explorers, and the history lovers out there.
Scott: Now, Jen, I’m just gonna cut right to the chase because the title of this episode will give it away. So let’s talk about the White House and you had tried to get a tour of the White House and it was very difficult and we finally had to like phone a friend. Yeah.
Jenn: It’s, it is very difficult to get a tour, they say it’s supposed to be relatively easy.
You email your congressman and it hasn’t been, we’ve tried this a couple times and it, yeah. And so finally I have a friend who is in DC right now going to school. Yep. And he had a connection. Yeah. And so he was able to get us a tour, all five of us. So us And it wasn’t some,
Scott: Any sort of inside tour.
No. It’s the tour that everybody, he’s basically able to just get us on the list so that everybody else does. Yeah. So we were very happy to do that. So let’s talk a little bit about the White House and then we’ll go into what we saw as we got through walkthrough, the Eastern wing of the White House.
[00:01:55] History of the Whitehouse
Jenn: So the White House is. The home of the President of the United States of America. That’s right. It is the oldest public building in the district of a Columbia, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Yep. They have to pick a cool state. But what it’s come to symbolize and it, it’s been definitely changed throughout the years, but what has come to symbolize for our country is very significant.
And really every president in America has had, has touched it somehow, except.
Scott: Well, George Washington, he touched,
Jenn: but he picked the place. Oh, he picked the place? Yeah, he picked the location in 1791, George Washington picked the location of where it was going to be built.
So he, and he’s there when they put the cornerstone there. So he picks the site 1791. And we talked about this. George Washington is very, Influential in the land around the DC area. Sure, of course. He’s this is a good location right here.
It’s a Virginian is a Virginian. Yeah, exactly. And so the cornerstone is laid by James Hoban. He’s the the architect. And it takes eight years to construct. And of course people have discussed this before, enslaved labor is used to construct the White House. Jeff John Adams and Abigail Adams will be the first president and first Lady to move into the White House.
That was 1800. Eight years after. So am Yeah. 1800. Exactly. Okay. November 1st, I think 1800. And and it’s seen changes throughout that time. So you’re gonna get the war of 1812. It’s burned in 1814. So the breaded, the only time that the city has been taken over by an enemy is when the British stormed DC and actually burned the White House.
And we all know the famous story of Dolly Madison and the Gilbert. Stewart Painting of George Washington, which was actually there when we toured. Yeah.
Scott: So for those of us who don’t remember that stuff now I do, because you’ve told me the story multiple times. But she actually was like saving a lot of the then historical stuff.
Yes. Trying out of the White House as it’s burning down around them.
Jenn: They, the British are advancing and they know they’re getting, they’re making their way to DC and they don’t know if they’re gonna be able to stop them, which, spoiler, they didn’t. So it was in advance.
Yeah. So she and her enslaved. Cuz I wanna make this very clear. It wasn’t Dolly Madison who’s pulling the painting off the wall. It was one of her enslaved men who actually pulled the painting off. It’s a huge painting. It’s a huge painting and I think they. Took it outta the frame and they rolled it up and he took it, threw it on the wagon and a bunch of other things.
China, a bunch of other stuff that was in the house, but that was one of the things they saved. Dolly Madison’s credited with it because she probably gave the order. Order should do it, but it wasn’t her herself who did it. But they saved all those things and the. White House is rebuilt. They bring in the same architect and they rebuilt it.
1817. It is ready to be moved back into again. And Monroe will be the president who moves back into the White House after it’s burned. Yeah. And then you get in 1901, you get a name change. That’s right. This was interesting. Yeah. So Teddy Roosevelt becomes president and starts, people have always joked and called it the White House and, but this time they actually are paint.
They painted white. The whole place takes 500 gallons of paint and he starts to call it the White House. Before that it’s called the Executive Mansion. President’s House. Yeah. President’s
Scott: Palace. Yeah. I, and that’s funny. That’s one of those things that I just never thought about. Yes. And then you mentioned it like, oh yeah, it was Teddy Roosevelt who first started calling the White House.
I was like, Huh? Yes. I never
Jenn: thought of that. And it’s put it on, it’s put on the stationary. Yeah. So it’s made like official. Oh, okay. That’s cool. And then in 1909 you get tapped, making the Oval Office. So something that we, what did the, where’d the president sit before? Probably had a square office.
Scott: Somewhere in the corner. With a good view, you
Jenn: know? I know, right? So the Oval Office is added by Taft, which is interesting since Taft is known for being the bigger president. That’s right. With the bathtub.
Scott: Is he the one that got stuck in the bathtub? That’s the
Jenn: story. Anyways, so the Oval Office kind of fits Truman renovated it in 1952.
He moved back in. But just, people always wanna hear some statistics. It has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms. It’s six different levels. 412 doors, 147 windows. 28 fireplaces, eight staircases and three elevators. That’s
Scott: crazy. Cuz and that’s a good segue for kind of us moving into, our tour of it starting on the, in the East Wing.
[00:06:24] Touring the East Wing
Scott: When we were walking through the East Wing, like it didn’t feel. As big as that, but I’m sure there’s when it’s multiple wings it’s easy to lose sight of
Jenn: that. Yes. We’re only east wing, right? There’s a huge west wing where all those people work.
Yeah, basically. And then there’s a whole I. Private residence. Yeah, that’s a good point. And so the private residence is I think three levels alone. Yeah. So you can imagine it’s just, it’s huge. And then there’s all, this places they don’t want you to know about. Oh sure. Absolutely.
Scott: It’s stuff that,
Jenn: so who knows if that’s actually even true. That’s a great point.
Scott: That’s probably maybe it’s not 132, maybe it’s 134.
Jenn: Like they’re actually gonna tell you I’m not gonna tell you. But it was so great to go there. You go through three levels of security.
We had to have the passports for the kids, dogs
Scott: sniffing around. Yeah.
Jenn: And all that stuff. But it was very neat. There’s a couple rooms you’re only allowed to look in one of them’s like the China room where they have examples. I was
Scott: a little disappointed by that. Yeah. I really wanted to be able to go into the rooms.
Yeah. Even me not being the history fan and you being the one that kind of really pressed to get this set up, like I, I wanted to be able to walk into the rooms, and I understand, right? You get, thousands or millions of people that are visiting the White House every single year.
I do understand that. So you can lean in, you can look into some of, the China rooms and one of the library
Jenn: s the ramil room. So the ramil room is that’s like a silver from the Gilded Age. What bothered me about not being able to look in the Ramiro room and the China room is those are where the, a lot of the paintings that the first ladies are.
So that’s the famous painting of Jacqueline Kennedy. Yeah. And you could see them. Across the hall, across the wall, across the room. They’re decent sized rooms, but Yeah, but you couldn’t, you could look in, you could peer in, but you couldn’t go in just, it was just three rooms. It was the voir room, the China room.
Oh, I think the library, like you said. And the diplomatic reception room. Yep. Those are the three. And they then they had A gift shop, it was like a Yelp
Scott: shop. Like in the middle of one of the hallways. In the middle of the hallway, which, of
Jenn: course it was very interesting.
Smart moves. It was like, okay, people are gonna spend money. And then we went upstairs and that’s when you got to go into all the rooms. Yep. And it was basically just Five rooms. You got the state dining room, the red room, the blue room, the green room, and the east room. But those are big rooms and not only are there big rooms, those are rooms that you recognize.
Yep. Because those are rooms that are used when the president goes live or he’s doing some event at the White House.
Scott: Yeah. That was one of the cool things. And you you don’t see it until a little bit later in the tour. But it’s actually like the spot where the. President’s like walking up to the dais.
And he’s doing like a big announcement to the public. Yes. Not the press room, but actually walking up to do some sort of,
Jenn: national announcement. Yeah. He does it like standing outside of the blue rooms and the green rooms. Like those are the doors behind him. Like he’s down that long hallway with those rooms off to the side of him, like they changed that podium around.
But if he’s doing it an event where he’s actually like giving someone the presidential award or. A medal of honor. He’s usually doing it in the east room. And that room is set up with a bunch of chairs and the podium. And that’s the room that has the Gilbert Stewart painting. Yep. And it’s roped off.
They don’t want you by the chairs and things like that, but you can tell it’s a big room, ready to receive people. And then on the other side of that room, between the green room, the blue room, and the red room is the state dining room. And in that room is the painting of. Abraham
Scott: Lincoln. That’s the one that had the big chandeliers and
Yes. It had Lincoln. Yep. With this hand, like that’s a famous Lincoln painting. Very famous picture. Yeah. But that was neat. And so there’s three rooms in between the Red Room used for receptions. It’s painted red, so it’s very easy. Yep. It’s a, been a favorite of the first ladies. John Adams used it as a breakfast room.
Rutherford b Hayes took the oath of office there. It’s decorated as a, a. American Empire Parlor of the 18 1810s to 1830. Was
Scott: that the room that had that really cool kind of nature painting That was really like a. Kind of conglomeration of multiple parts of America. I think that’s the green room. Was that the green room?
Yes. Because there was one, it was massive painting. Yes. And it, you almost thought that is that Yosemite? Is that the Rockies? And he said they made it up and he, that he had the artists actually made it up and he actually took a couple different places and put them together. But it was just this beautiful, yeah,
Jenn: it was painting.
It was beautiful. Because I, cause I even said, so they usually have a, an an aid. Call ’em a page or an aide in each room. Yep. And you can ask ’em questions. Yep. And they’re watching you too, to not touch anything because they have you kind of rope through these little walkways on either side of the room.
So you kinda have to pick a side. That’s right. And you walk down the side cuz you were on the opposite side of the
Scott: side of me. Yeah. I was herding the kids. And you were like taking your time.
Jenn: So between the red room and the green room is the blue room. And the blue room was often used by president to receive guests.
And I You’ve seen president Obama. I’ve seen a lot of pictures of Obama in the Blue Room, I think when he’s pretending to be attacked by the Spider-Man kid. He’s in
Scott: the blue room. Oh, I don’t re I don’t, I’ll have to look that one up. If I do a video version of this podcast, I’ll
Jenn: make sure I put that up.
It’s furnished to represent the period of James Monroe. Who purchased, he purchased the pieces in that room in 18, 14 and seven of the French chairs, and one of the sofas was bought by Monroe and the portraits there of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and the Hannibal clock on the mantel was inquired in 1817.
Scott: It was one of those things that like. You, we at, even for me, I almost felt rushed. Yes. Because there was so much, it was so saturated with just all this history. I was, it was beautiful. And you’re beautiful. You could stand there in one room for 30 minutes by itself. All right? And they were moving people along at a pretty steady pace.
Jenn: do. They don’t rush you. And they’re, you are allowed to take pictures. We took pictures in the east route and In the state dining room and in the East Room. But the Blue room, because it’s centered between the Red Room and the green room is where they put the White House, Christmas tree.
Oh, that’s where it goes? Yeah, it goes in the blue room. Oh, okay. So that’s cool. Yeah. And then the green room and this one served as Thomas Jefferson’s dining room. It reminded me of that cuz I’m on cello. Yeah. So it’s very interesting. It’s now furnished as a parlor. It’s used for receptions.
The walls are covered with a watered green silk. And and that’s in 1818. The state dining room was moved here. Oh wait the, I’m sorry. The mantle was purchased in 1818. The state dining room was moved here in 1902 before they built the other state dining room. So you can see it’s a smaller room to be a dining room, but those are the rooms you basically get to really walk through and see.
Now what’s interesting is, like I said, you have this big east room, you have this big dining room in between. Are these three colored rooms? Yeah. Blue room. Oh, Greg Red Room. Blue room, green room, then you have a hallway that kind of connects those two rooms. And in that hallway was one of the most famous paintings of a president than I had ever seen.
[00:13:30] Presidential Portraits
Scott: Let me just paint the picture, for, and there’s, that’s no pun intended here, but we’re walking through these things, we’re all roped off and this, that and the other.
We’re, you can feel we’re starting to get closer to the end. People are starting trying to take pictures over by where the presidential podium is the seal. The seal is, and things like that. And we walk into this hallway and. And literally I could have walked up and touched it if I had wanted to, was the painting of JFK where he has his arms crossed and he’s looking down, he looks like he’s thinking it.
It’s probably the, to me, one of the most famous presidential paintings that, that I can think of. Maybe cuz it’s just so much more distinct. Sure. I just, I didn’t know what to say. I was like, Jen, I could walk up and touch, people were taking selfies right in front of it. I did taking pictures. And this, I was so surprised. And then there was other pictures that were just as close, right? Yes. Ronald Reagan and just a whole bunch of ’em sitting right there. Yeah.
Jenn: They had Obama and I think. I think just Obama was on the outside before you left the White House, right?
And then, yeah, J John F. Kennedy was right there. I just couldn’t believe it too, because of, to me, one of the most famous, significant presidential paintings. That is one I really distinctly remember, so I could see them protecting the Stewart Gilbert, Washington. The Lincoln portrait is very famous as well.
That’s also protected across the room in the dining room. But the John of Kennedy to be there by itself. Even Jacqueline Kennedy’s you couldn’t even get to cuz it’s across the room
Scott: downstairs. I was, I, it almost made me think there’s, maybe this is just a rep. I know. I thought that too.
I thought the same thing. I was like, there’s no way that this, like my kids could have walked up to and touched him. Yes, it was. Absolutely incredible. To me, one of my favorite things, and I mentioned to this to you before we went live here was really just the paintings. I just enjoyed walking around seeing the paintings because I didn’t dive deep into any of the history of, ask the pages too many questions or anything like that.
I was watching the kids, but just seeing the paintings and being that close to them, and maybe that’s because for me, The one, the few things that, that I did grasp onto as I’m learning history growing up was the pictures. Yes. I’m, but you see all these pictures in your history books?
Jenn: Yes. Cuz every president will have a presidential portrait.
Yep. Done. It’s very significant. And they try to represent their time in office. Yeah. So sim as the first lady and so those are hung as decoration around the White House. And I think, to a degree, you’re allowed to choose when you become president. Where they get to hang. And especially in the Oval Office, I’ve seen, I’ve heard of presidents changing the portraits in the Oval Office.
Oh sure. I’m sure we do it what presidents every time they want represented in there. Yeah. What’s interesting about the dining room, it can seat 130 guests. And the painted in English oak panels dates back to the renovation in 1902 and carved into the fireplace mantle is a quotation from a letter by John Adams.
I pray he heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hear after inhabit it may none, but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof. That’s cool. Isn’t that cool? That’s really neat.
[00:16:43] Hosting Guests
Jenn: So the kitchen can prepare a dinner for 140, which is, for me, I think being the presidential family is cool, but having your own cook that can make these state dinners at all times.
Sure. That’s probably like the coolest thing to me, right? You can have your food sent up to you or anything you want made at any time, but so I think that’s what’s so significant between the East Wing and the West Wing is the East Wing is a very ceremonial side of the White House. Yeah. It’s a very diplomatic side.
This is what you’re gonna be
Scott: receiving. And that was one of the things with the tours too, is they can shut it down any time. That’s what they said. They can shut it down at the drop of a hat. Yep. They go, we got something going on, and they’re just gonna let the last people finish their tour and be like, Sorry guys.
You’re gonna have to try next time. Yep. You could have your tickets booked months in advance and you could have it canceled at the last second.
Jenn: Yes. And they only run tours a couple days a week during certain hours anyway. Yep. To work around that schedule. But one of the pages did say that, that they, anytime they can close it and use it for an ambassador, anybody
Scott: who has Yeah.
And then as we were Towards the end of the tour, we saw Obama’s portrait, which was towards the end we got to walk out and we walk out, like right front, the front door, every single picture or movie or news reel you’ve ever seen of them right there. It was stat was
Jenn: so cool.
So we took a lot of pictures of our family yeah. Right out
Scott: front. So we if you picture it in your head, if you were walking out of the White House and then we went off to the right. To
Jenn: the right. Yes. But it was then they let you take tons of pictures right there and they let you take selfies with your family and things.
But that was super cool to walk right off front of the White House. Yeah. And again, and then you walk off to the right. But to be standing there and to see just like the big. Chandelier that’s hung there with the chain because that’s
Scott: Yeah. That, that drive through.
Jenn: Yeah, pass that.
Yeah. That passes there. It was really neat. So to be there and to share it with the kids Yeah. For me was just a, a bucket list historian dream
Scott: come true. Yeah. And so for anybody listening, if you want ever wanna try to get tickets to do tours, the way to do that. Is to your state congressman your state senator will have a website. And I think that’s typically the way for the vast majority of folks to try and get tickets. Yes.
Jenn: That’s the best way to get tickets. And I guess if you, there’s usually a person who works for your congressman or senator who their job is to do the tours of the White House. Okay. And I talked to one to get the tour of the Capitol and he had said the tour of the White House are harder to get.
Yeah. But we got lucky this time. Yeah.
Scott: So if you’re curious, if you’re listening and you’re doing this in advance or you want to. Go to your state senators, congressmens, website, see if you can find a place to sign up on there. E exploring the rich history of the White House in person was the epitome of what we do on Walk With History from its construction to its role as the residents and workplace of US Presidents.
It stands as a symbol of American democracy. The White House has witnessed pivotal moments and offers a fascinating tour of the East Wing where you can immerse yourself in its remarkable rooms and take a stroll next to world famous portraits of our past president. And while we didn’t get to peek inside the iconic Oval Office, being a stones throw from it and walking in the footsteps of our nation’s leader was an absolute thrill.
And thank you for listening to the Talk with History podcast. If you have ever wondered if there was a way to support the show, you can now do that firstname.lastname@example.org slash support. You can leave a one time tip with a comment on your favorite podcast episode or . Support us with a couple of bucks a month and we’ll absolutely give some podcast shoutouts to our supporters over there so you can head to talk with history.com.
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