Living in the White House often seems like it's one of the best parts of being a president. You have an army of staff waiting on your every need, you can have a fine dining experience every night, and you literally work from home. However, the White House is actually a bit weirder than that. From having to pay for their own meals to never being able to open a window, past presidents have noted some aspects of living in the White House that are much odder than anyone would expect.
Presidents Have to Pick Up After Their Dogs
Former President Obama made headlines once after speaking with a group of second graders about his time at the White House. However, it wasn't for anything political or any new policy declaration. Instead, it was because he told them he picked up his dog, Bo's poop when he'd take him for a walk every night. The kids responded with a collective "ewww", but the former president told them that was one of the responsibilities of having a dog.
He also mentioned it in later interviews, often somber about his late-night walks with Bo, mentioning that he'd look back at the house while picking up after the first pet.
Windows Are Off Limits
There's nothing better than opening a window to let a breeze through when the weather is particularly nice. However, the first family isn't allowed to do this while living at the White House. The reason is pretty simple and it's basically because of security concerns. The last thing you'd want as a secret service agent is a bunch of open windows that potentially give others a clear view of the White House's rooms.
Still, some former tenants have lamented this fact, including Michelle Obama, who once said she was looking forward to being able to open a window once again after moving out.
You Can Have Prom There
Well, maybe not you personally, but if you're the kid of a president, it's possible to have your prom in the White House. It's only happened once and that was with Gerald Ford's daughter in 1975. Her class actually paid for it too, by organizing a couple of fundraisers and bake sales. That sounds pretty wholesome, and why not? Not every class can say they have a member of the first family among their ranks.
Considering most proms take place in boring event rooms and gyms, this was probably one of the coolest and most memorable proms in history. We're sure it was probably one of the tamest, as well.
It's Allegedly Haunted
Although, former president George W. Bush's daughter Jenna, made headlines when she told a publication that the White House is haunted. There's actually a long history of occupants saying that they saw or heard spooky happenings in the White House. Harry S. Truman and even Winston Churchill, have said they saw or heard things they couldn't explain while in the White House, and probably the most famous legend revolves around the sightings of Abraham Lincoln.
Bush's daughter Jenna, claimed that there were millions of ghosts in the White House and that she heard opera music coming from the fireplace once. Her sister also said that she hear creepy 1950s piano being played.
There's Only One Piece Of Original Furniture
If you're at all familiar with American or British history then you've probably heard of the war of 1812. It happened after the American Revolution, but during it, the British marched on Washington D.C. and burned down the White House. Most of the original furniture was destroyed along with the house. However, the first lady at the time, James Madison's wife Dolly, managed to save a portrait of George Washington.
It was the only thing they had time to save and to commemorate the act, a portrait of Dolly still hangs next to George Washington's to this day.
Pet Stains Can Stick Around
The majority of past presidents have had pets in the White House at one point or another. And if you've ever had a pet then you're probably pretty aware of the messes they can make. It turns out that not all of these messes are taken care of immediately at the White House. The Obamas' biographer reported during an interview that pee stains from the Bush's cat were still on the carpet when they moved in.
We're sure it was probably just because the staff was too busy at the time to have the carpet cleaned, but it is interesting to know there are some aspects of the White House that resemble a normal home.
It (Might) Come With A Cool Command Center
There's no shortage of conspiracy theories out there involving the White House. And admittedly there are most likely some things the public isn't told about the White House for security reasons. However, in 2010 conspiracy theorists had a field day when construction of something got underway at the White House. The staff erected walls around the construction site so that people couldn't see in, and the official word was that they were replacing things like old pipes.
However, people reported heavy beams and lots of concrete being brought in. Many speculated this was for some kind of secret command center, the kind of which was originally proposed in 1962.
Mice And Roaches Inhabit The House
This one shouldn't come as a shock but for some reason it kind of does. The White House is pretty old, and there's really no way of making sure pests don't get in short of blasting the entire house with chemicals every month. Still, some people were caught by surprise when it was reported that the White House had requested an exterminator along with their list of repairs in 2017.
According to the request, there were mice in the Navy's mess haul and the situation room. There were also roaches in the West Wing, according to the report.
There Are No Free Meals
Okay, that title is a bit misleading. There are some free meals but we'll get to that in a second. Presidents receive a bill at the end of the month for their family's personal meals. They're also charged fees for other things, like toothpaste and dry cleaning. And apparently, they don't come cheap as Nancy Reagan once said she was a bit shocked after nobody told her and she received the bill.
There is one silver lining though, which is that business expenses are taken care of by taxpayers. So, official dinner parties are pretty much on the house.
You Might Have To Still Make Your Bed
So, this fact is kind of conditional, but just because you live in the White House doesn't always mean you're exempt from making your own bed. When the Obamas moved in, Michelle Obama told White House staff that they were not to touch their daughters' beds. This was because she believed in the importance of them making their beds themselves. They also had to do other chores that involved cleaning up after themselves.
Which to be honest, is actually a great idea. We've also never thought about how living at the White House might interfere with normal rules associated with raising kids.
Even First Children Sneak Up On Roofs
This one is a bit surprising, not because a president's child might want to sneak and climb up on the roof of the White House, but because you would think it'd be extremely well-guarded. This might not be the case though as a number of former first children who've lived in the White House have said they'd often sneak up on the roof to either hang out or sneak a kiss with their boyfriend.
Steve Ford has told media that he and a friend snuck up there once to listen to "Stairway to Heaven", and Jenna Bush Hager has said that she and her now-husband had their first kiss there.
It's Technologically Challenging
You would think that one of the most powerful people in the world would need access to the latest and greatest wi-fi, right? We mean, the last thing you'd want is for the U.S. president to be having a conversation with a foreign or military leader and then for the video call to drop. However, it doesn't seem like this was always the case. The Obamas said that there were actually a few wi-fi dead spots in the house, which would constantly frustrate the children.
Staffers must've taken notice because in the weeks following the interview, they improved the wi-fi in a couple of rooms. However, there's no word yet on if the entire house has fast wi-fi.
It Comes With A Dentist
It might sound bizarre that the White House comes with an in-house dentist, but that's because it is. There's a dentist's office located in the White House basement, along with a couple of other shops including a carpentry shop and a florist. We're not exactly sure why they chose to put a dentist's office in the White House basement, but we guess it makes sense that event the first family needs to get their checkups on a regular basis.
A dentist who worked there once described his encounters with former president George W. Bush as very cordial. He said that the two never talked about politics during checkups.
Entrances And Exits Are a Nightmare
The White House is basically a fortress, meaning the more doors it has the worse that is for security. It might be for this reason that they've never added any private entrances or exits to the house for the president and their family. That might not seem like a big deal, but when you consider the number of tourists and staff that are constantly roaming around the house, a little privacy starts to sound like a dream.
These staff and tourists also have access to some rooms that are pretty close to the first family's bedrooms. We wouldn't be surprised to learn of any incidents of them trying to hide from crowds when exiting their rooms.
Coffee Is Hipster Friendly
While hipsterish cafes might not be everyone's favorite type of place, there's no denying that they do produce good coffee. The White House apparently thinks so too because they bought around 150 pour-over coffee makers when the trend was at its peak. The glass coffee makers came from a Massachusetts-based company, which was actually having trouble making enough to meet demand when they were ordered. But, when the White House calls, you make an exception.
The White House ended up etching the presidential seal on all of them and with 150, they're unlikely to run out anytime soon, meaning the White House probably still serves hipster-friendly coffee.
It Comes With A Masseuse
It's no secret that the president's job is extremely stressful. All you have to do to understand just how stressful is to look at before and after pictures of presidents who've been in office. So, it makes sense that massage services are offered at the White House nightly if a president so chooses. However, some indulge in a massage more than others according to one staffer's report of a former president.
According to former president Lyndon B. Johnson's usher, Johnson on occasion fell asleep during his massages and wouldn't wake up until around 5 a.m. This meant the usher would have to stay on duty until then.
Thermostats Create Tension Even In The White House
Some of the facts we've covered thus far have related to just how much of a home the White House is to those who stay there. However, it also acts as a workplace for the president and his staff. So, when a president decides he wants to change the temperature in the room, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there might be some gripes as there are in pretty much every other office.
Obama's chief of staff reportedly wasn't too thrilled when the former president often decided to turn up the temperature. He said that it would get so hot that "you could grow orchids in there".
It Got Its Name Relatively Recently
It might surprise some to know that the White House wasn't always called the White House. In fact, that name only popped up kind of recently in the grand scheme of things. In 1901, former president Theodore Roosevelt used "White House" on his stationary and it just kind of stuck. Up until that point, people would just call it names like "the president's mansion". Doesn't really have the same ring to it, if we do say so ourselves.
According to the White House Historical Association, Roosevelt had his staff send out instructions to change all of the official documents to include the name, although there isn't much out there explaining his reasoning for the change.
Staff Would Record Your Shows
With all of the streaming services out there today, this isn't much of a problem. However, before things like Netflix existed you'd either have to use a DVR to record your favorite show or wait until a rerun came on TV. This apparently wasn't a problem at the White House though, even before DVR was invented somehow. For example, Lady Bird Johnson would often have to miss episodes of Gunsmoke because of official engagements, so the staff would tape them for her to watch later.
The most fascinating thing about this, isn't really that staff would tape your shows. We're much more interested in how they did this before DVRs came around.
It Comes With An Unmanned Kitchen
Having your own personal chef to make you dinner every night might sound like the dream, but we're sure that even presidents get the urge to cook their own meals sometimes. In fact, they must, because the White House comes with an unmanned kitchen near the first family's living quarters. One particular story of a presidential family using the kitchen stretches back to the Clinton administration.
Hillary Clinton told the media that she would often cook their daughter scrambled eggs in the morning because it was one of her favorite foods and she wanted to give her a sense of normalcy.
They Only Stock Domestic Wine
This one might come as a bit of a surprise, but the White House only stocks domestic wines. It makes sense that the house that was built for American presidents would choose to go local, but it's still kind of odd considering some might expect such an international luxury to be kept on the premise. Most of the wine kept at the White House is from either California, Virginia, or Idaho.
This wasn't always the case though, and French wine used to be kept at the White House until the presidency of Gerald R. Ford. Some presidents have still brought in their own European wine from time to time.
It Never Housed George Washington
Although he's the nations leading founding father and first president, George Washington never actually lived in the White House. He was responsible for picking its location and approving the designs, but he died before the house was completed. It wouldn't be until former president John Adams that the house actually hosted occupants. And even then, the home wasn't completely finished when he and his wife moved in.
Builders laid the cornerstone of the house in 1792, but another weird fact: nobody actually knows what happened to the cornerstone. It simply disappeared shortly after the house was completed and hasn't been found since.
The First Family Get Early Access To Movies
Apart from coming with its own personal movie theater, families who stay at the White House also have access to movies before they're even released. It's no surprise that Hollywood would send movies to the White House a bit early, but what might be surprising are some of the former presidents' favorite picks. The younger Bush reportedly enjoyed the Austin Powers movies and John F. Kennedy enjoyed the James Bond movies, along with anything involving John Wayne.
Former president Jimmy Carter was also known for his love of movies. He would hold one on average about every three nights and he was even the first to watch an x-rated movie in the theater when he viewed Midnight Cowboy.
Moving In Is A Breeze
Historically, moving into the White House has only taken first families around six hours to complete. This is due to the simple fact that the White House has so many staff. However, they do have a walkthrough with the first family before everyone moves in. We're guessing to get an idea of where they want everything or if they want to make any changes to the decor before moving in.
As for the reason behind why they have to move in so quickly, there just simply isn't much downtime when you're the president. We imagine the first few weeks are filled with important briefings, too.
You Can Slide Down The Banisters
With the last post out of the way, just because you're a child living in the White House doesn't mean you're not allowed to have a little fun every now and then. Michelle Obama has also said that she was worried that the White House wouldn't be a good place to raise kids until she happened to see her daughters sliding down the banisters one day. And they were far from the first.
Even Theodore Roosevelt's children used to slide down the banister when he was in office, as did Bush's. We're not sure if it's an official tradition or anything, but if not then it should be.
It Comes With An High-End Storage Facility
Every family who moves into the White House naturally wants to bring a couple of things from home. They're also given a lot of gifts during their time in the White House. So, where does all of the extra stuff go when they eventually move out? Well, apparently there's a storage facility at the White House filled with things from past presidents. These include things like gifts from leaders of states and even art from the likes of Georgia O'Keeffe and Norman Rockwell.
But these are just to name a few and we're sure there are plenty more interesting objects in the facility, which is the size of a warehouse.
First Children Have The Freedom To Decorate Rooms
We've already covered how the senior members of a presidential family are allowed to redecorate the White House, but even when they do they likely have to take some things into consideration. For example, we're a president or their partner is always wondering how people might react if they make a certain change. Their children, on the other hand, have none of these worries. They're allowed to decorate their rooms however they see fit.
For example, Obama's daughters put up posters and painted their walls. That is to say, changes still have to be okayed by the parents as they usually would in other households.
Cash Is Rare
The fact that presidents and their families hardly ever carry cash on them isn't often talked about. But, they simply don't need to because if they do have to pay for something, it's usually just added to their tabs at the end of the month. And if they go out for a neighborhood walk to grab an ice cream or something, then more times than not, people are just going to tell them it's on the house.
We're also pretty sure that a secret service member wouldn't have a problem spotting the president a couple of dollars if they ended up forgetting to withdraw at the atm.
You Can Change The Decor
Presidents and their families have quite a bit of leeway to change things in the White House during their time there. They can remove or put up art, change rugs, and bring in their own furniture. However, not all choose to change things around too much. For example, Reagan stayed away from changing the rug in the Oval Office until he'd won his second term. Maybe he just didn't see a point in it until he knew for sure he was staying.
Other presidents decided to completely leave the Oval Office as it was when they got there, like Eisenhower and Carter. Laura Bush designed a completely new rug for her husband when he took office.
Movies Aren't The Only Form Of Entertainment
Movies aren't the only form of entertainment you can enjoy in the White House. Obama's daughters were given a Nintendo Wii during their stay and former president Obama would sometimes play Wii Sports. Obama was also reportedly a fan of brick breaker, though he played that on his Blackberry. President Joe Biden has been pictured playing Mario Kart with his grandchildren at Camp David, however, he's famously not a fan of violent video games.
Probably the biggest gamer-in-president is George W. Bush, who often plays with his grandchildren. He's even said that he's the guy to talk to if you want to play a video game.
Moments Before Presidents Move In Are "Organized Chaos"
Even though the White House has so many staff members, former staff have said that the hours before a president and their family move in are basically "organized chaos". The staff only has a few hours to set everything up for the future tenants, who will (most likely) be staying there for the next four years. They have to move everything, ensure the White House is given a cleaning, and figure out what kind of food the family prefers.
While all of this is understandable, it's still kind of amusing to picture White House staff dashing about rooms, trying to get everything in order before someone moves in.
The Honey Is Local
Most of the things we've looked at so far have been either negative or just plain weird, but this is actually a pretty big positive to living in the White House. The house has its own beekeeper on the grounds. So, all of the honey comes straight from that beehive, unless you decide you want it from somewhere else, but why would you when you can have fresh honey from the backyard.
The beehive was installed in 2009, which was a first, and it's also reportedly located close to the vegetable garden. We aren't sure what's cooler, having your own beehive for honey or having your own dentist in the basement.
You Can Practice Your Swing
Well, not your swing technically speaking. There is no driving range at the White House, but there is a putting green. Many presidents have reportedly enjoyed playing the game of golf. The first putting green was installed on the White House premises when former president Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office. Bill Clinton reinstalled it after it had been moved and Obama and Biden often used it during their time there.
Former president George W. Bush could also often be found practicing his putting skills on the green when he was still in office.
It Comes With (A Lot) Of Staff
We've already been over some of the things all of the White House staff do for the president and their family. But, how many people actually work there? Well, it turns out a lot. Around 3,000 people work at the White House to be exact. This includes around 500 secret service agents and 200 other people filling various roles dedicated to security. The White House has about 100 permanent resident staffers who stay on no matter who the president is.
However, none of these staffers currently live at the White House, a practice that ended decades ago. Many of the permanent staffers there have served multiple generations of presidents.
It Requires Extensive Upkeep
The White House is old. Okay, maybe not as old as some of the buildings in European countries, but by American standards it's old. That means it requires a lot of upkeep like any older house would in order to continue looking bright and beautiful. It takes around 3 tons of white paint to completely cover the house. That's around 570 gallons. After a long-overdue renovation in 1992, they touch up the house all year long and repaint it completely every year.
This might have something to do with the 1992 renovation, during which workers removed around 30 layers of paint from the house. That might just seem like an interesting statistic, but that's also a lot of extra weight to put on an old house.