What You'll Never See on the White House Tour
The White House — yep, the one located in Washington, D.C. — has been home to the presidents of the United States since John Adams, who served from 1797 to 1801. Yet, how much do we know about the White House and what's inside?
While tours are available through parts of the East and West Wings as well as the Residence's main building, they are difficult to come by and require writing to your senators to request a tour at least 21 days in advance.
But you don't have to wait any longer to take a tour of the White House's inner workings and to learn its many secrets. Let us be your tour guide!
Designed by James Hoban, an Irish immigrant, the first stones of the White House were laid in 1792. Although commissioned by George Washington, it was John and Abigail Adams who first moved into the White House in 1800.
The house was still under construction when they arrived and didn't have a chance to be completed before it was burned down by the British during the War of 1812.
Once again, Hoban was called to lead the rebuilding of the White House under James Monroe. Construction began with the South Portico in 1824.
The North Portico was added in 1829, just in time for Andrew Jackson, who had become president, to call the place home.
The West Wing
The first major renovation of the White House began in 1902, while Theodore Roosevelt was president. Roosevelt decided to move his office from the Residence's second floor to the new Executive Office Building.
The building, known as the West Wing, was designed by McKim, Mead and White of New York. There have been numerous expansions of the West Wing over the years, but it has remained the president's office location for more than a century.
The Oval Office
The president's office, however, was not the Oval Office we know of today until the West Wing was expanded during William Howard Taft's leadership. It was Taft who added the Oval Office, located on the first floor of the West Wing.
Every president has the right to redecorate the office to their liking, with all but three presidents since Rutherford B. Hayes keeping the Resolute Desk. (Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford did not use it.)
The Resolute Desk
A gift from Queen Victoria in 1880, the Resolute Desk was made from the wood of the H.M.S. Resolute and given to Hayes. However, the desk did not make its way into the Oval Office until John F. Kennedy moved it here in 1961.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt added the presidential coat of arms on the panel that has a secret door, as was famously captured by Kennedy's children playing hide-and-seek. (Caroline and Kerry Kennedy are pictured here.)
Another Major Renovation
The current White House does not feature the original interior built in the 1800s. Harry S. Truman ordered a complete renovation in 1950, gutting everything but the exterior walls.
The two-year job was completed in 1952. Truman spent nearly three years living at the nearby Blair House, the presidential guest house.
During the renovation, a tunnel connecting the West Wing to the East Wing was added as well as a bomb shelter. Before this tunnel, however, FDR added a tunnel between the East Wing and the Treasury Building to serve as an air-raid shelter.
Ronald Reagan added another tunnel during his presidency. If you go through a secret door in the Oval Office, stairs lead to a basement where a private elevator connects to the Residence.
A Web of More Tunnels?
There are rumors of more tunnels that connect the White House to the Capitol, CIA, FBI, Blair House, the Vice President's Residence, Camp David, the Pentagon and Andrews Air Force Base.
None of the tunnels have been confirmed.
There are also secret entrances into the White House, including this H Street alleyway. The ram-proof driveway is located beside a discreet Secret Service window. Once accessed, the alley passes the Federal Claims Courthouse to a door at the Treasury Department on Pennsylvania Avenue.
From there, visitors can move through the tunnel that connects to the East Wing.
It goes without saying that the White House is an extremely secure building. Its windows are bulletproof, and the grounds are covered with infrared lasers that even cover the sky overhead — able to detect a threat from a mile away!
The entire city is a no-fly zone with surface-to-air missiles found all around the capital, as well as Secret Service-flown drones that keep an eye on what's happening around the White House.
Of course, surrounding the White House is an 11-foot spiked fence, patrolled by armed guards in the event anyone tries to scale it. And, as many can see from the ground, armed guards are stationed atop the roof of the White House.
A Full House
One interesting fact about this building is that it wasn't always called the White House. Before Theodore Roosevelt gave it the official name in 1901, it was referred to as the Executive Mansion, the President's Palace and the President's House.
Today, the inside features 412 doors, 12 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, six stories (in the Residence) and three elevators.
The Executive Residence Ground Floor
The Executive Residence, at six-stories, is 55,000 square feet.
Rooms on the Residence White House Tour include the ground floor and first floor, also known as the State Floor.
A formal sitting room used by the first ladies, the Vermeil Room was added to the White House in 1902.
Before it was this comfortable room known originally as the Social Room, it was used for storage and then a staff bedroom. It was transformed during Theodore Roosevelt's Administration, when staff bedrooms were moved from the ground floor to make way for rooms for public use.
The room received its new name, the Vermeil Room, in the 1960s, after Margaret Thompson Biddle donated 1,575 pieces of her vermeil to the White House. Her portrait hangs above the fireplace.
Woodrow Wilson's second wife, Edith, designated this room as the Presidential Collection Room to store the ever-growing china collected over the years. Renamed the China Room, the room was redecorated to its red color in 1970.
Nearly every president's state or family china is represented chronologically.
The main kitchen of the White House is large enough to hold a team that can cook and serve those 140 guests for a formal dinner — with the capacity to hand-make 1,000 hors d'oeuvres!
The kitchen also provides the presidential family with its meals and snacks, and the president has a button on his desk in the Oval Office to order food and beverages. All food brought into the kitchen is screened by the FBI.
There are two additional kitchens in the White House, one in the Residence for the presidential family's casual meals and the second, a pastry kitchen.
President Millard Fillmore added the first Presidential Library to the White House in the 1850s at the time he gained funds to rebuild the Library of Congress, which had been destroyed by a fire that burned 35,000 books.
Part of the Presidental Library's collection contributed by Fillmore includes Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle," along with collections by the Founding Fathers.
The current library, now located on the ground floor, was formerly a laundry room until Jacqueline Kennedy transformed it into the library it is today. She added more than 1,700 books to the collection.
The receiving room, or the Diplomatic Reception Room, was originally a furnace room. Renovated during Theodore Roosevelt's presidency, it was where FDR delivered his famous fireside chats during the Great Depression.
The wallpaper featuring landscapes of America was added by Jackie Kennedy, along with the carpet that features the emblem of all 50 states.
Before Kennedy created the current Situation Room, this Map Room was used as such by FDR. It featured world maps hung all around the room, so the president could be briefed on situations taking place during World War II.
The room is used for meetings today and still holds maps from the National Geographic Society.
Although it is not filled with palm trees, this ground floor foyer connects the White House and the West Wing. It is often called the West Garden Room to match the similar visitor gathering spot known as the East Garden Room.
It received its Palm name for its conservatory look.
In the Basement Hall, White House staff can pickup flowers from the Flower Shop, which manages and arranges flowers to fill the White House and decorate for holidays and special events.
The first bowling alley was added to the White House in 1947 as a gift to President Truman. He wasn't much of a bowler and got rid of the alley to make room for a printing press room.
However, Richard and Pat Nixon loved to bowl, so he added a one-lane alley in 1969. It was located underground, beneath the North Portico driveway.
Today, it doesn't get much use and needs a complete refurbishment.
The Executive Residence First Floor
The first floor of the Executive Residence is used for welcoming and hosting dignitaries and special events.
The floor is often referred to as the State Floor because of this.
The East Room
Also found in the Residence is the East Room, which is the largest State Room and is used for events, ceremonies and speeches. Before it became an event space, the room was the last to be decorated and designated as anything more than a large, open space. Abigail Adams actually used the East Room to dry her laundry.
Andrew Jackson had the room decorated for the first time in 1829, and ever since, the East Room has welcomed dignitaries as well as mourners for the wakes of both Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy.
There are some very colorful rooms in the Residence. Meant to be used as a dining room, the Green Room serves as a state parlor. It is located on the first floor.
Beside the Green Room is the Blue Room. This is where the president receives his guests. The oval-shaped room has been blue since 1837, even following renovations.
The marble-topped table in the center of the room has been in this room since James Monroe purchased it in 1817.
The Red Room, also on the first floor, was originally used as the home of the presidential family, despite its size.
Once the families took residence in the upper floors, First Ladies began to use the room for events. Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, held the room's first press conference.
State Dining Room
Of course, the White House hosts larger dinners for dignitaries in another dining room, known as the State Dining Room. It was originally a smaller, first-floor office space that was also used for formal dinners by presidents since Andrew Jackson, but Theodore Roosevelt had the room enlarged during the 1902 renovations.
The fireplace mantel originally featured lions, but Roosevelt changed them to be the heads of American bison. The table can extend to accommodate 140 guests.
Family Dining Room
Leave it to Jackie Kennedy to also create the Residence's Family Dining Room. Originally the bedroom of William McKinley, the room has served as the private dining room for the presidential families since the 1960s.
This example is from George W. Bush's presidency.
The Executive Residence Second Floor
The upper floors of the Executive Residence are reserved as living quarters for the presidential family.
There are 16 rooms and six bathrooms on the second floor. International leaders are welcome to stay on this floor, where the president, first lady and their children reside.
But we can give you a closer look...
Yellow Oval Room
Located on the second floor, the Yellow Room is the third oval room found in the White House. This room is not available on tours, as it is in the private residence of the presidential family and is often used as a sitting room.
It is actually the same room that was used as Fillmore's initial library before Jackie Kennedy moved it.
The original Cabinet Room in 1890 was converted into the Monroe Room by President Herbert Hoover in 1940 after the West Wing became the home to Executive Offices.
Kennedy rechristened the room as the Treaty Room in 1962 and installed a table that once belonged to Ulysses S. Grant. The 1869 Pottier & Stymus table has been used to sign numerous treaties, including the one that ended the Spanish-American War.
Although the First Family can order anything they'd like from the White House kitchen, the Executive Residence includes a private kitchen for the family to make snacks and quick meals.
Lincoln's Bedroom & Sitting Room
Another famous room in the White House (said to be haunted by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln) is the Lincoln Bedroom. Located on the second floor, this once served as Lincoln's office.
Harry S. Truman had the room converted into a bedroom for guests, decorated with furnishings from Mary Todd Lincoln, herself.
Queen's Bedroom & Sitting Room
Another guest bedroom is the Queen's Bedroom, where Winston Churchill stayed while meeting with FDR.
Located on the second floor, across the hall from the Lincoln Bedroom, a mirror presented to Truman by then-Princess Elizabeth in 1951 still hangs in the room.
The Master Bedroom is another one that gets an interior makeover every time a new presidential family moves in here. In 1962, the Kennedys had separate bedrooms, and this room was originally Jackie's space (pictured).
Then, Gerald and Betty Ford made it a shared master bedroom in 1974, and it has remained as such ever since.
Just like any family, the presidential family needs a place to relax and sit together to watch TV at the end of the day.
The private family living room is located next to the master bedroom on the second floor.
The Executive Residence Third Floor
The third floor of the White House is used as a relaxation space. You'll find indoor and outdoor relaxing spaces here as well as offices and sleeping space for the personal staff of the First Family.
Located on the roof, above the South Portico, is the Residence's Solarium. It was originally created as a sleeping room for Taft, who liked fresh air at night.
Indoors is a private living space for the presidential family, while outdoors they can enjoy basking in the sun and even grilling, as Dwight D. Eisenhower was known to do.
Now famous as a place where the First Family may wave and preside over events taking place on the South Lawn, the South Portico didn't originally feature a balcony. Instead, awnings hung over the doorway below.
During Truman's renovation, the horseshoe-shaped balcony was added, which is why it is known as the Truman Balcony.
Recreation available to the First Family includes a game room, where a pool table has been a fixture since Reagan's era, as seen in this photo.
Billiards have been popular for many presidents, with tables found in different locations until this former bedroom space was converted into a permanent game room.
Also a former bedroom, the Music Room was added in the 1990s for the Clintons.
President Clinton was known to play the sax, and this room gave him a quiet place to play. (Plus, it is soundproof.)
The Grand Staircase is where the president descends from his quarters on the second floor to greet his guests awaiting in the Entrance Hall on the State Floor.
It, too, was completed during Truman's renovation — the fourth staircase to occupy the space — and meant to provide a "grand" entrance.
The West Colonnade walkway connects the Executive Residence to the West Wing and the Oval Office.
Passing by the Rose Garden, the walk is referred to as the president's 45-second commute.
The West Wing First Floor
The West Wing is considered the executive offices of the White House and is where day-to-day business functions take place.
Tours are available to some of the rooms, again, only by request through Congressional staff.
The Cabinet Room
Day-to-day meetings and discussions with the president take place in the Cabinet Room. The president sits in the middle of the table as members of the appointed cabinet of ministers meet.
Those sitting in this room include the Vice President, the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the CIA, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Office of Management and Budget, and a Trade Representative.
At Great Heights
In both the Cabinet Room and the Roosevelt Room, the smaller meeting room located outside of the Oval Office, the chair in which the president sits is higher than the other chairs around the meeting table.
The Roosevelt Room was the original office of the president and became a waiting room once the Oval Office was built. The room is often used to announce nominations and appointments of staff. Named for FDR, the original nickname of the room was the Fish Room, as FDR displayed fishing mementos and an aquarium in the room.
The Situation Room
In times of crisis, the president meets his team and intelligence in the National Security Council's room, known as the Situation Room.
Located on the ground floor of the West Wing, the room was created after the Bay of Pigs. With televisions, video systems and other forms of real-time communication, this is where presidents may receive the current information on what is taking place, unlike what occurred during Kennedy's failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs.
Vice President's Office
The vice president keeps an office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is located across the street from the House.
However, some VPs choose to be closer to the action and use this space dedicated to them, located just down the corridor from the president.
Chief of Staff's Office
Opposite the Vice President's Office and just down the hallway from the Oval Office is the Chief of Staff's Office.
This space is often used for more casual daily meetings.
Brady Briefing Room
Perhaps the most recognized space of those not privy to the interior of the White House, the Brady Briefing Room is the press room used to deliver the news. Although there are nearly 200 members of the White House press corps, the room has chairs for less than 50. The White House Correspondents Association determines who gets a seat.
The briefing room was installed by Richard Nixon and renamed in honor of James S. Brady, Ronald Reagan's press secretary who was shot and permanently disabled while shielding the president from an attempted assassination in 1981.
Press Corps Offices
You see the press gathers during briefings, but they also can use office space within the West Wing. Here, they can make calls and get stories written and sent to their editors.
In 2007, a Radio Row was added to allow for live broadcasts behind soundproof doors.
The number of press members has grown so large that additional office space was added to the ground floor.
The West Wing Ground Floor
Below the Oval Office is a host of amenities for the press, security and the Situation Room, where the president and his advisors meet in times of national security issues.
Below the Briefing Room
Below the Briefing Room is an indoor swimming pool that was installed by FDR for his physical therapy. There is a staircase behind the Briefing Room stage that leads to the now-empty pool.
Hundreds of miles of cable to keep the press connected is now located found here — and the walls are covered with the signature graffiti of former White House staff.
Secret Service Room
The Secret Service has its own office with monitors of every square inch of the White House.
From this room, the Secret Service can see the location of every person on the property and keep a close eye on the president, first lady, vice president and visiting dignitaries.
The West Wing is home to the White House's very own restaurant. Known as the Navy Mess and Ward Room and managed by the Navy, it's located in the West Wing's ground floor.
A mess hall has been in service for the White House since 1951 when it was proposed by Naval Aide to the President, Rear Admiral Robert L. Dennison. It even has a takeout window for on-the-go orders.
The East Wing Second Floor
The two-story East Wing, built in 1942, serves as the entrance into the White House. Visitors go through security on the ground floor, where above, the offices and meeting rooms of the First Lady lie.
Prior to the wing's construction, the space held a greenhouse.
The First Lady's Office
Like the president, the First Lady has her own staff, which includes a chief of staff, a social secretary and a press secretary. She also manages the chief floral designer and the executive chef.
All staff serving the First Lady have offices in the East Wing.
The Calligraphy Room
Yes, there is a room dedicated to calligraphy in the White House.
Here, there is a chief calligrapher and two deputies who hand-write invitations, greetings, awards, proclamations, military commissions and place cards for state dinners and events.
East Wing Ground Floor
There are more offices found on the ground floor of the East Wing as well as two different rooms for welcoming guests.
The family enjoys its own theater within the East Wing.
Originally, the room was a coatroom until FDR converted it into a movie theater. Reagan, a former film star, remodeled it in the 1980s to include tiered rows with 51 seats.
Located on the ground floor of the Residence leading to the East Wing, this corner room overlooks the Jackie Kennedy Garden.
This is often the place tour groups will meet before receiving their tour of the White House and is often referred to as the Visitor's Foyer.
The famous Rose and Kennedy Gardens that flank the outdoor corridors to the East and West Wings were added by nature-lover Thomas Jefferson.
In addition to them, the White House offers a host of outdoor amenities for the families and staff.
Basketball and Tennis
The White House tennis courts were originally installed in 1902, behind the West Wing, but moved to their current location in 1909, after the West Wing was expanded.
Nearby, a small basketball court was not big enough for a full-court game, so Barak Obama had the tennis courts converted into both a tennis and basketball court during his presidency.
In 2020, Melania Trump unveiled plans to construct a tennis pavilion and remove some of the holly trees surrounding the court to let in more light and remove shadows.
Installed by Michelle Obama, the White House got its first kitchen garden in 2009. Providing locally grown food for the presidential family, the garden is 2,800 square feet and filled with vegetables.
The First Lady invites local children to assist with the harvesting of seasonal vegetables in an effort to promote healthy eating.
The White House's outdoor pool was added by Gerald Ford in 1975. An avid swimmer, Ford didn't want to relocate the press room by reopening the indoor pool and chose to build a new pool.
Its hot tub was added by Hilary Clinton in the 1990s.
The Children's Garden
The Children's Garden, created by Lady Bird Johnson, features the handprints of presidential grandchildren and is an enclosed and quiet space of reflection.
You'll find the handprints of the grandchildren of Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush set into plaques.
The Rose Garden
As the White House was renovated in 1902, a conservatory was removed. First Lady Edith Roosevelt demanded a garden for her roses.
This West Garden is just outside the Oval Office and features tulips, hyacinth, boxwood and other flowering plants surrounded by shrubs.
Jacqueline Kennedy Garden
Jackie Kennedy wanted to continue developing gardens for the White House to keep in tradition with its 18th century look.
The East Garden was named in her honor by Lady Bird Johnson in 1965.