Built in 1800, the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. has been the temporary home of every US president since John Adams. In 1814, when the USA suffered defeat to the British in the war of 1812, the White House was set ablaze by the British army, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior of the building. Since then however, the White House has undergone countless changes putting undue stress on the building.

In 1948 a congress-authorised survey was undertaken that revealed just how bad the situation was:

  • The White House was declared in imminent danger of collapse
  • The marble grand staircase was in imminent danger of collapse
  • The presidents bath was sinking into the floor
  • The addition of a full third floor in 1927 added weight the building couldn’t handle
  • The wooden beams were weakened by cutting and drilling over the past 150 years
  • The plumbing was deemed “makeshift and unsanitary”
  • The second-hand bricks bought in 1880 were disintegrating
  • The ceiling of the East Room was found to be sagging up to 18 inches

The report found that it would be cheaper to tear the whole building down and start again, however, President Truman deemed the cultural value of keeping the original structure intact of greater importance than the cost of repair.

In December of 1948, Truman moved out of the White House and into Blair House across the road as multi-year renovations began. The entire process was documented by Abbie Rowe, a photographer for the National Park Service, photos of the process were uploaded by the US National Archives to Flickr.

President Truman and the Renovation Committee 1949
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White House lobby
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Renovation work in 1950
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White House East Room 1950
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Split beam above the White House lobby
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View from the servants dining room
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Second floor corridor
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Lower corridor 1950
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Main stairway
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Removing debris from the White House
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Bedroom and sitting room
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On the second floor in the Oval Study, above the Blue Room
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White House shell in 1950
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White House Renovation That Saved It From Collapse

North-East corner of the White House 1950
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The Lincoln Room
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East Room
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Duct workers taking a break
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State Dining Room
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West View, third floor corridor
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New steps being erected
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State Dining Room
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Second floor corridor
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President Truman and the First Lady returning to the White House in 1952
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Broadcast Room on the ground floor
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The Grand Staircase
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Completed East Room
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President Truman’s study in the second floor Oval Room
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Blue Room, post-renovation
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The Green Room
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State Dining Room
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The White House renovation cost a total of $5.7 million, it started in December 1948 and was completed in March 1952.

The notable changed included:

  • 126 new reinforced concrete support columns to a depth of 25 feet
  • central air conditioning
  • two new sub-basements providing space for workrooms, storage and a bomb shelter
  • repositioning of the grand staircase
  • 660 tons of steel to strengthen the new concrete inner walls and floors
  • entire structure rebuilt with steel and concrete beams rather than original wooden joists