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Early History of The White House

Although the nation’s capital is named for him, George Washington is the only president who did NOT live at the White House. He died before the capital officially moved from Philadelphia to what was originally called “Federal City.”

President Washington, together with city planner Pierre L’Enfant, chose the site for the new residence, which is now 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

A competition was held to find a designer for the "President’s House.” Out of nine proposals, the winner was James Hoban. Construction began in 1792 with the laying of the cornerstone. It was almost finished in 1800 when President John Adams moved in.

British troops set the White House on fire on August 24, 1814 during the War of 1812. The interior of the home was completely destroyed by the blaze, which was brought under control by a raging thunderstorm. Only the outside walls were left standing.

President James Madison convinced Congress to rebuild the public buildings in Washington, instead of moving the capital to another city. Hoban returned to reconstruct the house. Although most of the walls were torn down and replaced, many of the interior elements – some charred from the fire – were reused. President James Madison moved into the rebuilt White House in 1817.

At various times in history, the White House has been known as the "President's Palace," the "President's House," and the "Executive Mansion." In 1901 President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White House its current name.

Visiting the White House

According to the official White House website, public tour requests must be made through your local Congressional office. The self-guided tours are on a first come, first served basis. As of May 2011, The White House is open for tours Tuesday through Thursday from 7:30 AM to 11:00 AM, Friday from 7:30 AM to 12:00 PM, and Saturday 7:30 AM to 1:00 PM. The White House is not open on federal holidays. Tour requests must be made at least 21 days ahead of time. There is no charge to tour The White House.

To learn more about the modern history of The White House, see the article "The White House in the 20th Century."

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