Feb
23
2010

When did the White House get its name?

The White House .circa 1860 (photo from D.C. Public Library NKCP)

The White House .circa 1860 (photo from D.C. Public Library NKCR)

The home of the President of United States was officially named the White House in October 1901.

Construction of the building started in 1792, and the John Adams was the first President to occupy the building in 1800, even though it was far from finished. During the 19th century it was variously known as the Residence, Executive Mansion, Presidential Mansion, President's House and the White House.

The first mention of the name of White House is from a letter dated 24 April 1811 written b

y Francis J. Jackson, former Minister for the United States in Britain, in it he wrote “…the lightning that may issue from the clouds round the Capitol and the White House at Washington”[1] As the name is in capitals, this would suggest that it was in current use.

Through the 19th century the White House became its popular name, but Congress and other government institutions still used the formal name of Executive Mansion in documents.

In October 1901 soon after Theodore Roosevelt became President, he altered all official stationery from Executive Mansion to White House. The name was selected because of its distinctiveness and its suitability for the residence of the chief executive of the United States, and to separate it from every other executive mansion in each of the States. The name was not changed after the end of his Administration.

[1] Documents Relating To New-England Federalism, 1800-1815 by Henry Adams

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1 Comment

  • Efrem says:

    The name came in handy in World War II, when U.S. President Roosevelt and U.K. Prime Minister Churchill met in Casablanca, Morocco. The Germans had intercepted messages giving the time and place of the meeting and considered bombing it, but decided not to. Why? Because the German translators of the messages, in an excess of zeal, translated “Casablanca” from its Spanish origins to German, as “White House.” The German high command thought the meeting was to be in Washington, D.C., well beyond the range of their Europe-based bombers and well-defended by the U.S. The true location would have been an easy target for German aircraft based in occupied France.

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