The renovation process that saved the White House from collapse (30 HQ Photos)

Built in 1800, the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., has been the temporary residence of every U.S president since John Adams. In 1814 (during the war of 1812) the White House was set ablaze by the British army, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior. Since then the building has undergone countless changes, putting undue stress on the centuries-old building (a brick and sandstone structure built around a timber frame).

20th-century innovations like indoor plumbing, electricity and heating ducts all took its toll. In 1948 a Congress-authorized survey was undertaken revealing just how dire the situation had become:

– The house was declared to be in imminent danger of collapse
– The ceiling of the East Room, weighing seventy pounds to the square foot, was found to be sagging as much as 18 inches
– The marble grand staircase was in imminent danger of collapse
– Supporting bricks, bought second-hand in 1880, were disintegrating
– The mansion’s plumbing was deemed “makeshift and unsanitary”
– The president’s bathtub was sinking into the floor
– Wooden beams had been weakened by cutting and drilling for plumbing and wiring over 150 years
– The addition of the steel roof and full third floor in 1927 added weight the building could no longer handle

Interestingly enough, completely tearing down and rebuilding the White House from scratch was found to be cheaper than a full interior restoration/renovation, however Truman deemed the ‘cultural’ value of keeping the original structure intact greater than any economic cost savings a total tear-down would provide.

So in December of 1948, President Truman moved to the Blair House across the street and so began a multi-year renovation that would cost $5.7 million USD. The entire process was faithfully documented by Abbie Rowe, a photographer for the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. High-resolution photos (seen below) of the renovation were uploaded yesterday to the Flickr Commons account of The U.S. National Archives.

Truman’s White House Renovation
December 1948 – March 1952

Total cost: $5.7 million USD
Duration: December, 1948 – March 27, 1952

Notable changes
– Structure rebuilt using concrete and steel beams in place of original wooden joists
– 126 new reinforced concrete support columns to a depth of 25 ft
– 660 tons of steel to strengthen the new concrete inner walls and floors
– Repositioning of the grand staircase to open into the Entrance Hall, rather than the Cross Hall
– Additional of central air conditioning
– Addition of two sub-basements providing space for workrooms, storage, and a bomb shelter

Found via Twistedsifter
Photographs courtesy of The U.S. National Archives

  • Tiber_Septim

    An amazing feat of architecture and renovation

    • EngGuy

      I think you mean civil engineering dude, architechs dont design beam placements they make them look pretty lol.

      • Buster Cherry

        Civil engineers design bridges, not houses douchebag.

  • Mr. Know-it-all

    Pretty cool, but I still think they should create an entirely new modern capital city somewhere in the middle of the country. The tourism in DC would improve, our capital would be more centralized, and we could actually have a capital city that isn't a disgrace.

    • yamoms

      The tourism in DC would improve if you moved the capital? Not a chance..

      • Herschel Martin

        And what the hell is in "the middle of the country"? Kansas? Haha let's put a capital in the path of a tornado!

        • Alskari

          Are you thinking this would be awesome or stupid? Because I don't see any downsides to your proposal.

    • DC N8TIVE

      And then you have complete economic collapse in the region, much like modern day Detroit. DC isn't a disgrace – the people who run the show are the disgrace. Moving the structures doesn't solve the problem – need to remove the politicians.

      • tim

        As someone living a few miles outside DC, DC is a disgrace. The people in the DMV area are assholes, by and large. The traffic is fucking terrible. Housing and rent are super-inflated. Everyone is self-important and take themselves and their jobs way too seriously. Yes, there are many people with important jobs – myself included – but I still have a life outside of work. Don't dare go to a bar with friends in a T-shirt and jeans. Then theres the crime rate (DC-only, NoVA and MD are fine), but thats largely because politicians are afraid to allow people to defend themselves as guaranteed in the Constitution. My job is relocating me in the summer and I can't wait to get out.

        • Collin

          As someone living in DC- it is good to see we keep the dopes like you outside our border. I hope you are enjoying your pricy rent on the orange line in NOVA and your "myself included important job" that more than likely is in the area due to its proximity to DC.

          Honestly, who rants on an entire city based on the DMV? And you hate "self important people who take their jobs too seriously" yet you list yourself with one of these jobs? Go home transplant.

        • Henry IX

          Tim, you're wrong on so many levels, and you're a fool to boot.

        • TimIsAFag

          Fuck you, you self-entitled douche. The Washinton area has been proven a ressesion-proof area thanks to the government jobs around us making it a pretty good place to live compared to many other places around the country. Crime is not nearly as bad as you say. Can't wait for you to get out of here.

    • snap back to reality

      Didn't work in Brasil, won't work in USA.

      • Rick E. Bear

        What is a "Brasil"?

        • snap back to reality

          It is the Portuguese name for what you, in your very limited wisdom, probably know as "Brazil". I guess the stretch from one to the other was probably too much to ask. For asking that of you, I apologise.

        • nick

          It's how the Brazilians spell it, in the same sense as Cote d'ivoire (Ivory Coast) in Africa. Read a book fool.

    • Stan

      Let's do it! We can get cheap Mexican labor. Merica!

  • le' bla!

    Is it true that they are gonna renovate the white house this year?

    • Rick E. Bear

      Obama's going to paint it black. Rush said so.

      • truthishly

        they'll have to do something to get that smell out of there

  • MonkeyMadness

    #9 I wonder what goes on in those rooms under the stairs? 😉

    • GUY


      • clenis

        Actually, slaves built the first White House during the Washington and Adams presidencies.

    • ZachBob

      They mass produce Harry Potters.

  • naluukti

    Truman decided it was time for this renovation after he watched a grand piano go through the floor.

  • Mick

    #17 just makes me think of a secret agent, crawling through those vents

  • Guse

    I'm in no way a conspiracy nut, but that renovation couldn't have been a phenomenal time to add things like nuclear bunkers when we realized what they could do, could it have?

    Maybe it was sinking, maybe it wasn't… but it's a great cover story.

  • Average 13yr old

    The problem is…if you do enough research, the district of Columbia isn't even a recognized city within the United States. It is its own entity.
    Not a state, yet not a city, a district.
    Somehow, the Constitution is null and void there…ask around.
    Maybe that's how Congress gets away with so much crap.

    And yes the "renovations" were for much more than looks.

  • shadowwight

    That pic of the Blue room makes me want to run around in my stocking feet and see how far I can slide 🙂

    • Trailer Ray

      #28 the craftsmanship put into those hardwood floors is almost unheard of today. Back then was when things were built to last.

  • North

    I'm surprised they mentioned the fire. Last time I mentioned that to a Merican I almost had my head ripped off. Lol

    • George Zip

      As a native-born American, I'm often embarrassed by the total lack of historical knowledge my fellow citizens have. Simple dates (years like 1865 or dates like December 7) are greeted with blank stares. Events (like the War of 1812 (and the burning of the White House in 1814) are unknown. And though everyone knows who's president now, it seems, I'm stunned by how many people either can't name the first President or are sure Benjamin Franklin was one of the first Presidents.

      America was still America, essentially, when this renovation was done. It was only after the Cold War started creeping in, and when the phrase "Your Government" became "The Government" that things started to really go to hell.

    • Smitty

      Over generalized and simply put, there are two breeds in our country:

      Americans, who are in one way or another decent citizens and could, among other things, actually pass a citizenship test.


      'Mericans. These are the ones that give the US a bad name. They never knew in the fist place, much less forgot what America REALLY means and stands for. They could not pass a citizenship test, even if their lives depended on it. Foreigners know more about US history and the structure of government than they do.

    • Tony

      What alot of people dont realized is that when they say Britain burned down the white house, that is only technically correct. Canada was only a colony of Britain at the time. Britain had pretty well no military presence in Canada at the time. there was less than 1000 British soldiers in Canada when the war started because britain was at war with france at the time. most of the army that beat the us in the war were farmers who owned guns.

  • Timberman

    Cool Post.

  • salmon

    I heard they have computers and everything there now, its all top secret stuff.

    • explorataur

      shh they're probably listening now

  • B-to-the-H

    They would have had to clear all those workers to make sure they weren't Russian spies and afterwards they would have had to do a sweep of the entire building for any surveillance equipment to double check.

  • john

    At this point let it collapse. Maybe the replacements will do their job.

  • Bray Gene Charlebois

    I think its Important to note I HOPE the EDITOR reads comments or someone does at thchive to point it out but it WAS CANADIAN'S that burnt the white house down!!!!!!!!!
    yes we might have been with the UK at the time and not country but still it was US that did it!

    • jim thorton

      Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. so, no.

      • CanadaRules

        "So no" what? Youre saying it was Canadians? He said in his post that at the time we were still not considered a country. But it was still men from the cold north not europe who burnt it, so yes, Canadians.

        • CanadaRules

          Sorry, "wasnt**** Canadians?"

        • CanadaRules

          And then I just read Mike's comment below and Im too lazy to actually look it up. So Im possibly an idiot lol

    • saltygary

      If you don't be a good little Canadian shut your mouth we will invade. We need a new war don't eff with us. Toronto could use a good bombing.

    • Mike Radcliffe

      this isn't ebaumsworld or cracked try and kcco.

    • Nick Bowman

      They were British citizens that lived in The Canadas. That is as far as they were Canadian, and yes it would be appropriate to call them Canadians, but they were not citizens of the currently organized country. So at best your post is maybe…half right?

  • sammy4231

    The WH truly was falling apart.
    One of Truman's forte's was knowledge of the contracting business. He came out of a corrupt political machine as an honest highway superintendent. Even the St. Louis mob liked the idea of an honest guy in DC. He traveled the nation getting ready for war making sure taxpayers got their money's worth from 1930s Halliburton types.
    Roosevelt picked Truman for that honesty. He was a great president. He got more crap from the press than Bush II — but just barely.
    There couldn't have been a better president to get that job done for $5.7 million 1950 dollars.
    He was also one hell of a great artillery officer in WW I.
    Another Truman forte, Greek classical literature… of which I know zero. His biographer seemed to think it's very deep, and great training for the intricacies of international leadership. 😀

    • George Zip

      There was a great Truman movie in 1995 (which starred Gary Sinise as Truman); it was an HBO film if I remember right. Whatever the case, it was a great primer on the man and made me seek out his life story to read more. The film is worth watching if you can find it.

  • geowit77

    fascinating stuff

  • GMR

    Not a lot of power tools. Old school craftsmanship. Impressive.

  • ken

    CANADIANS burnt it down! The Brits just helped…

    • OctaneRush

      Canadians eh?..might want to do some real research

  • Mike

    The White House was burned down by British regulars, not Canadian militia. I don't know why people still think this. And I'm Canadian.

  • coop

    5.7 million dollars back then sure did go a long way! you probably cant change the light bulbs out in the white house with 5.7 million today!

  • coops a moron

    coop – you idiot. do you know the value of a dollar?

  • Thomas

    "The house was declared to be in imminent danger of collapse" And thanks to the current occupant, so is the entire country. Our debt will be over $20 TRILLION when he finally leaves.

    • Yum Yum Roll

      Thank you for being the first cunt to make a truly interesting historical gallery into political rhetoric.

  • thom

    The US government currently spends nearly $7 million every minute. Hard to believe they could have done that much work for that much money.

    • Old_Bulldog

      INFLATION! 7.5 million in 1952 would be about $48.6 million in 2012.

  • frandy

    #9 look who is doing all the work and who is standing over them. Wack

    • mateo

      uh, the boss?

    • Johnny Appleseed

      Thats Awesome!

blog comments powered by Disqus
Back to the top