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White House Brick

White House Brick

The White House Brick was first introduced in the Fourth Edition of the Mini Museum. We are proud to offer it once again as a stand-alone specimen!

Above: Front of the Specimen Card

Since John Adams took up residence on November 1st, 1800, every U.S. President has called the White House home. Not surprisingly, each resident has endeavored to leave their mark, but then change is the guiding principle at the heart of the design suggested by George Washington, the one President who never lived in the Executive Mansion yet was so intimately involved in its creation.

The specimen in the Mini Museum is a fragment from a brick recovered during the 1948-1952 renovation and expansion of the White House. The project is sometimes referred to as a reconstruction rather than a renovation as the venerable structure was gutted from within and refitted with a steel superstructure.

Above: Scenes from the 1950 "Truman Renovation - See the extended text below for even more pictures.

This process generated an enormous amount of salvage material, some of which was used as landfill, but more attractive items became part of a popular public souvenir program designated by the Commission on the Renovation of the Executive Mansion.

Above: Close-up of a White House brick with the official seal, one of several in our collection.

Originally, part of the Fourth Edition of the Mini Museum we are proud to offer it once more as a stand-alone item.

Each hand-cut brick fragment is encased inside an acrylic specimen jar and presented in one of our classic, glass-topped riker display boxes. The size and shape of each specimen varies, but on average they measure 1 x 0.5 x 0.5 centimeters. The riker display box measures 4 1/2" x 3 1/2". A small information card is also included, which serves as the certificate of authenticity.


About the White House


"For the President’s House I would design a building which should also look forward but execute no more of it at present than might suit the circumstances of this country, when it shall first be wanted. A plan comprehending more may be executed at a future period when the wealth, population, and importance of it shall stand upon much higher ground than they do at present."

~ George Washington, March 8th, 1792

Above: Earliest known photo of the "President's House" c. 1846 (Source Library of Congress ID: LC-USZ62-112293)

The history of the White House is one of constant change and conflict. Still, no matter who the occupant might be at any given time, or the changes they’ve made, the White House itself endures as a powerful symbol for the United States and the office of the Presidency, proof that the "American Experiment" continues.

In 1791, President George Washington chose the site for the future executive residence and offices. A year later Irish architect James Hoban won the competition to design the building. Hoban’s designs were highly influenced by Washington himself, who had recently dismissed city planner Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant.

Above: North Elevation of the White House with updates for the 1950 renovation (Source: US National Archives ID: 17370293).

Construction lasted from 1792 until 1800 when John Adams became the first President to take up residence in the executive mansion. Following Adams, Thomas Jefferson moved into what he called a "pleasant country residence” but noted that it was "big enough for two emperors, one pope, and the grand lama in the bargain.” Nevertheless, Jefferson added low colonnades to each wing.

Above: Detail of George Munger's 1815 watercolor of "The President's House" after destruction by the British. (Image Credit: The White House Historical Association)

Even with its auspicious beginnings, the history of the White House was almost cut short during the War of 1812 when British troops set fire to the building during 1814's Burning of Washington. After the flames died down, only the outer walls were left standing; ultimately, all but parts of the south wall had to be torn down and rebuilt.

Decades later, First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, undertook a massive redecorating project to restore what she saw as a building with "the air of a run-down, unsuccessful, third-rate hotel." The project ran so far over budget, it caused President Abraham Lincoln to declare that he would "never approve the bills for flub dubs for that damned old house.”

In 1901. the White House received its formal name when Theodore Roosevelt officially dubbed it the White House after years of being called the "President's House" or the "Executive Mansion." In the following years, additions were made to the core structure. The West Wing was added in 1902 and the East Wing in 1942.

The last major renovation to the White House came under Harry S. Truman's presidency. Years of poor maintenance had left the structure unstable and on the verge of collapse, leading Truman to vacate the residence in 1948 to allow for a complete reconstruction.

The interior rooms were entirely dismantled. Care was taken to mostly preserve the interior layout, though two new sub-basements and central air conditioning were added.

Above: The Modern White House as seen from the South Lawn

In September 1961, Congress passed a law to officially label the White House as a museum, and no significant architectural changes have been made to the building since Truman's renovation. However, every new president does add their own touches to the building.

Further Reading

Goldberg, Vicki. The White House: the President's Home in Photographs and History. Little, Brown and Co., 2011.

Klara, Robert. The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America's Most Famous Residence. Thomas Dunne Books, 2013.

Seale, William. The White House: the History of an American Idea. White House Historical Association, 2001.

Barber, James David. The presidential character: Predicting performance in the White House. Routledge, 2017.

Above: The back of the Specimen Card.

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