For more than two hundred years, the White House has stood as a symbol of the United States
Presidency, the U.S. government, and the American people. In 1790, President George Washington
declared that the federal government would reside in a district “not exceeding ten miles square … on the
river Potomac.” As preparations began, a competition was held to find a builder of the “President’s House.”
Nine proposals were submitted, and the Irish-born architect James Hoban won the gold medal for his
practical and handsome design. Construction began when the first cornerstone was laid in October of 1792.
Although President Washington oversaw the construction of the house, he never lived in it. It was not until
1800, when the White House was nearly completed, that its first residents, President John Adams and his
wife Abigail, moved in.
American presidents can express their individual style in how they decorate the house and in how they
receive the public. Thomas Jefferson held the first inaugural open house in 1805; many of those who
attended the swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol simply followed him home. President Jefferson also
opened the house for public tours, and it has remained open, except during wartime, ever since. In addition,
Jefferson welcomed visitors to annual receptions on New Year’s Day and on the Fourth of July. Abraham
Lincoln did the same, but then the inaugural crowds became far too large for the White House to
accommodate comfortably, and this also created a security issue. It was not until Grover Cleveland’s first
presidency that some effective crowd control measures were implemented to address the problem caused
by this practice.
At various times in history, the White House has been known as the “President’s Palace,” the
“President’s House,” and the “Executive Mansion.” President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White
House its current name in 1901.