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The White House
Where is the White House?

The White House is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. The Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, the Jefferson Memorial, the Pentagon, and the Lincoln Memorial are also in the Washington, D.C. area.

Did you know? The White House was the biggest house in the United States until the Civil War. Did you know? William Henry Harrison served the shortest term of any President. He served thirty-two days, from March 4 to April 4, 1841. He fell ill with pneumonia shortly after his Inauguration and never recovered.

In the late 1700s, it was decided that the USA needed a capital city. Many people felt that it should be located in New York; others thought it should be in Philadelphia. The first President, George Washington, finally picked a site on the Potomac River, midway between the northern and southern states. This spot would come to be called Washington, District of Columbia. Pierre L'Enfant, a city planner from France, designed the new city. He decided to place the Capitol Building on one hill and the "President's House" on another hill. L'Enfant had many plans for building the city, but he lost his job after too many disagreements with landowners. The streets and parks that exist in Washington, D.C., today are the result of the work of two other planners, Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker, who made maps and plans based on L'Enfant's original designs. The original District of Columbia was like a wilderness, and the Potomac River caused the area to be marshy. Pigs roamed the streets, and mosquitoes made people sick from malaria. Conditions improved, however, when the marshes, creeks, and canals were drained.

While the city of Washington, D.C. was being developed, the President's House was also getting under way. A contest was held to select a designer for the house. While it is said that the third President, Thomas Jefferson, submitted designs for the house, architect James Hoban won the contest. Work on the house began in 1792. Stonecutters were hired from Scotland. Bricks were made on the north lawn. Sandstone was brought from Stafford County, Virginia, and wood from North Carolina and Virginia.

President George Washington oversaw construction of the White House, but he never lived there! It was the second President, John Adams, elected in 1796, who first lived in the White House. His term was almost over by the time he moved in, and only six rooms had been finished. While James Madison was President, from 1809-1817, the United States went to war with England. On August 24, 1814, British soldiers sailed up the Potomac River and set fire to the White House. Before doing so, however, they marched right into the President's dining room and helped themselves to food that had been left on the table!

Dolley Madison, the President's wife, stayed behind until the very last minute. She saved important government papers and the portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart that now hangs in the East Room. A summer thunderstorm put out the fire, but only the outside, charred walls and the interior brick walls remained. It took three years to rebuild the White House.


Getting to know the White House

The White House has six floors--two basements, two public floors, and two floors for the First Family. Visitors who tour the White House are able to see the most beautiful and historic rooms in the house including the East Room, the Green Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room, and the State Dining Room. These rooms are used by the President and First Lady to entertain guests and to receive leaders of other countries.

The Blue Room
James Hoban designed this room as an oval at the request of President Washington. Today, it is used as a reception room for foreign important guests. During the holiday season, the huge lamp hanging from the ceiling is removed, and the White House Christmas tree stands in the middle of the room.

The Green Room
Over the years, the Green Room has served as a card room, as a sitting room, and, recently, as a place for small teas, receptions, and meetings. The walls were covered with green silk during Thomas Jefferson's presidency.

The Red Room
The walls of the Red Room are covered in red satin. During James Madison's presidency, his wife, Dolley, held musical gatherings in this room on Sunday evenings.

The State Dining Room
The State Dining Room can accommodate up to 140 guests. Originally, it was much smaller and served as a drawing room, an office, and a Cabinet room. President Theodore Roosevelt once hung a large moose head above the fireplace.

The East Room
The East Room is the largest room in the White House. It has been used for dances, receptions, concerts, weddings, funerals, church services, press conferences, bill-signing ceremonies, and many other events. President Theodore Roosevelt even held wrestling and boxing matches here.

The Oval Office
The Oval Office is where the President does the business of the country--signing bills and Executive Orders and meeting with staff, visitors, and guests. The Oval Office changes with each Administration, as each President brings personal mementos and favorite furniture or artwork, and each makes selections from the White House art collection.
President Clinton chose to use the Resolute Desk, made from the timbers of a historic British ship, the HMS Resolute, which the United States rescued and returned to England. When the ship was dismantled, the desk was made from timbers of the ship, and Queen Victoria of England gave it to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Every President from President Hayes through President Dwight D. Eisenhower used the desk; it was first placed in the Oval Office in 1961 at the request of President John F. Kennedy.
After being on exhibit for ten years at the Smithsonian Institution, the Resolute was put back into use by President Jimmy Carter. The Resolute was also used in the Oval Office by President Ronald Reagan and for a few months by President George Bush. On January 20, 1993, this historic desk was returned to the Oval Office once again, at the request of President Clinton.

Children in the White House

Many Presidents have had children or grandchildren who lived with them or visited often at the White House. Chelsea Victoria, daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, enjoyed spending time with her father. Chelsea was the first child to live in the White House since Amy Carter. Chelsea's favorite subjects in school are math and foreign languages.

Amy Carter, President Jimmy Carter's daughter, moved into the White House at the age of nine. She has three older brothers, named Jack, Jeff, and Chip. Amy's mother, Rosalynn, once remarked, "Her brothers are so much older that it is almost as though she has four fathers, and we have had to stand in line to spoil her."

President Richard Nixon's children, Tricia and Julie, along with Julie's husband, David Eisenhower, enjoyed family dinners in the White House.

Lynda Johnson, President Lyndon B. Johnson's daughter, was married to Charles Robb in 1967 in the East Room of the White House. It was the first wedding to take place in the White House since 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson's daughter, Eleanor, married William Gibbs McAdoo.

President John F. Kennedy's children, John Jr. and Caroline, would often come to visit their father in the Oval Office. The President enjoyed their company and loved to watch them play. Caroline had a pony named Macaroni who roamed freely around the White House gardens.

Thomas (Tad) Lincoln was the youngest son of President Abraham Lincoln. Known for his jokes around the White House, Tad once discovered how to make all of the White House bells ring at the same time -- much to the surprise of the entire staff and residents of the building!

Pets in the White House

The Clinton family brought two pets to the White House. One was a dog called Buddy, who arrived at the White House in December 1997. He is a chocolate Labrador retriever. The other one a cat called Socks. This cat moved to the White House with the Clintons in 1993. It was the first cat to live in the White House since Amy Carter's cat, Misty Malarky Ying Yang.

President Lyndon Johnson and his beloved Yuki liked to perform in the Oval Office. Yuki was found at a Texas gas station by Johnson's daughter Luci. He was one of the President's favorite dogs. President Johnson also had two beagles which he named Him and Her!

President Benjamin Harrison's son Russell Harrison had a pet goat named Old Whiskers. This goat was so ornery that one day the President was forced to chase him down Pennsylvania Avenue when he decided to run away with the Harrison grandchildren.

Fala, the best loved and most famous of all First Pets, belonged to President Franklin Roosevelt. Born on April 7, 1940, Fala was a gift to the President from his cousin Margaret Stuckley. The President loved Fala so much that he rarely went anywhere without him.

Questions on “Where is the White House”?

Easy:

  1. What is the address of the White House?
  2. Who decided where to build the capital city?
  3. Which river flows through the city of Washington?
  4. Who designed the President's House?
  5. Who was the first president that lived in the White House?
  6. Who set fire to the White House?

More difficult:

  1. Which two states were considered as possible locations for the capital city?
  2. Why did Ellicott and Banneker take over L'Enfant's job?
  3. Which problems existed in the original district of Columbia?
  4. How long did it take to build the original White House?
  5. Why didn't the White House burn down completely when the British soldiers set fire to it?

Most difficult:

  1. Why do you think that George Washington chose a site, midway between the northern and southern states?
  2. L'Enfant is Frech for “the child”. Does this name fit its bearer? Why?
  3. What can you say about the fairness of the contest for the best design of the President's House? Explain your answer.
  4. Why do you thin that the American author of the text added an exclamation mark to the sentence: “they marched right into the President's dining room and helped themselves to food that had been left on the table!”
  5. What is your opinion of Dolly Madison? Explain.

Questions on “Getting to know the White House”

Easy:

  1. How many floors of the White House are open to the public?
  2. Who was President when the Blue Room was designed?
  3. Why is the Green Room called Green?
  4. Could the State Dining Room always hold 140 guests?
  5. In which room does the President do his business?
  6. What is the name of the famous desk in the Oval Room?

More Difficult:

  1. Which TWO rooms are oval?
  2. What does the President to in the Oval Room?
  3. Which of the rooms would be most suitable for playing a game of soccer? Why?
  4. For which THREE rooms does the text give very clear explanations why they are called the way they are?
  5. Why is the Resolute Desk called this way?

Most Difficult

  1. Which of the rooms mentioned are on the two public floors?
  2. Which room has been used for most of the religious ceremonies?
  3. When, why and how does the interior of the Oval Room change?
  4. Why did Queen Victoria decide to give a desk made out of wood from a ship to the President of the USA?
  5. Many presidents have insisted on using the Resolute Desk. If you were president, would YOU want to use it? Explain your answer.

Questions on “Kids & Pets in the White House”

Easy

  1. Name at least 5 children who lived in the White House.
  2. How many children did the Carter Family have in the White House?
  3. The daughter of whom had a pony called Macaroni?
  4. Name at least 3 pets that have lived in the White House
  5. Was Yuki, the pet of President Johnson a cat or a dog?
  6. How many pets did President Johnson have?

More Difficult:

  1. What were the names of the two brides mentioned in the text?
  2. Give an example of one of the jokes Tad Lincoln pulled.
  3. Which TWO animals will move out of the White House now?
  4. Name all the different kinds of animals that have lived in the White House.
  5. What is the name of the pet of which the text does not tell us what kind of animal it was?

Most Difficult:

  1. What did Rosalynn Carter mean when she said: "Her brothers are so much older that it is almost as though she has four fathers, and we have had to stand in line to spoil her"?
  2. Guess what the word “ornery” means in the context of President Harrison's pet goat.
  3. What are the names of the pets of which we are sure that the President did not buy?
  4. Which TWO children of presidents are mentioned in the Pets section but NOT in the Children section?

Would YOU want to live in the White House? Explain your answer!


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