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Electricity and the White House


Posted on 02-22-2018


The White House was built in 1792 but has only been using electricity for just over a century.  Electricity was first put into the White House by the Edisosn Company on September 14, 1891 during Benjamin Harrison's presidency.  According to the White House Historical Association, wires were plastered over in the walls and round switches were installed for turning the current on and off.  With little known about electricity at the time, President Harrison and his wife were too afraid of shock to go near the switches.


Things became a little more advanced with the addition of new electric appliances during the 1920s. Electric vacuums were used to clean the carpets at the White House for the first time in 1922, and an electric refrigerator was installed in the White House during Calvin Coolidge's presidency in 1926.


During Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency, air conditioning was added to the private quarters of the White House in 1933, although he rarely used it in the Oval Office, opting to wear short sleeves.


From 1948 to 1952 the White House went through a major renovation that included electrical.  This happened with the Truman administration and often referred to as the Truman Reconstruction. President Truman and his family and staff were relocated across the street  This renovation is mainly how we know the White House as it is today.  


President Lyndon B. Johnson earned the nickname "Light Bulb" Johnson for his practice of turning out the lights in unused rooms in the White House every night to save taxpayer money on the electric bill.  


It was President Jimmy Carter who took a green turn in the White House by adding solar panels to the roof of the West Wing to heat the water supply in 1979.  However, those panels were removed in 1986 during a roof repair.  It was in 1993 when the Clinton Administration came up with "Greening the White House" project.  Energy efficient windows were installed in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, a new HVAC system was installed and incadescent bulbs were replaced with CFLs.  In 2003, President George W. Bush continued the green effect by adding the first solar electric system to the White House.  In 2008, the traditional 100 year old portico lantern outside the White House was fitted with LED lights.  Lastly, in 2014 during the Obama Administration, solar panels were placed on the main roof of the White House providing 6.3 kilowatts of solar power.


To find out more about the history of electrifying the White House visit https://www.energy.gov/articles/history-electricity-white-house


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