Truman's Extraordinary Renovation of the White House

- At the beginning of his presidency, Former President Harry S. Truman decided the White House just wasn’t up to par. Swaying floors, chilly drafts, creepy sounds, sagging plaster, and mysteriously swinging chandeliers prompted him to have the entire building gutted. After all, it was neglected for almost 12 years after the Great Depression.

Congress authorized more than $5.4 million, to give the interior an enormous facelift. Amidst the changes, what has always remained the same? The exterior.

Truman originally had a detailed West Wing drawn up by Lorenzo Winslow, thinking it would satisfy his and the First Family’s needs. Public objections started rolling in; prompting a rejection of the addition soon after ground was broken. Concerns on Capitol Hill addressed the burning question: did Truman somehow sneak the money through?

The funding was withheld for the planned wing, but that didn’t stop the President. With the allotted maintenance money, Truman had the second-floor balcony to the South Portico added.

In order to keep the exterior looking as glorious as it does today, the construction equipment was disassembled, carried inside, and then reassembled. Even bulldozers, that moved dirt between the walls, went through the same break-down process.

Unstable structures were removed. The first two floors were replaced and rebuilt using concrete beams, swapping out the old wooden joists. More than 660 tons of steel was added to strengthen the inner walls and floors. Even a basement was created, complete with a ventilation system and bomb shelter ready for a potential nuclear attack. Prior to the changes, none of the guest rooms connected to baths. Afterwards, each one had their very own.

On January 7, 1952, the steps to South Portico were added.

During the renovation, Truman, his wife, and the entire residence staff moved into Blair House. It was located across the street from the White House and served as the official guest residence for dignitaries who were visiting.

The construction took 22 months. When it was complete, the First Family hosted a small ceremony and received a shiny new gold key to their updated residence, on March 27, 1952. Talk about a grand entrance!

Who do you want living in the White House after this year’s election?

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