The White House is fueled by a lot of things: hard work, long hours, coffee. But one thing we often forget is all the electricity that makes everyday tasks so much more efficient.

Built in 1792, the White House has only been electrified for over a century. President Benjamin Harrison and his wife Caroline were the first to live in an electrified White House, but electricity was so new at the time that the couple refused to touch the light switches for fear of electric shock. The White House staff was in charge of turning the lights on and off.

During the Administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, however, the President was known for wandering the White House turning off lights in rooms he thought empty, sometimes to the surprise of people working in those rooms! This earned him the nickname “Light Bulb Johnson.”

The electrical systems at the White House also need upkeep and updates. In fact, the White House was on the verge of collapse during President Truman’s tenure. A series of haphazard renovations over many years had removed or weakened load-bearing walls and made the house dangerous -- his daughter Margaret’s piano even broke through the floor of the family quarters!

Once Truman won reelection in 1948, he and his family moved across the street to the Presidential guest quarters called the Blair House, while the White House was gutted. The renovation cost $5.7 million and took about four years to complete. It involved a complete overhaul of the public and private quarters of the White House, which were then redesigned to simulate what they’d looked like in years past.

In recent years, various administrations have focused on making the White House more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Presidents Carter, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama all made contributions to a greener White House.

To learn more about the history of electricity at the White House, check out the timeline above.

Allison Lantero
Served as Digital Content Specialist in the Office of Public Affairs.
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