A technological history of the White House

Fascinating article (HT: MR blog).

It discusses how different technologies (yes flushing  toilets was a technology then) were introduced in White House. Sample this:

When electricity was installed in the White House in 1891, then-President Benjamin Harrison was so afraid of being shocked that he refused to touch the circular switches controlling the current in each room. Gas lighting was still used in conjunction with electric for some time.

By the late 1940s, the White House was standing only “by force of habit,” the WHHA says. The whole structure creaked and popped under the weight of 140 years’ worth of additions. Wiring, plumbing and ventilation ducts from various eras wound chaotically through the crumbling building. In a 1946 letter to his wife, Truman wrote: “The damned place is haunted, sure as shootin’. … You and Margie had better come back and protect me before some of these ghosts carry me off.”

The interior of the White House during the Truman renovation. (Abbie Rowe/National Park Service)

In 1949, Truman and the first family moved across the street to Blair House, and then everything but the exterior walls of the White House was completely demolished. A frenetic, three-year reconstruction ensued — this time, with modern electric wiring, phone lines and central heating and air conditioning built in. The basement floors were dug, and steel girders put in to support the structure.

Truman moved back in on March 27, 1952, ushering in one more modern convention: television.


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