We have found and restored 35 high-resolution photos from more than 100 years ago — many of which were carefully hand-colored way back in the day to show the shades and tones that graced the home during that time.
President Roosevelt completely renovated the mansion just after the turn of the century.
Of the updates, the President wrote in a message to Congress: “The stately simplicity of its architecture is an expression of the character in which it was built, and is in accord with the purpose it was designed to serve.”
Roosevelt added, “It is a good thing to preserve such buildings as historic monuments which keep alive our sense of continuity with the nation’s past.”
And if you’d like to see how these vintage White House photos compare to inside the White House of today, check out this collection featuring the West Wing and Executive Office Building interiors.
Inside the White House in the early 1900s: A home of stately dignity and beauty (1905)
From the Washington Post (Washington DC) March 5, 1905
TO THOUSANDS of Washingtonians to whom the exterior of the White House is familiar the interior of the home of the Presidents is a mystery.
To many more thousands of the visitors now in the city to honor the new tenant on the occasion of renewing his lease for four years, it is a mystery not unmixed with awe.
Few people visiting the White House have ever gone beyond the first-floor corridors and the East Room. That is, few when the thousands visiting the historic building every month in the year are taken into consideration.
People thus favored have wondered what there is beyond, in the living rooms of the President’s family and in the state apartments shut off from the public view. Their inspection of the magnificent East Room has whetted their desire to see more, but this is denied them for very obvious reasons.
Always possessing a quiet, dignified beauty, the White House, both in its exterior and interior, has been much improved by the alterations and additions made in the summer of 1902.
The improvements included not only beautifying the walls of the rooms in the building proper, but the addition of the east and west terraces, the latter terminating in the one-story building devoted to the executive offices.
During the period of reconstruction, the President’s office was located in a building in Jackson place, on the west side of Lafayette Square.
The President’s family in the meantime spent the summer at Mr. Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay, New York. The remodeled White House and the new executive offices were occupied by the President and his family in October 1902.
Caring for the Reception Guests
The ground floor of the building proper contains on the eastern side two large anterooms for ladies and gentlemen, that for the ladies on the south and the one for the gentlemen on the north. These rooms open by a hallway from the East Terrace, through which the guests for the large receptions pass.
The East Terrace is occupied by coat and cloak rooms containing boxes for 2,500 wraps, umbrella stands, and other conveniences.
This part of the ground floor of the main building is laid with stone, and a broad and easy flight of stairs leads to the main floor above. These stairs are divided by a brass railing running up the middle.
The guests at receptions entering through the east terrace leave their wraps in one or the other of the wrap rooms, and pass up the western half of the stairway to the receiving line in the Blue Room, on the floor above.
After leaving the receiving area, they pass through the East Room to the door opening at the head of these stairs, and down the eastern half of the stairway to the wrap rooms, and thence eastward through the east terrace to their carriages.
The people in lines thus make a complete circuit, those, who have shaken hands with the President passing, in going down the divided stairs, those who are about to meet him coming up. The arrangement works perfectly, and there is never any confusion.
Inside the White House: The Main of State Floor
The main floor of the White House — that floor to which the public is admitted when it appears at the north entrance, facing Pennsylvania Avenue — is devoted to what may be termed the state apartments, as opposed to the rooms given over to the family life of the President.
The only family room on this floor is the private dining room, a small handsomely furnished apartment in the northwest corner of the building, into which visitors are sometimes permitted to peep, outside of dining hours, of course. There is a large pantry directly west of the private dining room.
The visitor enters the White House through the north, or Pennsylvania Avenue entrance.
As he passes the portals of the rather small swinging plate glass doors, where a vigilant usher is always on guard, he enters the reception hall, which in itself constitutes a magnificent apartment.
A few feet from the door set in the flooring of Joliet stone is the seal of the President of the United States, in brass and circular in form. The American eagle with shield and arrows in the talons is in the center of this piece.
A few feet further on an oval design in brass, also set in the floor, gives the dates of the beginning of work on the first White House and the date of its remodeling as it is today: “1792-1902.”
Its border consists of forty-five stars representing the States. The colors of the walls and ceiling are buff and white, and six large columns of marble impress the eye. The spaces between these columns are filled with tubs of Istrian stone filled with palms and plants, and extending the full height of the east and west walls, are two broad plate glass mirrors set in frames of gold.
On the west wall of the grand hall hangs the Sargent portrait of President Roosevelt, executed in 1903, and facing him on the opposite wall is the Murphy portrait of the late President McKinley. These are the only portraits in the hall.
Bronze standards carrying electric bulbs and a bronze lantern furnish the light for this room.
Immediately behind the reception hall is the main corridor running east and west connecting the State Dining room and the East Room, and leading to the stairway to the second floor. The corridor is carpeted with a rug, a rich crimson in color, matching the curtains hung in the hall.
On the walls of the corridor hang portraits of the Presidents, in oil. In the east wing, Cleveland; on the north wall faces Garfield, while on the western walls hang portraits of Benjamin Harrison and Arthur.
Inside the White House: The State Dining Room
Passing westward through the wide corridor, the visitor approaches the entrance to the State Dining Room, a magnificent apartment in the southwestern part of the building, large enough to seat about 100 guests at the table.
The walls are paneled from floor to ceiling in oak, richly carved; the chandelier and wall branches are of silver, and heads of American game are used around the frieze. The ceiling, in stucco, is elaborately decorated.
There is an India carpet in solid color on the floor, and the chairs are upholstered in tapestry. The draperies are in green velvet.
Two tapestries, one bearing a text from Virgil’s VIIIth Ecogue, are of Flemish workmanship of the seventeenth century, reading:
“Nysa is given in marriage! What may not we lovers expect?
“Griffins now shall mate with horses, and in the succeeding age the timorous does shall come to drink with dogs.
“Begin with me, my flute, Maenallan strains.
“Neopsus, cut fresh nuptial torches; for a wife is on the point of being brought home.”
One of the decorations of the State Dining room is the fern bowl, two feet wide, and in solid silver, presented Mrs. Roosevelt by Prince Fushimi of Japan, on the occasion of his recent visit and official entertainment by the President.
The decorations of American game around the freeze consisting of deer, elk, and moose heads are not trophies of President Roosevelt’s rifle as has been stated.
The State Dining Room Measures forty by sixty feet, is twenty-one feet from floor to ceiling, and is the second-largest room in the White House, the East Room being the largest.
Portraits in the Red Room
Two doors open from the State Dining Room into the Red Room lying directly east of the former apartment.
The wainscoting in the Red Room is in white and enamel. The wall covering and the curtains are of red damask, but the feature of this room is the many fine oil paintings of the Presidents and one of Martha Washington, hanging upon its walls. They are all mounted in heavy gold frames, and include Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Monroe, Zachary Taylor, Polk, and Grant.
There is a richly carved mahogany cabinet of delicate Oriental design containing a number of male and female Japanese figures. The cabinet was a present to Mrs. Roosevelt from the Japanese Legation.
Inside the White House: The Beautiful Blue Room
The Blue Room, oval in shape, is directly south of the main hall and between the Red Room and the East Roam, with windows and doors opening on the south portico.
Rarely beautiful in its proportions and coloring, the Blue Room has been made still more beautiful by the recent changes in the interior of the White House, and it is by many considered the most beautiful apartment in the building.
The furniture is in white and gold, upholstered in blue and gold. The mantel in this room, a new one placed during the recent alteration, is of pure white marble with bronze tips and feathers; the wainscoting is in white enamel; the wall covering is of heavy corded blue silk, on which is embroidered at top and bottom the Grecian fret; the curtain hangings, of the same material as the wall covering, are embroidered with stars, and the curtain poles are surrounded by gilt eagles. The Grecian fret appears also in the ceiling.
Blind doors are in the walls near the southern end of the room, and at receptions, the guests coming from the Red Room pass the receiving party standing in a single line directly in front of the windows.
The guests specially invited to share the Blue Room with the receiving party face the President. A silken cord is stretched across the room from door to door to ensure freedom of passage for the guests while being presented.
On the mantel in the Blue Room stands the massive gold clock presented by Lafayette to George Washington. The clock is kept running every day, and is said to be an excellent timekeeper.
Velvet-hung Green Room
The Green Room occupies the same relative space on the eastern and southern side of the White House as the Red Room does on the western side, and, like that room, has doors communicating with the Blue Room. One door also opens into the large East Room, and another into the main corridor behind the reception hall.
The wall coverings and curtains of this room are copied from an old piece of Genoese velvet. Nearly everything in this room is new, including the mantel, the furniture, the rug, the mirror, the crystal chandelier and sidelights, and the andirons.
Large oil paintings of the Presidents adorn the walls of the Green Room, the largest being a full-length portrait of Lincoln, which hangs on the west wall. Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, Buchanan, Pierce, Hayes, William Henry Harrison, and Johnson are ranged around the north and east walls.
The fire screen in this room, a very beautiful piece of work in a delicate shade of silk, was presented to the White House by the Austrian government in 1876.
Two exquisite Japanese vases on the mantelpiece) were presented by the Japanese government during Arthur’s administration. There is also a handsome Japanese cabinet in this room, which was presented by the first Japanese Minister to the United States in 1868.
In the Great East Room
The East Room, the apartment of which the public is better acquainted than any other room in the Executive Mansion, occupies, as its name implies, the entire eastern wing of the White House.
The walls are covered with wood paneling enameled; the ornamental ceiling is done in stucco, and set in the walls are twelve low-relief panels of sculpture, the subjects taken from Aesop’s fables.
On the east -and west sides of the room are two mantels of colored marble, with large mirrors above them, and candelabra on the shelves.
Three crystal chandeliers of exquisite beauty form constituent parts of the decoration, as do also four bronze standards bearing electric lights, which are placid at the four corners of the room.
The window draperies are of heavy yellow silk damask; the banquettes are gilded and carved, and are covered with silk velours. Four beautiful console tables with marble tops stand in the room.
Velvet cushioned seats or settles surround the walls, but there are no chairs in this room, and the walls are bare of pictures.
In the East Room, as in the other staterooms on the drawing room floor, except in the hall, where stone is used, the floor is of highly polished hardwood.
The “Gold” Grand Piano
In the East Room stands the “gold” grand piano, a splendid instrument entirely covered with gold leaf and valued at $22,500. On the inside of the cover, and exposed to view when it is raised, is painted in oil a picture of the muses executed by a celebrated artist.
This piano was presented to the White House several years ago by an American firm of piano makers, in celebration of an anniversary, it being the one hundred thousandth instrument made by the firm. It is used in concerts so often given in the East Room during the season.
Two beautiful blue Sevres vases standing on cabinets set against the east wall of the room were presented in commemoration of the laying of the Franco-American cable during President McKinley’s administration. They are valued at $5,000 each.
The East Roam is the largest room in the White House, being forty by eighty feet, and twenty-one feet from floor to ceiling. It is used as a general assembly room on state occasions, for concerts, and sometimes for the reception by the President of small parties of visitors.
It is the one room of the White House that is always open to the public between the hours of 9 a. m. and 2 p. m., except on Sundays and on extra occasions.
During the recent repairs, when the plaster had been removed from the East Room, traces of the fire when the British burned the White House in 1814 were plain.
Many names, evidently those of workmen employed on the new building between the years 1793 and 1800, were found cut in the stone walls.
The refurbishing of the White House after the war of 1812 cost $50,000, and the work was finished in 1818.
Inside the White House: The Second, or Family Floor
Leading from the east wing of the main corridor is the main stairway to the second story, which is devoted to the living rooms of the President’s family and contains also his private office and library.
The stairway is of Joliet stone, and consists of a broad flight from the main floor to the landing, where it divides into two flights. The railing is of forged iron and brass, with handrail covered with velvet.
A double gate of wrought iron which rolls back into pockets in the want; stands at the foot of the staircase. The walls above the landing are painted and paneled.
Facing the head of the stairs is the door to the President’s private office and study, which was formerly known and used as the Cabinet Room.
The apartment, which is richly but not elaborately furnished, has windows commanding a fine view of the south White House grounds, the Washington Monument, and the Potomac River in the distance.
The President’s desk, of richly carved mahogany and flat-topped, stands nearly in the center of the room. The floor is of white maple highly polished.
Around the walls and in the spaces between the windows are set low, open bookcases filled with books whose authors range from Shakespeare to “The Simple Life,” by Charles Wagner.
Office once used as Cabinet Room
A beautiful marble mantel, with open fireplace, stands in the room, the mantel bearing the following inscription: “This room was first used for meetings of the Cabinet during the administration of President [Andrew] Johnson. It continued to be so used until the year MCMII. Here the treaty of peace with Spain was signed.”
A door from the study opens into the library, which is an oval room the same size and directly above the Blue Room on the main floor.
As on the main floor below, the “family floor” has a large corridor, richly carpeted, running east and west connecting two large sitting rooms, one on the east above the East Room, the other on the west above the State Dining room, and communicating with the bedrooms.
There are seven bedrooms, each with a bathroom adjoining, fitted in the most approved and modern style. Four of these bedrooms, those in the southeast, northeast, southwest, and northwest corners of the building, are unusually large apartments and have connected with them smaller dressing rooms.
A narrow stairway leads from the northwest corridor to the private dining room on the floor below, and this, it is said, is often used by the White House family, especially the younger boys, who are fond of exercise.
An electric elevator, running from the basement to the attic, adjoins this stairway. The entire eastern half of the attic floor is used for storage purposes as is also a section of the extreme western portion.
The middle western space is taken up with the servants’ bedrooms, six in number. There is but one bathroom on the attic floor, located on the south side, and having windows looking out upon the roof of the round portico.
Inside the White House: Refurnished many times
Since 1870, the White House has been redecorated and refurnished frequently, according to the tastes of the times and within the limits of annual appropriations, varying from $10,000 to $30,000. Until 1902, the sums available have never been sufficient to accomplish a thorough reconstruction.
Referring to the changes made that year, the President, in a message to Congress, said: “Through a wise provision of Congress at its last session, the White House, which had become disfigured by incongruous additions and changes, has now been restored to what it was planned to be by Washington.
“In making the restoration, the utmost care has been exercised to come as near as possible to the early plans and to supplement these plans by a careful study of such buildings as that of the University of Virginia, which was built by Jefferson.
“The White House is the property of the nation, and so far as is compatible with living therein it should be kept as it originally was, for the sane reason that we keep Mount Vernon as if originally was.
“The stately simplicity of its architecture is an expression of the character in which it was built, and is in accord with the purpose it was designed to serve.
“It is a good thing to preserve such buildings as historic monuments which keep alive our sense of continuity with the nation’s past.”
Inside the White House: Executive Offices
The new executive offices, located at the western end of the west terrace and opposite the State, War and Navy Building, contain eight large and a number of small rooms, as follows: The President’s office and retiring room, the Cabinet Room, offices for two secretaries, a telegraph and telephone room, a large room for the stenographers, a room for the press, a main hall fitted as a reception room, file rooms, and closets in the basement.
The furnishings of the executive offices, save those of the President and the Cabinet Room, are exceedingly plain, They were designed for and are being used exclusively for business.
The total cost of the rebuilding and refurnishing of the White House including the new executive offices, was $467,000, being some $7,000 less than the amount appropriated by Congress for the purpose. The work was accomplished in a remarkably short space of time in the summer of 1902.
The American people today have reason to be proud of the “home of the Presidents ” in simple, dignified beauty, both in its interior and exterior, surpasses the palates of kings.
The front of the old White House, Washington, DC (1905)
White House in the early 1900s: Exterior of the north portico (1908)
White House, east entrance, Washington, DC