On a quest for old Victorian house photos, I started scouring the National Archives database the other day and, though I didn’t find what I was looking for, I stumbled upon something else truly magical – fascinating photos from the 1950 White House renovation. I knew that the White House had been remodeled but not to the extent that these photos document. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.
It all started in 1948, after Harry S. Truman complained of problems in the White House such as drafts and creaks. After engineers came out to examine the structure, they said it was dangerously unstable and joked that it was only standing out of force of habit. They decided to gut (and I mean gut) the entire White House to rebuild the inside structure from the bottom up. The Truman family moved across the street to the Blair House for three years while the construction crews performed this massive task.
The Massive Task of Rebuilding the White House
The resulting photos from this period are so riveting not only due to the scope of the project, but also because of the people involved. Seeing all the workers (all the citizens of this country) who have used their skills, knowledge, and no-doubt back-breaking work to tear down and rebuild the White House is awe-inspiring.
In some photos, men are holding sledge hammers that you can tell they had just been using to break apart huge brick and stone walls. In other photos, you can see them meticulously removing delicate molding and trim, or chiselling away tile to remove a bathtub. There were so many people involved and each one of them seemed to have a monumental task.
Behind the Walls of the White House
It’s also so interesting to see some of the methods used during this process. For instance, they had to dismantle a bulldozer and bring it piece-by-piece into the white house to use it to scoop dirt to build new concrete underpinnings and dig out a new basement. These guys must have really known what they were doing. Can you imagine working in a cavernous shell of building that was built in 1792? No matter how much scaffolding was present, I’d be terrified that place would topple over.
I was also shocked by seeing so many parts of the White House that we never would have been able to see otherwise. For instance the size of the duct work blew me away (no pun intended). Seeing a man just lounging inside of the duct while on his coffee break is pretty fascinating. And seeing little details like the men laying the herringbone floors also makes you realize all the craftsmanship that went into this process.
I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I did. You can see many more on the National Archive’s Flickr page which I would highly recommend checking out. Also, if you’ve never taken a moment to just randomly flip through National Archives photos, you really should. They have a wonderful collection of old photos that document all sorts of historical events in America. It’s a great resource if you, like me, love thinking about the past.
This isn’t a warehouse, it’s the inside of the white house. You can see the bulldozer they moved in piece by piece in the back. Crazy! Photo via National Archives
I’m in love with herringbone floors and this just proves they are such a classic choice. Look at all that space they had to cover. Photo via National Archives