American presidents from the country’s very beginnings have left their legacy through a wide range of private amenities meant to make life more comfortable at the White House.
The historic building has steadily grown over more than two centuries to house 132 rooms, 32 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces and three elevators. But the detailed list of luxurious amenities adopted over the years span from the very first air conditioners—where air was literally blown over blocks of ice—to solar panels installed over the pool cabana for President George W. Bush.
Though the American presidency was created as a rebuke of European aristocracy, over time the president’s home adopted some of the most state-of-the-art conveniences found only in the most well-to-do American homes.
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The 27th president, William Howard Taft, a bon vivant and lover of food, and his ambitious wife, Helen, acquired the White House’s first mechanical ice cream maker, a 40-quart “Peerless Ice Cream Freezer,” in the early 1900s. He also added a 12-foot-long coal-powered cooking range to the kitchen in 1912, according to the White House Historical Association.
“White House hospitality during the Taft administration centered on the dining table, where the Tafts’ tastes were regal,” according to the association’s website.
The constant stream of foreign dignitaries and high-profile visitors have made entertaining an essential part of White House life. Presidents as early as Thomas Jefferson concerned themselves with the food and drink amenities; Jefferson installed the building’s first wine cellar in the early 1800s just west of the building, according to the historical association. So did President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 30 administrations later, who converted a small kitchen into a state-of-the-art pantry with warming ovens and multiple refrigerators.
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Disabled from a bout of childhood polio, Roosevelt often swam in the pool at his home in Hyde Park, New York. The amenity was a top priority for the president when he moved to the White House, where he installed the building’s first pool, featuring underwater lighting and sterilizers, in 1933, according to the White House Museum.
A Caribbean mural and mirrors livened up the walls of the pool room under President John F. Kennedy. Though not long after, a lack of space for the growing White House press corp moved President Richard Nixon to convert the indoor facility into a room for press briefings.
President Gerald Ford, who took office after Nixon resigned, was an avid swimmer and quickly replaced the aquatic amenity by installing an outdoor pool and later a cabana with showers and changing areas on the White House grounds. Ford’s younger son Jack even used the pool for scuba lessons, according to the White House Museum.
Bill and Hillary Clinton later installed an outdoor spa, which is now solar powered, thanks to green upgrades made for President George W. Bush.
Sports at the White House
Composite: Bettemann; Mark Reinstein / Getty Images
Sports amenities at the White House have evolved over time due to changing fashion and particular tastes of its inhabitants. For instance the first bowling alley was installed in the basement of the West Wing in 1947, and later moved to the Old Executive Office Building, where the worn alley floor and collection of tattered bowling shoes are still used by staff and visitors.
Nixon and his wife, both avid bowlers, installed a second, single-lane alley below the driveway to the North Portico in 1969.
Golf, an iconic pastime of modern presidents, has had an official place at the White House since at least 1954, when President Dwight Eisenhower installed the first putting green, according to the White House Museum. One lesser-known enemy of the American president during Eisenhower’s administration were the squirrels that ripped up his putting green to bury nuts.
Mr. Clinton later moved and expanded the golf facilities to 1,500 square feet with the help of architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr, according to Golf.com. Mr. Clinton also added a jogging track around the south lawn.
Tennis, another favorite pastime of blue-blooded Americans, became a White House offering under Theodore Roosevelt. Though it wasn’t all fun and games. Calvin Coolidge, Jr., got a fatal blister playing tennis at the White House with no socks on—leading to the blood poisoning that killed him at 16, according to the White House Museum.
In 2009, President Barack Obama had basketball court lines painted on the tennis court and removable baskets installed so that he could play full-court basketball.
In 1942, a large cloakroom was converted into a 12-seat movie theater and screening room, which overlooks the sculpture garden, according the White House Museum. Some presidents have used the room to rehearse major speeches. But mostly the room is a luxury amenity for the first family, who can request movies and TV shows.
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