On the 13th October 1792 the cornerstone of the White House, which at the time was to be known as the United States Executive Mansion, was laid. Construction took 8 years, with John Adams being the first President to take up residence when he moved in on Saturday 1st November, 1800.

The foundations of the White House, and the main residence, were built by African-American slaves, alongside some freemen and employed Europeans. However other work, such as the dressing and laying of the sandstone walls, was completed by immigrant masons – primarily from Scotland. According to the White House Historical Association, slave labour was used for the building due to the poor response to adverts for paid construction workers, although records show that slaves were hired from their masters rather than being owned by the government itself.

The White House was built as part of the development of the Federal City – a national capital founded under the terms of the 1790 Residence Act. A competition, organised by Thomas Jefferson, led to the White House being built according to a design by Irish-born James Hoban, during which time Philadelphia in Pennsylvania served as the temporary capital. Hoban’s design was greatly influenced by Dublin’s Leinster House alongside various other Georgian-era buildings in Ireland.

The walls of the White House are sandstone, but they get their familiar colour and name from whitewash applied after construction. The story that the building was painted white to hide damage inflicted during the 1814 Burning of Washington is sadly untrue. However, the White House did have to undergo a major reconstruction project that lasted until 1817.

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© Scott Allsop