President's Day: Plumbing in the White House 101

Presidents’ Day: Plumbing in the White House 101

Happy Presidents’ Day! If you’re like most homeowners, you probably consider your bathroom to be one of the most important rooms in your home. In fact, the average American spends two weeks out of every year in the restroom. With President’s Day 2016 right around the corner, it’s a good time to ponder some presidential plumbing facts.

President Obama and his family may take modern conveniences for granted. After all, the White House is pretty much like a luxury hotel filled with all the high-tech gadgets and appliances conceivable – it’s just one of the many perks that come with being leader of the free world. One thing the POTUS probably doesn’t have to worry about is whether or not the plumbing works – there are 35 bathrooms to choose from!

Presidential Plumbing Problems

While the president’s home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is quite posh now, it hasn’t always been a place of luxurious accommodation. In fact, many previous presidents had to put up with poor living conditions, including primitive plumbing and almost non-existent heating. We may be so accustomed to our modern-day lavatory luxuries that we take them for granted, but Americans in the 1850s generally relied on outhouses for their restroom needs.

The White House cornerstone was laid October 12, 1792, but in November of 1800 that the second POTUS and First Lady Abigail moved in and found that there was no indoor plumbing of any kind, she wasn’t impressed at all. In addition, there were no bathrooms, and servants had to walk five blocks to haul water into the house.

Washtub Woes

There is some debate about when the first bathtub was actually installed in the White House. Common practice at the time was the use of portable washing tubs for personal use. While James Madison is believed to have had a bathtub installed in 1814, water still had to be heated on a wood stove and carried in buckets to fill it.

However, the first White House bathtub was actually the Potomac River – John Quincy Adams reportedly enjoyed nude bathing and an “au natural” swim every morning at 5 A.M. in the river, according to the Harvard Square Library. Other stories involve President James Monroe reportedly purchasing a tin cylinder bathtub for $20-30 in 1817, and William Howard Taft was too hefty to bathe in a regular-sized tub, so he had a custom tub built to fit his 330-pound frame in.

First Family Fixtures

It’s easy to take for granted that water will come out of your bathroom sink when you turn the handle, but even though most hotels and private mansions featured indoor plumbing, during the early years the White House lacked running water. While it got running water to the first floor in 1833, the Franklin Pierce presidential family didn’t get that luxury in the second floor washroom until twenty years later.

After the 1948-52 reconstruction, however, a guest gushed over President Truman’s bathroom tub in the May 1952 issue of The Plumbing News as being “a good seven feet long”.

Presidents’ Day Plumbing And More With Climate Design

We hope you enjoyed learning more about plumbing in the White House this Presidents’ Day. Our professional plumbing team at Climate Design can help with all your home comfort needs, including yearly maintenance and emergency repairs. Contact us today to get started!

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