Questions & Answers

WWW White House Museum

US English




I've gotten some wonderful feedback from visitors with plenty of questions. Keep 'em coming!

However, please keep in mind that WHM is NOT ASSOCIATED
with the White House or the White House Historical Association.

Capitalizing the word President

The Man Who Runs the White House

The President's Salary and Expenses

Architectural style of the White House

Coolidge-era China

The Ike & the Capitol

JFK's rug and the Blue Room

Second Floor and Basement

Where is the 1992 HABS Photo Collection?

White House Museum: the Book? the Museum?

Old Elevator

Staircases to the Sub-Basement

Does the President's Elevator Go All the Way to the Top?

Clock Room Conundrum

Ramp to East Sitting Hall

White House Exterior Paint

Hall of Presidents



Capitalizing the Word President

When should president, vice-president, first lady, and secretary be capitalized?

Like the words king, queen, and prime minister, the words president, vice-president, and secretary should not be capitalized when used alone. But, while ordinary job titles like regional manager and customer service representative also do not get capitalized, President of the United States (the full phrase) is more than just a job title; it is the name of an official government office and therefore is a proper noun, which always get capitalized. The same is true of Vice-President of the United States and Secretary of State and other Cabinet-level offices, just as with King of Jordan and Prime Minister of Sweden .

However, first lady is not an official government office—she does not take an oath of office or even get officially appointed. Therefore it should not be capitalized. However, this is somewhat flexible, as the position of first lady is becoming more official over time, and the White House uses "Office of the First Lady" as an organization within the Executive Office of the President with its own budget and physical offices (but no salary). It is acceptable to capitalize it as an honorific, such as First Lady Michelle Obama. Similar constructions (second lady, first daughter) are entirely unofficial and should not be capitalized.

Of course, President Washington, President Bush, and President Obama are examples of a title used with a name and are therefore capitalized, just as you would capitalize titles and honorifics such as Doctor Jones, Ambassador Johnson, Reverend Smith, and Mr. James. Note that ordinary job titles used with names are not the same and are not capitalized: assistant manager Larry Smith; attorney David Jones.


  • The president held a press conference, accompanied by the vice-president.
  • Foreign dignitaries met with the Secretary of Defense at their embassy.
  • Secretary Adams and Vice-President Baker visited troops in Germany on Thursday.
  • The Queen of England visited the president and first lady last year.
  • The Pope appealed to the President of the United States to provide economic aid to impoverished nations.
  • Former first lady Helen Taft spoke in front of a crowd of several thousand.

Note that these are standard English-language publishing guidelines—NOT official White House practice. White House communications commonly capitalize President, Vice-President, and First Lady in all cases.


The Man Who Runs the White House

Who actually runs the White House and how does it get paid for?

The White House Executive Mansion has an annual budget of about $12 million with a staff of about 90. The man in charge of it is the chief usher, currently Angella Reid, a former Ritz-Carlton hotel manager. The White House sits on 18 acres of President's Park, a national park that also includes Lafayette Park on the north side, the Ellipse on the south side, and the grounds of the EEOB and Treasury buildings. All of it is maintained by the National Park Service with about 25 employees.

The West Wing and East Wing are considered government offices. The buildings belong to the General Services Administration (although the chief usher takes care of the Family Theater and the Oval Office). The work done in the wings is paid for by the White House Office of Administration (which even pays rent to the GSA); the Office of Administration is likewise responsible for the president's staff in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building—about 1,800 total staff in the Executive Office of the President.

The US Navy runs the Navy Mess in the West Wing and provides stewards for the president.

White House Historical Association is a non-profit organization set up to help first families maintain and renovate the rest of the White House (and also produces the guide books and historical research papers). The WHHA maintains the White House Endowment Trust and the White House Acquisition Trust that are funded with private donations and buy antiques and fine art and to redecorate the public rooms of the ground and first floor from time to time.

For large renovations like the expansion of the Situation Room and renovation of the press corps spaces that the Bushes did, Congress has to be persuaded to provide funding. This has derailed a lot of presidential plans in the past, including Caroline Harrison's plan to build gigantic wings and Harry Truman's plan to build a big extension on the back of the West Wing.


The President's Salary and Expenses

How much does the president get paid and what does he pay for personally versus his expense accounts?

As recorded in official US statutes , the president gets a salary of $400,000 a year, making him the highest-paid federal employee (the vice-president gets $230,700) and among the highest paid heads of government world-wide. He has a business expense budget of $50,000 a year, a travel expense budget of $100,000 a year, and an entertainment budget of $19,000 a year.

The expense account is generally used for meetings that aren't covered by other government departments and for other things that would generally be called "business expenses." Whenever the president travels for state business (diplomacy), the State Department and Defense Department pay for all of it. When he or his family travels for pleasure (vacation), the security and some travel costs are paid for by government (Defense Department and Department of Transportation). When the president travels for political purposes, his political party picks up much of the (non-security) tab.

The entertainment budget is used for parties that aren't state events (such as birthday parties) and probably to acquire movies shown in the Family Theater.

For state dinners (diplomacy), the State Department pays for everything. For other events, the cost may be covered by the department involved (such as the Department of Defense, when the president meets with troops). Food served at parties, during travel, or for meetings may be covered by the expense accounts.

The things the president typically pays for out of pocket are food for regular family meals, family gifts, clothes, personal services (dry-cleaning, hair-styling), his children's education, some vacation expenses, and furnishings he wants to take with him when he leaves. Presidents typically maintain a personal home as well, such as the second Bushes' Crawford ranch.

Because no federal employee is paid more than the president, this puts a very strict limit on federal government salaries that often make federal jobs pay much less than their counterparts in the private sector.


Architectural Style of the White House

What is considered the definitive architectural style of the White House? I see Palladian, then Georgian tossed about.

The White House is considered Federalist in period (late 1700s-early 1800s) but sort of a throw-back to the slightly earlier Georgian period in its neoclassical style. The architects of the first American government buildings had a strong sense of the history of the origin of democracy in ancient Greece and the Roman Republic, so they looked around for neoclassical styles that were compatible with the current architecture. It was Palladio's neoclassical designs from two centuries earlier that were most popular at the time, and it's hard to deny the influence. But the White House isn't topped with statues of trumpeters and other ornaments—that's the Federalist period taste for simplicity exerting itself. The Truman balcony is, purists would argue, brutalist in style.


Coolidge-era China

Did the Coolidges have a White House China Pattern?

Full sets of White House china (often numbering 1,700 pieces or more) are very expensive, so many presidents just use existing sets in the White House collection. The Coolidges purchased some replacement pieces for the Wilson setting, which was used from its purchase in 1918 to the early Roosevelt administration in 1934, when the Roosevelts commissioned a new full set of their own design. The Wilson set is still used from time to time; Hillary Clinton purchased some replacement pieces for it and other sets, and she and Bill later even commissioned a set of their own that the Bushes usually used (their own formal and infomal sets where not ready until very late in their time in the White House). Prior to the Benjamin Harrisons, however, White House china was often sold to fund the purchase of new china, so even the White House's own collection before that is quite spotty.

Most first families leave at least something for the White House dining collection, tho. The Coolidges commissioned a set of silver Minuet-pattern flatware with "President's House" engraved on the handles, which were used for the next fifty years.


The Ike & the Capitol

Do you have any information on floor plans/directories for other buildings such as the Capitol and the Supreme Court, but primarily I'm interested in the OEOB/EEOB.

I've seen very little on the EEOB in my research, but I haven't been looking for it directly. I've seen pictures of a few offices (Nixon's office, TR's VP office, the current VP ceremonial office), a couple of conference rooms, and of course the Indian Treaty Room, and also the bowling lanes, but that's about it. I've never seen a good description of what is in the building other than additional staff of the executive branch. The EEOB, as you probably know, is often referred to as if it is part of the White House. When Bush took office after Clinton, the big hullabaloo over "vandalism" of the "White House" was actually mostly just ordinary messiness in the EEOB and a few pranks (so said the GAO). The White House site has a little tour of the EEOB.

Similarly, layouts and details on other government buildings are also few and far between. However, this site seems to have a pretty good plan of the Capitol. The Senate site has a tour. And the Library of Congress has some good pictures. What I find striking about the Capitol is how it is rather grander than the White House. Congress, it seems, has made itself a nicer house than the one it has made for the president.


JFK's rug and the Blue Room

Do you have any ideas, thoughts, etc. as to what happened to the red rug that was installed when the oval office was redone in November, 1963 while JFK was on his ill-fated trip to Texas? In every photo I’ve ever seen, the LBJ office has a green rug (it actually looks like the Truman/Eisenhower rug.)

Also, I wonder what you think of the Blue Room as it stands today, since the 1995 redecoration? I very much liked the post-Truman reconstruction Blue Room as well as the 1962 Kennedy restoration Blue Room. (My favorite.) I haven’t cared for it since the 1972 Pat Nixon redecoration; and though the 1995 renovation is better than the 1972 one, I still don’t like the room much. Your thoughts?

I'm sure Boudin's red OO rug is in storage along with all the other presidential rugs and available if any president wants it (Bush 2 used Reagan's at first). LBJ did indeed pull out the Truman blue-gray rug again and use it because it went with the odd desk he chose (with the aquamarine top). He actually put JFK's red rug in the Fish/Conference/Roosevelt Room for the latter part of his presidency..

I like the Blue Room all right, but it's not inspiring. I think both the Red and Green Rooms out-do it. I actually love the carpet, but hate the walls and windows. I prefer JBK's choices better, but I don't think it's really been done right for a long, long time. What's funny is that blue is such a safe color. Red can be bloody and alarming. Green can be putrid or piney. Yellow can be sickly. White tends to be cold. But you can just about run the gamut of blue from pale to pastel to medium to dark, pull it toward violet or push it toward aqua—about anything, really—and not go wrong. But everyone since Truman seems scared of putting it on the walls!


Second Floor and Basement

I see you have great photos of the West Wing. In particular you have the main floor and the basement. I want to know if you have any photos of the top floor? You said somewhere on one page that there are some spots you don't want to show. Is that one of them? I've also heard or seen that there are other floors under the main White House. Is this true?

I don't have many pictures of the second floor of the West Wing or much of the East Wing mainly because very few photos are available of those areas. They're just ordinary offices of functionaries and are probably pretty boring; no one thinks to photograph them, much less release them to the public. Part of the East Wing, West Wing, and that mysterious blank office on the Residence ground floor are occupied by security, so I'm sure we won't see any photos of those areas. There is also a little-known tunnel from the basement under the East Wing to the Treasury building.

The Residence (original mansion) has a basement and sub-basement under the ground floor, but these are--as far as I know--very boring storage, air conditioning, and similar facilities. There are a few photos of these on the Truman Library site, when they were built. Under the East Wing is the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, a real underground bunker maintained for attacks on the White House itself. Few have ever used it, but it did get used on 9/11. (Jackie Kennedy once visited it, thinking it was empty and could be used a playroom!)

I haven't tried very hard to document these areas for the reasons I stated on the About page: they are either boring or sensitive or both.

UPDATE: I've since added some photos for the East Wing and West Wing second floors and a couple of the sub-basement, especially where related to the Truman reconstruction.


Where is the 1992 HABS Photo Collection?

Could you please let me know where you found many of the 1992 photos (I am aware of a booklet put out by the Reagan administration regarding the renovations which included some photos of the third floor, but have never seen some of the others that you have posted).

The Historic American Building Survey (HABS) photos are available in a special Library of Congress collection. There are about 650 photos available (some are omitted) as well as 41 measured drawings of the grounds and mansion floor plans.

The HABS material is available from the Library of Congress website, but it's not very easy to find. Click the link above to get to the HABS photo page. To find the diagrams, click the "drawings" icon at the top of that page.


White House Museum: the Book? the Museum?

You should really make a book on White House photography. It would definitely become the definitive book on the subject and would sell like hotcakes to American history buffs.

Anyway, keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing updates to your site. I also hope that someday you see your dream come true in the building of your white house museum replica. Man, would that be cool to visit.

I highly recommend William Seale's The White House: The History of an American Idea, which you may be familiar with, to anyone who would like to see the history and structure White House in book form. I love the Web format for its ability to make information into an interactive experience. But, yes, the ultimate interactive White House experience would be a museum that replicates the whole structure.


Old Elevator

I recall seeing pictures long ago of the original White House elevator, a very pretty Victorian model with brass gates and grille-work. I read (I don't recall where now) that Harry Truman was very fond of it and requested it be retained in the remodeled house, but was told it was incompatible with modern elevator machinery and controls. If you could locate pictures of it, I am sure I am not the only old elevator junkie who would be utterly delighted.

I've been wondering what the original elevators looked like, but don't recall seeing any pictures. There have been three or more elevators in the house's long history, with the first being a hydraulic unit installed in 1881 and an electric elevator installed in 1898.

The photos I've seen on the Truman Library site just show the elevator shaft already dismantled. I'll search around and create a new page specifically for the main elevator (right now, clicking on the main elevator just displays one picture of the open elevator in 1992), where I can put historical elevator pics if I find them. As you probably already know, there are some great stories associated with the White House elevators, like how the (Theodore) Roosevelt boys rode on top of it and once got their pony in it to bring it to the second floor!

UPDATE: I created a page for the Family Elevator and added a screen capture from Backstairs at the White House of a recreation of the old elevator. I also point out the differences between the pre-Truman and post-Truman elevators.


Staircases to the Sub-Basement

One of the photos from the [1992 HABS survey] shows a staircase to nowhere, leading from the Library, I believe. The staircase is also seen on the floor plan for the ground floor. Does this staircase go to the basement? If so, are there any photos to be seen of any of the subbasements' facilities?

One of them is pictured on the HABS site. It is not the rather narrow staircase near the Usher's office. I find it difficult to imagine why there would be staircases here to the subbasement; certainly they aren't appropriate for staff or security purposes.

The stairways on the east side, off the Library and Vermeil rooms, are entered from the Center Hall and twist around under the Library and Vermeil rooms, down to sub-basement dressing rooms for entertainers. I have a few pictures of other rooms in the sub-basement, but they’re not much to look at. I doubt many visitors would care to see the Truman-era air conditioning control system. Even so, I’ve created a new page for the sub-basement and a few pages for other rooms there.


Does the President's Elevator Go All the Way to the Top?

Does the elevator which services the kitchen and the pantry above it also run to the private quarters in the area close to the small kitchen in the NW corner? I would imagine it does in order to assist serving the family in the dining room on the N side next to that kitchen.

The kitchen elevator goes all the way from the sub-basement through the ground floor Kitchen Pantry, first floor Butler's Pantry, and into the first mezzanine Pastry Kitchen, then up into the Family Kitchen on the second floor, and all the way to the third floor.


Clock Room Conundrum

I am a bit puzzled by the labeling on the floor plan for the mezzanine area around the Usher's office. What does "Clock" refer to in the area directly above the office itself?

Visitor Dennis provides the answer:

I have no idea why it is called "clock" room, but from reading West [JB West's Upstairs at the White House] and my own visit to the White House in 1991, the "Clock Room" is actually the chief usher's office.  The room on the main floor is the "Ushers' Office." It is his little hideaway.



Ramp to East Sitting Hall

You've whet my appetite for more. I am hoping for even more glimpses: the Chief Usher's quarters off the Entrance Hall, the ground-floor elevator foyer where the President likely catches his ride after leaving the West Wing to return to the private quarters, those baths that adjoin the Lincoln and Queen suites, the elevator area in the small kitchen complex in the nw corner of the private quarters. I could go on, of course.

By the way, how much of a "step up" is it to that portion of the east end of the second floor that requires a ramp or sloping floor to reach it? I presume this difference can also be noted in the height between window sills and floor by comparing west end rooms to east end. Does this difference affect only the east end suites or does it include the Treaty Room and the staircase landing as well?

A lot of the incidental areas you mention are only documented in the 1992 HABS photos, as far as I know. But several areas were clearly left out of the LOC online collection out of security considerations, including the Chief Usher's office, the east staircase to the third floor, and the second floor Beauty Salon(?!). So as long as the White House staff is careful, we may never get a good look at them.

Judging from the sills in the photos of the East Sitting Hall and West Sitting Hall (good thinking!), the ramp must only be about 9 inches, which makes sense if it replaced one step. I know the Blue Room has a slightly-more-than-18-foot ceiling (more than one description of White House Christmas trees mention it), so the East Room must have about a 19-foot ceiling. This must obviously affect the Queen and Lincoln suites as well as the East Sitting Hall, but the Treaty Room is west of the ramp and the photos of its doorway from the Stair Landing don't show any step.

UPDATE: A diagram and photo in William Seale's The White House: History of an American Idea show four short steps up in this area, suggesting that it is actually at about 30 inches of rise! Seale later explains that President Truman hoped that the 1949 reconstruction would level out the second floor, but the best the engineers could achieve was narrowing it to the 9 to 12 inches it is today.

Incidentally, some sources for the ceiling of the East Room put it at 20 feet (a Nixon Foundation document), while others put it at 22 feet (the National Building Museum).


White House Exterior Paint

Could you please tell me what is the make, type and exact color of the paint used on the exterior trim and body of the White house?

The entire White House exterior (trim and body) is painted with 570 gallons of “Whisper White” exterior paint, made by Duron. This has been released by the White House, and also the documentary series Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work shows the White House preparing for the visit of the Queen of England and touching up with Duron Exterior Alkyd/Oil Gloss labeled "Whisper - 248". Thirty-two layers of white paint (not likely all the same brand) were removed from the sandstone exterior in the 1992 renovation.

Dulux, Krylon, and Ramuc also make colors called “Whisper White,” but Krylon’s is canned spray paint and Ramuc’s is meant for marine applications (boats and pools).


Hall of Presidents

I'm interested in finding out if there is a special room in the White House which has the framed paintings of all the previous presidents.

There is no single place in the White House that is a complete gallery of presidential portraits. However, some official painted portraits of various presidents and first ladies are hung around the White House. Several in the White House collection are traditionally displayed in the Cross Hall and Entrance Hall on the first floor and in other rooms as the current president likes. As you can imagine, new presidents tend to prefer portraits of recent presidents of their own political party.

The famous portrait of Washington by Gilbert Stuart has long adorned the East Room. And the seated Lincoln has long hung over the mantel in the State Dining Room. Smaller portraits of Washington and Lincoln are common in the Oval Office. Portraits of several first ladies are hung in the Vermeil Room on the ground floor and a few are hung elsewhere in the White House.

Only about a dozen presidents and eight first ladies portraits are on display at any one time, however. Most portraits are kept in storage by the White House Historical Association, the museum arm of the White House.

However, there is more than one “official” painted portrait of recent presidents. One collection is maintained as part of the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, and they are also done for each president’s library (every president since Hoover has gotten a library to hold his papers and mementos).

Also, photographic portraits are done fairly frequently and may become part of the White House collection, National Archives, Library of Congress, or the president’s library. And some are just part of the personal collections of professional photographers, magazines, or the president and first lady themselves.