The Library in 2008 (Architectural Digest)

The Library

"Tubs Buckets and a variety of Lumber" cluttered Room 17 of the basement in February 1801, according to the first official White House inventory. The room served mainly as a laundry area until Theodore Roosevelt's renovation of the ground floor in 1902, when it became a servants' locker room. In 1935, it was remodeled as a library, and in 1961 a committee was appointed to select works representative of a full spectrum of American thought and tradition for the use of the President, his family, and his staff. This wide-ranging collection is still being augmented with Presidential papers.

The Library is furnished in the style of the late Federal period (1800-1820) with most of the pieces attributed to the New York cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe. It is less formal than the rooms of the State Floor and is often used for teas and meetings. The soft gray and rose tones of the paneling are complemented by a Tabriz carpet of the mid-19th century. The gilded wood chandelier with a painted red band was made about 1800 and belonged to the family of James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans and other classics.

This room is not quite 27 feet by 23 feet. On the west wall you see a neoclassical mantel that came from a house in Salem, Massachusetts. It dates from the early 19th century and is decorated with grape-leaf swags and bellflower pendants.

On the mantel rests a pair of English silver-plate Argand lamps, a gift of the Marquis de Lafayette to Gen. Henry Knox, Secretary of War in Washington's Cabinet. Such lamps, named after their Swiss inventor, Aime Argand, were a major innovation; George Washington ordered some in 1790, noting that by report they "consume their own smoke...give more light, and are cheaper than candles".

One of the many Athenaeum portraits of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart hangs over the mantel. Stuart painted three portraits of Washington from life, including the full-length Lansdowne portrait of 1796, owned by the Earl of Rosebery and on loan to the National Portrait Gallery. Stuart also made copies of the Lansdowne portrait, one of which hangs in the East Room.

One of the bookshelves displays an unusual lighthouse clock made by Simon Willard to commemorate the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to the United States in 1824-25. A likeness of Lafayette appears in a medallion on its base.

Portraits of Native Americans by Charles Bird King flank the east door, and a fifth hangs over the entrance to the corridor.

The Library was completely redecorated in 1962 as a "painted" room typical of the early 1800s and was refurbished again in 1976. The paneling, now a soft gray color, dates from the Truman renovation of 1948-52. Old timber removed when the mansion was stripped to a shell was made into paneling for various Ground Floor rooms.

More Images

The Library in 2007 (Sarah E Jensen)

Preparing for President Bush's speech in 2007 (Time - Brooks Kraft)

The Library in 2006 (Amber Kurusz)

The Library in 2006 at Christmastime (cdhopk)

The Library, circa 2005

Laura Bush showing off Christmas decor in the Library in 2001 (White House [mislabeled as Map Room])

The Library around 1995 (Clinton Library)

USSR President Gorbachev with Ronald Reagan in 1987 (Reagan Library)

The room around 1981 (White House Historical Association)

Jimmy Carter delivering his version of FDR's fireside chats in the Library in 1977 (Carter Library)

Jimmy Carter in the Library in 1977 (NARA - Carter Library)

Gerald Ford, having delivered a speech on television in 1975 (Library of Congress)

Library around 1975 (White House Historical Association)

Richard Nixon delivery a speech from the Library in 1972 (Mason University)

Richard Nixon appearing on "A Conversation with the President" in 1970 (NARA)

The Library in 1965 (Life - Francis Miller)

The Library in 1963 (White House Historical Association)

The Library about 1962

The Library open for the tour of the Kennedy decor (White House)

The Library in 1960 (National Geographic - Stewart & McBain)

The Eisenhower family during the televised special celebrating the president's birthday in 1958, looking north (Eisenhower Library)

The Library after the Truman reconstruction in 1952, looking southwest (Truman Library - Report of the CREM)

The Library after the Truman reconstruction in 1952, looking northwest (Truman Library)

The Library in 1948, looking west (Truman Library)

The Library in 1948, looking northwest (U of Utah Marriott Library | Truman Library)

The Library in 1948 (U of Utah Marriott Library | Truman Library)

The Men's Lavatory

The Library provides access to a men's lounge and lavatory.


Visitors in the Men's Lounge in 2006 (segerli)

Men's Lavatory in 2000 (Nick Valenziano)

Men's Lounge and Lavatory in 1992 (HABS)