When the walls were built in 1798, the structure was originally painted white with lime-based whitewash to keep the permeable stone from freezing. As you might expect, this paint peeled away over time. The original painting on the walls was eventually covered by a new coat of paint.
The house was not painted again until 1842 when John H. Webster hired a painter named Charles Willson Peale to repaint all of the rooms in the house. Before starting his work, Peale did some research online and found out that the White House had been burnt down once before. He decided not to risk further damage by trying to paint any room that might have smoke stains on the walls or ceiling so he just painted the entire interior over.
Unfortunately, this new paint job only lasted about 10 years before it too began to peel away. In 1852, President-elect Franklin Pierce hired another painter named Benjamin Henry Latrobe to repaint the whole interior of the White House. Latrobe's job was not to re-create the original colors but rather to improve on them by using more durable materials for his paints. He also added gold leaf to some of the pictures and mirrors in the executive dining room.
There is a widespread belief that the White House was initially painted white to disguise the scorch marks left by British soldiers who set fire to it during the War of 1812. Actually, a lime-based whitewash was originally applied on the White House in 1798 to preserve the outside stone from moisture and cracking during winter freezes. The color was recently restored by the National Park Service after being nearly 100 years old.
In 1842, President John Tyler hired a painter named Benjamin Henry Latrobe to renovate parts of the White House. Among other things, Latrobe removed some of the wallpaper and paneling inside the First Family's living quarters and replaced it with wood. He also added a back stairway and new doors and windows. In doing so, he created more open space in what had been a very cramped area. Finally, he painted the entire interior white.
The reason for this renovation project was that the first family was moving into their new home next door at No. 1 Executive Mansion (now the Secretary of State's Residence). They were looking for a new place to live when they arrived in Washington, D.C., and since this house was only used as a temporary residence, nobody objected to painting it white. Even though this color was not recommended for indoor use because it was said to be unhealthy to live with for too long of time, the first family probably didn't care too much about this issue since they would only be there temporarily.
The porous sandstone walls were whitewashed with a mixture of lime, rice glue, casein, and lead after construction was completed, giving the home its recognizable hue and name.
The house was built by William Howard Taft, who became president in 1909. He hired architects in Washington, D.C., to design this home for him and his wife, Helen, while they were on vacation in Hawaii. The site was chosen because of its beauty and isolation. There were no other houses for miles around.
When Taft returned from his trip, he moved into the house with his family. It took several years and many modifications before it was suitable for living in again. During that time, Taft rented out parts of the house and charged admission to others. In 1914, the White House Historical Association was formed with the purpose of preserving the history of the house. They have been successful at doing so since then.
Taft's daughter, Alice, also lived in the house for several years after her father did. She too had some remodeling done and she added a bowling alley to the basement. In 1929, President Herbert Hoover ordered all of the doors removed from the residence and stored in the basement, where they remain today.
The last person to live in the house was Mrs. Hoover.