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Strange But True: White House Plumbing Facts

Celebrate Presidents Day With Some Fun History About Plumbing in the White House

When people think of the White House, they probably don’t give much (or any) thought to the plumbing. But for a building that currently contains 35 bathrooms and an enormous, busy kitchen, the plumbing system of the President’s House is as essential as the business that takes place there. And since the White House is more than 200 years old, its plumbing has been through plenty of changes, renovations, and quirky subplots. 

Here are just a few of the highlights in the long - and at times, bizarre - history of White House plumbing.

Indoor Plumbing First Comes To Pennsylvania Avenue

In the latter half of the 1820s, President John Quincy Adams facilitated the first instance of plumbing on the White House grounds, in the form of a pump that drew from a nearby well to provide irrigation for his beloved garden. It was during the presidency of his successor, Andrew Jackson, in 1833, that indoor plumbing was first installed in the White House.

Once the water was successfully being piped in, a dedicated bathing room was created in the East Wing. While this was a big step forward for the White House, indoor plumbing was already being implemented in some hotels and many wealthy residents’ homes by this time. Two decades later, as a culmination of plumbing improvements made under the administrations of presidents Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce, a second-floor bathing room was created with cold and hot water piped in - a rare and lavish amenity for the time.

The Custom Bath of President Taft

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America’s 27th President, William Howard Taft, was a very large man with considerable heft. Six feet tall and weighing 340 pounds, his figure was both commanding and problematic. In 1908, when Taft was set to travel aboard a warship to survey the Panama Canal, the ship’s captain set out to install a bathtub large enough to accommodate the President. When he failed to find such a tub, a Manhattan-based company was commissioned to custom-build one. At seven feet long, over three feet wide, and weighing one ton, it was the largest ever porcelain bathtub made for individual use.

One famous story even claims that Taft once became stuck in one of his oversized bathtubs and needed to be pulled out by several men, but there is virtually no evidence to support this rumor. After his presidency, Taft had another massive tub installed at his hotel, where he resided for some time. At eight feet long and four feet deep, this tub would be considered very luxurious even by today’s standards. 

The Watergate “Plumbers”

The “White House Plumbers” were a group of men working under President Richard Nixon, tasked with finding and stopping any sources of information leaks within the administration. They were responsible for the infamous Watergate break-in and other illegal activities prior to the Watergate scandal. 

While they were officially known as the White House Special Investigations Unit, they started to call themselves “the Plumbers” after a humorous exchange between one of the members, David Young, and his grandmother. When she asked Young what he did at the White House, he responded that he helped the President fix leaks. His grandmother mistakenly (or facetiously) took this to mean that he was a plumber, and the name stuck.

Naturally, those men gave a bad name to plumbers everywhere, so it’s best not to take their name too seriously. Hiring an honest and reputable plumbing company is the way for homeowners to stop actual (water) leaks and protect their home’s plumbing - and even install a Taft-sized bathtub, if so desired.


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