A Short History of White House Plumbing

Fascinating Facts About Plumbing in America’s House

Plumbing is something people take for granted on occasion. The fact that people can call running water with a turn of the wrist is essential for modern living. But water wasn’t always so easy to come by. In fact, the White House itself didn’t have water - even when many private mansions and hotels did. For much of the White House’s history, it was behind the times in terms of conveniences like flushing toilets. Some historians say that the White House was downright dangerous for many years. 

Read on to find out about the White House’s fun and fascinating plumbing history. 

The White House First Receives Running Water

When the White House first got running water, it wasn’t for drinking or bathing— or even putting out fires. It was for watering plants. The president at the time, John Quincy Adams (1825 - 1829), was fond of gardening on the White House grounds. And what’s a garden without a way to water it? He was in luck because the nearby Treasury building had a well. So, an iron pump was attached to the well there, making history for the White House and its first running water. 

Andrew Jackson, who was elected a few years later, oversaw the first running water in the actual house itself. This water was used for drinking and to help protect the house in case of fire. 

The White House Gets Flushing Toilets


The first flushing toilet in the White House was reportedly installed during Millard Fillmore’s presidency in 1853. Of course, this was an early iteration of today’s modern toilet. Still, it was a handy invention at the time, and it was only fitting that the White House enjoy the modern convenience of a flushing toilet. 

However, the bathroom still had a way to go at the time. It wasn’t until Fillmore’s successor, Franklin Pierce, took office that the White House enjoyed a fully equipped bathroom similar to those in homes today. 

More Fascinating Facts


Some presidents preferred nature’s plumbing system. According to historians, John Quincy Adams would bathe in the mighty Potomac River during the daylight hours. Bathing in the swift and cool waters was certainly less hassle than having water lugged from a well and heated for a bath. But, it had its drawbacks. Reportedly, one day, as the president was bathing, someone stole his clothes from the shore. Adams had to cry out until a boy heard him and went to fetch him clothes from the White House. 

The first president to have a bathtub install was James Madison, although there is some contention about this. The tub, installed in 1814, was used with water heated on a stove and then carried to the tub. But, the war of 1812 was raging, and it wasn’t long before the British set fire to the White House. Madison didn’t get to enjoy the tub for very long because of the fire. 

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