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The Working White House

“Perhaps the most important advantage of working in the White House was that I acquired a sense of America's destiny.” That’s how Alonzo Fields summarized his more than two decades as chief butler and maitre d’ at the White House. Since the early 1800s, thousands of doormen, maids, engineers, housemen, chefs, electricians, florists, carpenters, and plumbers have worked behind the scenes to make the Executive Mansion function.

  Two centuries of stories and traditions are preserved in The Working White House: 200 Years of Tradition and Memories, an exhibition developed with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the White House Historical Association. Archival and contemporary images, videos, as well as fascinating oral histories of workers who have served presidents from William Taft through George W. Bush convey the occupational culture of this private yet public place.

>>Learn more about The Working White House
>>Interview with the curator




Exhibition specifications

Contents 15 objects, photographs, freestanding units, floor and wall cases, video with equipment and cabinetry, text and graphic panels, labels
Supplemental Brochure, educational website, educational and promotional resources, digital graphic templates, speaker list, bibliography; opportunity to purchased at wholesale (for resale) the White House Workers: Traditions and Memories DVD from Smithsonian Folkways
Participation Fee $7,500 for a 10-week booking period
Running Feet (Meters) 2,000 square feet, est.
(185 square meters)
Crates 11
Weight 4,035 lbs.
Category History & Culture
Security Moderate
Shipping Prorated; SITES-designated carrier
SITES Contacts

Minnie Russell, 202.633.3160 (Scheduling)
Fredric Williams
, 202.633.3103 (Content)

Tour Through 2012
   
 
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Tour itinerary

   
Opening Closing Host Institution Status
09/06/2008- 03/01/2009 State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, IA Booked
03/21/2009- 05/31/2009 Berman Museum of World History, Anniston, AL Booked
06/20/2009- 08/30/2009 William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, Canton, OH Booked
12/19/2009- 03/07/2010 White House Visitor Center, Washington, DC Booked
03/20/2010- 05/30/2010 Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, KS Booked
06/19/2010- 08/29/2010 Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, Kennesaw, GA Booked
09/18/2010- 11/28/2010 California University of Pennsylvania, California, PA Booked
12/18/2010- 02/27/2011 Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, Atlanta, GA Booked
03/19/2011- 05/29/2011 Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando, FL Booked
06/18/2011- 08/28/2011 Stearns History Museum, St. Cloud, MN Booked
09/17/2011- 11/27/2011 Museum of Mobile, Mobile, AL Booked
12/17/2011- 02/26/2012 Museum of History and Art, Ontario, CA Booked
       
     
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Related publications

The Working White House: Traditions and Memories, DVD. Produced by Smithsonian Folkways, 2009. $14.97.

  • Featuring an introduction by former President Jimmy Carter
  • 32-minute documentary film featuring a broad range of workers who have served presidents from Herbert Hoover to George H.W. Bush. Until now this film was only available in VHS format
  • 12-minute introduction to the Smithsonian Institution’s new traveling exhibition
  • Two hours of interviews conducted in 2007 with recently retired White House workers, recounting memories, describing traditions, and expressing sense of community among staff and pride in their service to First Families and the nation.
  • Extensive notes, 40-page booklet with photos.

>>Order

 

 

The Working White House DVD

The Working White House: 200 Years of Traditions and Memories

Exhibition brochure; contemporary color images along with archival photographs and a comprehensive timeline. From SITES and the White House Historical Society.

>>Download

The Working White House exhibition brochure
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Press Release

May 14, 2008

News

Media only:  Jennifer Schommer (202) 633-3121

Workers Provide Intimate Portrait of 200 Years at the White House in Newest Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit

They were maids, cooks, butlers, doormen, electricians and all the people who kept the country’s most famous household running efficiently. Covering 200 years of White House service, their narratives provide a rare and intimate perspective on the ceremonies, elegant state dinners, national celebrations and heartbreaking tragedies that shape and make United States history.

The workers and their unique stories are the subject of the The Working White House: 200 Years of Tradition and Memories, an upcoming exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). The tour, which debuts Sept. 6 at the State Historical Society of Iowa and continues to 12 cities during the next four years, is developed with and supported by the White House Historical Association, with assistance from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The exhibition will travel to Anniston, Ala., Canton, Ohio, Atlanta, Baldwin Park, Calif., Kennesaw, Ga., Hyde Park, N.Y., Logan, Kan., California, Pa., Little Rock, Ark., and Ontario, Calif.

"The Working White House gives exhibit visitors a rare view of the inner workings of America’s most renowned residence through the experiences, firsthand accounts and one-of-a-kind artifacts of the largely unrecognized people crucial to the everyday lives of our first families,” said Neil W. Horstman, president of WHHA. “For two centuries, workers at the White House have witnessed history in the making and, in the process, they have created their own. We are pleased to share that proud history with the nation.”

The exhibition showcases the souvenirs, housekeeping implements, clothing, letters, menus, photographs and other objects to help illustrate the full story of the presidential residence. New interviews conducted by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and WHHA staffers with past workers provide eyewitness accounts of White House work culture and will be included in an audio tour and exhibition video. Veteran doorman Preston Bruce shared a particularly painful White House memory from 1963. “It was sad, very sad,” said Bruce of the hours following President Kennedy’s funeral ceremony. “When we came back from Arlington, Robert [Kennedy] pulled off his gloves and said to me, ‘Keep these gloves and remember always that I wore them to my brother’s funeral.’” Robert F. Kennedy’s gray gloves, featured in the exhibition, bear the memory of that difficult time for a family and the nation.

With memories and household treasures from the presidencies of William Taft through George W. Bush, visitors will take a walk behind the scenes at the White House, guided by the men and women who managed every detail of the inner workings at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. “I had to produce glossy, smooth confections on an almost daily basis at the White House,” said former executive pastry chef Roland Mesnier. He developed his own signature chocolate-tempering techniques and used them to delight White House guests for more than 25 years. Mesnier’s plastic chocolate mold from the1990s, designed to yield nine candies embossed with the presidential seal, is on view in the exhibition.

“Behind the scenes, the workers of the White House welcomed and helped guide new administrations and got to know the American presidents as few could,” said Anna R. Cohn, director of SITES. “While Americans don’t know them, it’s clear that the presidents, first ladies and their children did and came to deeply honor their service.”

Collaborator
The White House Historical Association, established in 1961, is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to enhance the understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the White House. All proceeds from the association’s trusts, publications and other items are used to fund acquisitions of historic furnishings and artwork for the permanent collection, to assist in the preservation of public rooms, and further its educational mission. 

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EXPLORE and LEARN
Exhibition Specifications

Tour Itinerary

Exhibition Images

Related Websites

Exhibition Prospectus

Related Publications

Press Release

Enhanced Audio Tour

Video

Online Exhibit
 
Preparing the Blue Room at the White House. Photo by Maggie Knaus. Copyright White House Historical Association

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