Smoke in the White House

courtesy HABS Library of Congress

America’s Executive Mansion or the President’s House – now commonly referred to as the White House – sits prominently at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.  The monumental edifice was originally conceived by George Washington who, along with DC City planner Pierre L’Enfant, dreamed of a classical residence that would give the young country needed prestige and distinction.  The Irish-born architect James Hoban won the 1792 competition for the architectural design.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the White House resembles a private Neo-Classical residence in Dublin; and some speculate another similar precedent in France also gave Hoban his inspiration. We’ll delve into more specifics on the original architecture in a separate blog story.

The architect was not allowed much time to dilly-dally with the design process (not much has changed in the industry 🙂 ) as building construction began immediately in 1792. But George and Martha Washington were never able to occupy the home as it was not habitable until November 1800 when John and Abigail Adams became the first to call the White House ‘home’.  But they didn’t stay for long as President Thomas Jefferson acquired residence in the unfinished executive mansion just four months later in March 1801.  Following the British effort to burn down the Capitol City during the War of 1812, then President James Madison called back the first architect James Hoban to rebuild, and the mansion was inhabited again by President James Monroe in 1817.  In 1825-1830, the north and south porticoes we know today were added – part of a series of changes that has seemingly continued unceasing.

Each succeeding Presidential administration has put their thumb print on the structure – some in drastic fashion – others just aiding the necessary maintenance for the building to survive through the ages.  After WWII President Truman chose to gut everything but the outer walls . . . by his own choice! But one of those renovations was forced upon the residing President Herbert Hoover in 1929, in similar fashion as it did in 1814: the result of smoke & fire damage! 

A serious fire in the White House is documented only these two times.  The first was set intentionally by our British enemy and the second cause was assessed to be faulty wiring, and remained contained within the area we now call the “West Wing”.  Thankfully it hasn’t happened again since that fateful Christmas Eve at the close of the “Roaring 20’s” decade.

courtesy Library of Congress Jan 13, 1930 – President Hoover walks through the fire debris on his way to lunch

White House fires created choking smoke from burning building materials in 1814 and 1929. But in the 200+ year history of the building, smoke was ironically a regular, daily occurrence. The building has seen many US politicians and employees, and Presidents too, indulge in the pleasures of tobacco smoke in the form of pipes and cigars.  It’s well documented that John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams … and so many POTUS’s after them, enjoyed the delight and entertainment of fine tobacco. 

George Washington, in a letter to the Continental Congress in 1776 said – “If you can’t send money, send tobacco.” 

Many meetings, administrative negotiations, as well as political haggling & debates have been wrought within one of the mansions’ rooms when filled with the blue-gray gentle haze of several cigars. This 1848 political cartoon image depicts Zachary Taylor facing a representative with drink in hand and cigar in his mouth. (Library of Congress)

President Hoover in particular was an avid cigar man. It is estimated he enjoyed 10-20 sticks a day!

Artwork by Ellen Adams

The American History Guild, and its subsidiary The Liberty Cigar Company, has recreated the exact blend and vitola (Corona) cigar that President Hoover enjoyed almost a century ago.  In coordination with the White House Historical Association’s 2016 Christmas Tree Ornament featuring President Hoover (, the Herbert Hoover cigar was presented to the public in September of 2016. Our Hoover cigar is a fine blend of Connecticut Shade wrapper, Indonesian binder, and a filler of Cuban seed Ligero, Seco Piloto Cubano, Santo Domingo and Habano. It’s available for order via as a single stick or as part of an elegant 1930’s Art Deco Era box set of 7.

Courtesy of Liberty Cigar Company – custom blend & graphics – The Herbert Hoover cigar is part of a special President’s Series
Sept. 29, 2016 cigar tasting event at the White House Historical Association, featuring Liberty Cigar’s new “stogie” – The Herbert Hoover !



D. Tracy Ward, Architect

Uploaded January 2019 – DTW’s Blog #0034

Our Original Posts, including images when applicable, are copyrighted © 1993-2018 by D. Tracy Ward and Benchmark Design, PC.  God bless America!  Treasure Liberty always and pass it on!   “Architecture aims at Eternity.  [CHRISTOPHER WREN, Parentalia]

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