- Historic Sites
George Washington wouldn't believe it
June 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 4
The new White House, opened in 1952, has some fiftyfour main rooms (not counting the office wings or the basement storage areas) as well as a gymnasium, a barbershop, a theatre, and a swimming pool. (The original pool, destroyed during construction, had been built for Franklin Roosevelt through a public subscription sponsored by a New York newspaper. Five years ago the new pool was boarded over to serve as the floor of the new White House pressroom.) With portions of the building open to the public, more than a million and a half visitors a year create an enormous maintenance problem, and this plus the additional space provided by the restoration led to a doubling of the house domestic staff. Beginning with Harry S Truman’s administration the number of servants, maids, cooks, and maintenance personnel increased from the century-old average of thirty-five employed to the present level of seventy-five. (Additional help is hired for state dinners and receptions.) Some sixteen acres of lawns and gardens are tended by twenty-one employees of the National Park Service.
Until the Civil War the President was required to pay the wages of all servants and grounds keepers from his own salary. After 1860, however, Congress gradually added the White House staff to the Civil Service rolls, although the process was not complete until the 1920’s. In 1948 the meals of the domestic staff were provided for in the federal budget; the President continues to pay for all food and personal items used by his family.
Personal servants must be paid for by the President. John F. Kennedy, for example, privately employed a valet for himself, a maid for Mrs. Kennedy, and a nurse—and later a teacher—for his children.
Currently more than a hundred Secret Service men; three hundred White House police; state and city police as needed. Cost not known.
Until the end of the nineteenth century the President had no bodyguards and moved about the country as freely and unprotected as any ordinary citizen. [See “Presidential Accessibility,” AMERICAN HERITAGE, April, 1974.] Following the assassination of McKinley in 1901—the third Presidential murder in thirty-seven years—the Secret Service was officially empowered to guard the Chief Executive, and the authority of the White House police, established during the Civil War, was substantially increased.
There are now some 1,250 Secret Service agents (up from 350 in 1963) operating with a budget of $64 million. How many are assigned to the President has never been revealed, but the number is assumed to be in excess of a hundred. Beginning in 1913 agents were assigned to Presidents-elect and in 1917, during World War I, to members of the President’s family. In 1951 coverage was extended to the Vice President if he wished it; beginning in 1962 such coverage became mandatory.
At the present time Secret Service protection is also given to former Presidents and their wives, to Presidential widows unless they remarry, to the children of former Presidents (until age sixteen), to all major candidates for the Presidency and the Vice Presidency, and to virtually anyone else the President designates, including visiting heads of state and, as the nation learned in mid-autumn of 1973, former Vice President Spiro Agnew, who resigned his office before pleading “no contest” to a charge of income-tax fraud. The Secret Service coverage of Agnew was withdrawn in February, 1974, after the General Accounting Office challenged its legality.
Current staff: about six hundred. Cost (payroll only): $9,767,000.
Until the 1930’s the President’s office staff rarely exceeded a dozen in number. George Washington, for example, was initially authorized to hire three assistants. Many nineteenth-century Presidents paid for additional help from their own pockets or requisitioned one or two extra clerks from other departments on a temporary basis. Mr. Nixon’s current staff, which includes about fifty highranking aides, special assistants, and counsels, is the largest in our history, double the size of Lyndon Johnson’s office force in 1968 and roughly a third larger than John Kennedy’s staff in 1962.
The current staff has, of course, provided all of Mr. Nixon’s legal work in the Watergate affair, at a cost estimated to be in excess of $500,000. Existing law allows the President, until he is impeached, to use counsel paid for by public funds to defend himself against charges or to counter legal maneuvers put forward by other elements of the government. Were he to be impeached, the President, according to a ruling of the Attorney General in January, 1974, would be required to pay the cost of his defense from his personal funds.
Current auto fleet: two bulletproof limousines (leased for $15,000 annually from Ford); thirty Chrysler Corporation cars (leased for $1 per year). Air fleet: five Boeing 707’s, specially equipped; eleven Lockheed Jetstars; sixteen helicopters. Total transportation allowance: $75,000. True cost: unknown.