7 Things Once Banned From the White House
Although it’s endured a fire, structural damage, and major renovations, the White House has—more or less—stood in the same spot at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since John Adams became the first occupant in 1800. That’s over two centuries' worth of traditions, restrictions, and presidential preferences that have dictated what's allowed to transpire inside the property’s 132 rooms. Take a look at seven things that were once prohibited from entering.
1. CHRISTMAS TREES
Beginning with President Benjamin Harrison in 1889, the White House has been home to increasingly elaborate holiday decorations. The Scrooge of the lot was Teddy Roosevelt, who banned anyone from placing a freshly-cut tree inside. Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman and conservationist who couldn’t stand to see a perfectly good pine cut down in its prime. But Roosevelt’s son, Archie, didn’t share his ecological principles: He dragged in a small tree and hid it, fully decorated, in a closet.
2. PUBLIC CONCERTS
In today’s heightened state of domestic security, it’s hard to imagine the White House once allowed Washington, D.C. residents to freely gather on the South Lawn for a concert. But that's exactly what they did from 1842 until the 1930s, inviting the United States Marine Band to perform every Saturday afternoon from June to September. The one time they were silenced? When President Abraham Lincoln and wife Mary were suffering the loss of their 11-year-old son in 1862. Mary insisted the band skip that summer, which led to some protests from the community. After a condensed schedule in 1863 at Lafayette Square, the band resumed in 1864.
Presidents have had a long history of favoring denim, from Ronald Reagan’s ranch duds to Jimmy Carter keeping it casual. But when George W. Bush took office in 2001, one of his first orders was to ban anyone in the Oval Office from sporting jeans. The move was intended to shore up the building’s dormant dress code. (Bush made an exception for U2 singer Bono, who visited in 2005 wearing black jeans and sunglasses.)
In the 1980s, Nancy Reagan placed ashtrays at the White House dinner table as a courtesy to invited guests who might want to take a post-meal puff. But by 1993, Hillary Clinton was exercising a strict no-smoking policy in residential areas of the property. Her husband, a cigar aficionado, was reported to have gnawed on unlit cigars instead. (By 1997, he had signed an executive order banning smoking in all Federal buildings outside of specially designated rooms.)
Upon his election to office in 1878, President Rutherford Hayes and his wife, Lucy, had a plan to restore a sense of decorum to public office. Lucy announced she would be joining the women’s movement that petitioned against saloons by prohibiting any liquor from being poured under her roof during functions.
But the real force behind the prohibition wasn’t “Lemonade Lucy” (she wasn't given her famous nickname until 11 years after her death). Instead, it was Rutherford. According to the Hayes Center, he did it to keep the Republican Party allied to the Temperance Movement. But as the White House hostess, credit (and blame) has shifted to Lucy. Alcohol was banned again in 1934, when Eleanor Roosevelt banned hard liquor from being served on her watch. (Wine, however, was OK.)
It wasn’t until 2015 that visitors to the White House were allowed to take pictures during tours. In 1975, officials banned cameras because they feared the flashes could potentially damage some of the artwork on display. (Stopping to take a picture also slowed down lines.) The ban was repealed in part because most smart phones don’t need a flash to work. You can’t, however, live stream your tour.
With less than two years in office, President George H.W. Bush made a startling proclamation in the spring of 1990: Broccoli would no longer be seen in the White House or on Air Force One. “I do not like broccoli,” he told reporters. “My mother made me eat it. I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!” (He also said, “Just as Poland had a rebellion against totalitarianism, I am rebelling against broccoli, and I refuse to give ground.”) The vegetable’s constituents subsequently flooded the White House with recipes and tons of the veggie, which was donated to food banks. One produce dealer in California noted that sales had risen 10 percent as a result of the publicity around the President's non-endorsement.
All images courtesy of Getty unless otherwise noted.