Nearly burnt to the ground in 1814, the White House had seen some tough times. But by the Truman administration, it was nearly on its last leg. In 1948, facing the stresses of modern innovations—e.g., indoor plumbing—the building was near the point of collapse. Indeed, as a Congressional survey found, even its marquee features like a marble grand staircase were threatened by disintegrating support. The report found the building in such bad shape, it even considered building a new mansion from scratch.
Truman, however, had other plans. Unwilling to destroy what he considered a national monument, he forced designers to completely gut the building. Every last square foot of the White House had to be dismantled. The walls stood, blocking the public from the grim internal scene, but even they were reinforced by new concrete columns.
The National Journal uncovered the photos and itself pieced together the story of the reconstruction:
“A bulldozer removing debris from the inside of the White House, during the renovation of the building. The bulldozer had to be taken apart and moved into the White House in pieces, as President Truman would not allow a hole large enough to fit the bulldozer to be cut into the walls of the White House.” (National Archives)
“View of the northeast corner of the White House during renovation. Workmen are installing reinforced steel for laying of the concrete roofs of the Fan Room and other rooms in this area.” (National Archives)
“To underscore the size of the massive new ventilation system being installed above the tunnel in the new White House basement, the photographer placed workmen inside the illuminated ductwork.” (National Archives)
“This photograph was taken from the east entrance of the lower corridor of the White House, looking west with the East Room above. The workmen are demolishing the walls of the lower corridor.” (National Archive)
The National Journal