Saturday, August 3, 2019

Outside the White House: History of the Swimming Pools

Historically, numerous American presidents enjoyed swimming for exercise, from John Quincy Adams (in the Potomac each morning!) to Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan. It wasn't until 1933, however, that presidents could swim at the White House. 

At the time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt often swam as therapy for his poliomyelitis, but had to wait until he vacationed at home in New York or in Warm Springs, Georgia. 

File:Franklin D. Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Georgia - NARA - 196576.jpg
FDR in Warm Springs, GA, 1930. Public Domain.
In March of 1933, the New York Daily News proposed a campaign to raise money to build President Franklin Roosevelt a pool. It was a success, and the indoor pool was completed by June 2, replacing laundry rooms inside the west gallery, between the White House and the West Wing.

French doors opened into the Rose Garden, and rows of half-moon windows illuminated the rectangular pool. He used it, sometimes several times a day.

Later presidents enjoyed swimming, as well. Harry Truman  used the pool for exercise, wearing his glasses as he swam! John F. Kennedy used the pool at least twice a day to help alleviate his back pain, once at noon and once before dinner. Kennedy's father paid for a large mural painted on three of the room's walls of a Caribbean scene (painted by Bernard Lamotte).
Artist Bernard Lamotte puts the final touches on his mural depicting Christiansted Harbor in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Swimming Pool, White House, Washington, D.C. Public Domain. Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
During the Johnson's time in the White House, guests were welcome to dip into the pool. Swimsuits of all sizes were hung on the walls, ready to be worn. However, Johnson was known to swim without a suit, much to visitors' surprise.

Richard Nixon was not a swimmer, however, and by his administration, the White House had need of a press briefing room to accommodate television. The pool was covered to make room for the press, and today we know this room as the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room (in honor of President Reagan's Press Secretary who was wounded during the assassination attempt on Reagan's life.) Interestingly, the podium is directly over the deep end of the pool.

The mural remains in the basement below the Press Room, and it has been autographed by famous visitors over the years, from First Lady Laura Bush to boxer Sugar Ray Leonard.

When Gerald Ford came into office, he yearned to swim for exercise. He considered moving the press, but decided against it and in 1975, he had an outdoor pool and cabana built. The cabana contains showers, changing rooms, and an underground passageway that leads to the West Wing.
File:President Gerald Ford takes his First Swim in the New White House Pool - NARA - 6372841.jpg
President Ford takes his first dip in the new pool, 1975. Public Domain.
Right away, Ford's son took scuba lessons in the pool. During the Carter administration, first daughter Amy practiced diving here, and during George H. W. Bush's tenure, First Lady Barbara Bush made frequent use of the pool.

File:White House swimming pool.jpg
White House Swimming Pool, 1992. Public Domain.
In 2002, the cabana was renovated to help with energy efficiency in the White House. More windows were added and solar panels were placed on top. 

Clearly, the White House pools have offered a form of exercise and relaxation to numerous presidents and their families through the years. 

Susanne Dietze is a RWA RITA-nominated author of over fifteen romances. You can learn more about her on her website,


  1. Thank you for this post! Very interesting about the indoor pool being covered up....

    1. Hi Connie! It is interesting to think about what's *under* the White House, isn't it?

      Glad you could come by today!

  2. This is great, Susie. I knew about the indoor pool and that it had been covered over, but not about the relaxing mural surrounding it. Swimming on site must have been a blessing for the presidents and their families. Fascinating about the passageway to the outdoor pool, too.
    Thanks for this informative post.

  3. I remember pictures of President Roosevelt swimming in the pool and talk about the therapeutic effects of swimming. I didn't get to see the pool when we were there for a tour under Harry Truman, but did when I went back to D.C. with my sister in the early 2000's. Thanks for the clear time-line. I didn't know about the press room covering the old one and that the one we saw later was not the one there when we visited in 1947.