The presidential residence was the first public building to be constructed in Washington, D.C. An Irish immigrant, James Hoban, won an architectural design competition, beating out such notables as Thomas Jefferson, who submitted an anonymous entry.
Construction began in the fall of 1792 and was completed eight years later. George Washington never resided in the "presidential palace," as some critics described it. John Adams was the first to occupy the residence, but only for a few months at the end of his term.
The building was badly damaged by British soldiers who set it afire during the War of 1812. Restoration was headed by the original architect, who added a portico on the south side. The remaining blackened sandstone was covered with several coats of white paint; the term "White House" came into common usage from that time forward, but did not become official until Theodore Roosevelt first used the words on his official stationery.
Major repairs and renovations were made during Harry S. Truman's administration; the primary improvement was the installation of steel beams to support the original walls.