The White House Elevator is an important part of the plot of White House Down.
The family elevator is the main elevator of three in the Residence (the others are in the pantry and under the Grand Stair in the Entrance Hall).
Before elevators came to the White House, this area had only a back stairway, useful for servants—or a president looking to avoid office-seekers on the main stairway. Chief Doorkeeper, Captain Pendel, wrote:
Where the elevator now is, there used to be a pair of little old-fashioned stairs. You would go up a few steps and come to a landing; up a few more steps and another landing, and so on. This was a favorite stairway of Mr. Lincoln's, for he used it more than any other in the house.
An elevator had been planned for the use of James Garfield's elderly mother, but his successor Chester Arthur installed the first one in 1881, an early hydraulic model, which required the removal of the stairs. In 1898, an electric model was installed, but it did not work very well. It was replaced with a more efficient model by architect Charles McKim during the 1902 TR renovation. President McKinley's assassination still fresh in her mind from the previous year, Edith Roosevelt's request to McKim was to "make the elevator door wide enough to admit a stretcher."Roosevelt's son Quentin and his friend Charlie Taft, son of the next president, used to ride—on top of the elevator and once coaxed the boys' pony into it to bring it to the second floor to cheer up Quentin's brother Archie. This manual electric, cage-type elevator was replaced with a more modern elevator in the Franklin Roosevelt era. A new, automatic elevator still used today was installed by Lorenzo Winslow when he oversaw the reconstruction of the White House for Harry Truman, which included sub-basements that the new elevator needed to be able to reach. Mamie Eisenhower tried to forbid the staff from using the family elevator so the family would never have to wait, but after his heart attack, President Eisenhower used the stairs instead for exercise.
Floor display over the elevator; the pre-1949 elevator display read B, 1, 1M, 2, 2M, 3 (HABS)
John Kennedy, on the other hand, used the elevator whenever possible because stairs worsened his chronic back pain. Around the time of the Kennedys, the elevator was redecorated in pale hues. In the 1990s, the Clintons had the elevator restored to its natural wood finish.
The family elevator goes to all floors in the Residence, from the sub-basements to the ground, first, first mezzanine, second, second mezzanine, and third floor. It has eight stops.