The Harry S. Truman Little White House was originally constructed in 1890 as the first officer’s quarters on the submarine base naval station in Key West. The wooden structure was made up of Quarters A for the base commandant and Quarters B for the paymaster. Originally, the building was waterfront. In 1911 the home was converted into a single family structure for the base commandant and fill was brought in to provide additional land in front of the home. As new buildings were built, the waterfront view was blocked.
In 1912, William Howard Taft would be the first President to visit the property. His transportation was by way of Flagler’s Overseas Railroad. During his visit President Taft sailed to Panama to inspect the canal which was under construction. During World War 1, Thomas Edison was a guest at the house while he donated his services to the war. He perfected 41 weapons during his visit of six months.
President Harry S. Truman had just completed 19 months in office, was physically exhausted, and ordered by his doctor, Wallace Graham, to take a warm vacation. Truman arrived at the Little White House in November of 1946. When he was leaving he made a promise to visit whenever he felt the need to rest, which would be his second visit in March of 1947. A pattern developed and future visits would follow every November to December and February to March.
As technology changed, this allowed the President to with multiple political or world leaders at one time. He was also able to request staff be sent down from Washington to Key West, which was only a three hour flight. During one of his visits, President Truman realized that where the President was, the White House was. Documents are on file from the Little White House that read, The White House, US Naval Station, Key West, Florida. President Harry S. Truman spent 175 days of his presidency at the Little White House. During his visits, he would invite foreign officials, Cabinet members and staff for fishing trips and poker games.
President Truman returned to visit Key West several times after he left office.
In 1948-49 General Dwight D. Eisenhower held meetings that eventually created the Department of Defense. He returned to Key West in December 1955 and January 1956 as President to recuperate from a heart attack.
John Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan held a one day summit in Key West at the Little White House for one day in March of 1961. President Kennedy returned for a second visit in 1962 following the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The house served as the Naval Station commandant’s home until March of 1974. This is when the Navy conversion from diesel to nuclear submarines took place.
In 1974 the Little White House was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The house was deeded to the State of Florida on January 1, 1987 and is held in trust as a public museum. Just under one million dollars has gone into restoring the house to it’s 1949 appearance. This project began in 1990.
Former President Jimmy Carter, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Former President Bill Clinton are among others who have visited the Harry S. Truman Little White House.
Learn where the Little White House is located, it’s hours of operations and see photos of the property at Best of The Florida Keys Internet Guide.