US Stamps

From the President’s House to the White House

Apr 16, 2024, 8 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Shown in Figure 1 is an envelope from 1894 with the return address “Executive Mansion.” Given that it is postmarked Washington, D.C., it can be surmised that the correspondence was from the office of President Grover Cleveland (1885-89, 1893-97).

The next such cover I have, shown here in Figure 2, is from 1917 when Woodrow Wilson was president (1913-21). This cover has a return address of “The White House.”

This raises the question: When did the name change?

The answer is that President Theodore Roosevelt officially named the building “The White House” in 1901 by having the words “The White House — Washington” engraved on the president’s stationery and all official papers prepared for his signature.

The website of the White House Historical Association provides the specifics:

“On October 17, 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt’s secretary George B. Cortelyou sent a letter to Secretary of State John Hay. At Roosevelt’s direction, Cortelyou asked Secretary Hay and his staff to change ‘the headings, or date lines, of all official papers and documents requiring his [Roosevelt’s] signature, from ‘Executive Mansion’ to ‘White House.’ Similar directives were sent to other cabinet secretaries, and Roosevelt changed the presidential stationery shortly thereafter as well.”

Having answered that question, let’s look again at the 1894 cover in Figure 1. It is addressed to the Hon. Lambert Tree, at Chicago, Ind. It appears the letter got to Indianapolis, where someone in the U.S. Post Office Department applied a handstamp saying, “No such office in state named” and sent it back to Washington.

The president’s office corrected the address to Illinois, and remailed it with another 2¢ in postage, sending it to where it should have gone in the first place. Unfortunately, the correspondence that was in the envelope is missing.

Tree (1832-1910) served from 1885 to 1889 as Cleveland’s minister to Belgium, now titled ambassador, and then briefly as minister to Russia. Later, Tree and his wife were esteemed patrons of the arts in Chicago.

The card that was inside the 1917 envelope is shown in Figure 3. It reads, “The President thanks you cordially for the good will which prompted your kind message, which has helped to reassure him and keep him in heart.”

In May 1917, the United States had recently declared war on Germany. Thus, President Wilson was heavily engaged in preparing the United States for war and having American troops in Europe trained for the fight.

Likely, the addressee had written a letter supporting the United States’ entry into the war, and the card, with somewhat archaic language, was the acknowledgment.

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