George Washington became president 100 years before Thomas Edison first patented his incandescent light bulb. Can you imagine performing all the duties modern-day presidents perform – from sending simple communications to meeting with foreign dignitaries – without electricity? As we celebrate our nation's presidents today, let's take a look at which ones have played a significant role in the advancement of electricity in the United States. In many cases, these advancements took place at the president's own residence, the White House.
1891: Benjamin Harrison was president when electric lights were installed in the White House. This type of lighting was only about a decade old and many Americans were distrustful of this new technology. Harrison and his wife, Caroline, were afraid of being electrocuted by the switches, so only staff members turned the lights on and off.
1894: Grover Cleveland's daughters were enchanted when the White House had its first Christmas tree with electric lights. Before electric lights became popular, it was tradition to decorate fir trees with candles to simulate the winter starry sky.
1902: Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to ride publicly in a car – and it happened to be an electric car. He rode in a parade through the streets of Hartford, Conn., in a Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton with two 20-volt batteries.
1922: During Warren G. Harding's administration, electric vacuum cleaners were first used within the White House. Though invented in 1860, they started getting more popular in the average home in the 1920s. Harding also had the first White House radio added to his study. By 1922, 60 percent of Americans owned a radio.
1923: Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas Tree, a 48-foot balsam fir from his home state of Vermont. It was decorated with about 2,500 green, white and red electric lights and started a tradition of lighting an outdoor tree that continues today.
1930s: Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal brought electricity to rural areas of the United States in the 1930s through organizations such as the Tennessee Valley Authority. While 90 percent of city dwellers had electricity at the time, only 10 percent of rural homes did. By 1939, that number was up to 25 percent.
1936: The Hoover Dam started construction during Herbert Hoover's administration and was the largest hydroelectric dam in the world when it was completed in 1936. It now generates about 4.5 billion kWh every year, sending electricity to about 8 million people in the Southwest.
1964: Lyndon Johnson was known for turning off unnecessary lights in the White House every night. He said he didn't want to waste the taxpayers' money.
1979: During the energy crisis of the 1970s, Jimmy Carter added solar panels to the White House, setting an example of energy conservation. The panels on the West Wing heated water for the staff mess.
1993: Bill Clinton took significant steps to make the White House more energy efficient, including changing out incandescent light bulbs for CFLs, replacing windows with double-paned glass and installing a more efficient HVAC system.
2003: The first solar electric system was installed at the White House by George W. Bush. The 9 kW photovoltaic system was added to the building used for grounds maintenance.
2007: George W. Bush's White House requested that the National Christmas Tree, which General Electric has lit since 1963, be more energy efficient. In 2007, LED lights were used for the first time to light the tree. In 2008, the tree display reduced its energy use by half from the year before.
2014: Barack Obama added solar panels for the main residence of the White House. They generate 6.3 kW of solar electricity, enough to power the average American home.