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What’s This New-Fangled Thing In The White House?

First Telephone (National Museum of American History)

It had been invented just the year before and it was on this date in 1877 that President Rutherford B. Hayes had the first telephone installed in the White House. It was the latest technology, but nobody really knew what to do with it because not too many people had phones. So it was installed in the telegraph room. And the White House phone number was “1”.

Hayes didn’t get very many phone calls. The Treasury Department had the only other line in Washington. It was until 50 years later when Herbert Hoover had the first phone installed on his desk in the Oval Office.

The practice of taping White House phone conversations began with Harry Truman and when those tapes were made public years later it painted a different picture of who these men were – their language, their opinions. A lot different from the way they presented themselves as president.

By far, Richard Nixon recorded more phone conversations than any other president – close to 3,700 hours and it led to his downfall. His involvement and knowledge of the break-in of Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington during the 1972 presidential campaign forced him to resign in disgrace.

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