Lesson 21.4: Social Studies Connection

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He Shrunk the White House

John Zweifel and his family spent more than 600,000 hours over the past 40 years creating a miniature replica, or small exact copy, of the White House. The miniature White House—a 60- by 20-foot, 10-ton model—was on view at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The display was part of the 200th anniversary celebration of the completion of the real White House in 1800.

The “People's Home”

Zweifel got the idea of creating the miniature in 1956, when he toured the White House. He said he wondered what lay beyond the five rooms that were open to the public at that time.

Zweifel knew that if he could get permission to see the rest of the mansion, he could create a replica that would allow all Americans to see what Zweifel calls the “home of the people, the greatest symbol of America.”

It wasn't until 1975 that Zweifel got official permission to study the White House, but he had set to work on his miniature long before that. He had studied books and building plans and had sometimes toured the open rooms several times a day.

“Visit My House”

Zweifel spent so much time working on the house because, he said, he “wanted to create the feeling that the president [had] called you up and said, 'Visit my house and visit as long as you want.'”

You could spend hours, even days, looking at Zweifel's carefully crafted creation. The chandelier bulbs light up, the fireplaces flicker, the chimneys puff, the phones ring, the clocks tick, and the TVs work.

Zweifel, along with his wife and six children, handcrafted all the furniture in the house—more than 1,000 tiny pieces. Zweifel also had the help of talented artisans from across the country. They created tiny hand-blown crystal chandeliers and goblets, painted minuscule portraits, and little embroidered Oriental rugs.

No detail of the original White House was overlooked. The model is exact down to the china in the State Dining Room and the 2,700 books in the library. Since the model was completed when Bill Clinton was President, teensy photos of Hillary and Chelsea Clinton sit on President Clinton's desk in the Oval Office, and an itsy-bitsy Socks-the-Cat is curled up on a chair! The Zweifels promised to update the house to match the changes that each new tenant brings to the White House.

Work to Do

From the Smithsonian, the exhibit traveled to Dallas. Later, it went on display in the George Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University. When the miniature house isn't on tour, it is on exhibit in the Presidents Hall of Fame in Florida. But Zweifel said he would prefer that the house find a permanent home in the nation's capital.

Word Wise

A copy or model that represents or reproduces something in a greatly reduced size: The children played with a miniature train.

Having to do with all the people: The public is invited to the town council meeting.

Skilled craftsperson: The company hired artisans to make reproductions of antique silverware.

Tiny: The rewind button on my camera is miniscule, which makes it hard to find.

Person who occupies a place: Whoever is elected President of the United States becomes a tenant of the White House.

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Look at the definition of “miniature.” What do you think is the meaning of the word miniaturist? Explain your thinking.

Write down all the words in the article that have the definition small. Can you think of any other words that mean small? Write down all the words you can think of.

Data Hunt

Work with a partner to design a miniature replica of your classroom.

  • Measure the dimensions of the room and record them. Choose two objects, such as a desk or a chair, and record their measurements.
  • Decide what size your replica should be. What is the proportion of the size of the actual room to the size of your replica?
  • Draw a picture of the replica. Your picture should be to scale and include the two objects you measured.