Celebrating the Fourth of July at the White House

President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan at the July 4, 1981 staff picnic on the White House lawn.

President and Mrs. Reagan enjoyed a picnic on the South Lawn for the fourth of July in 1981. Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library.

President Thomas Jefferson established the tradition of a Fourth of July celebration at the White House in 1801 by welcoming the public to the house for a reception while the Marine Band performed “The President’s March” and other “patriotic airs” in the Entrance Hall. Tables pushed against the walls of the State Dining Room were filled with bowls of punch and plates of sweets.

Presidents held these receptions until just after the Civil War when Ulysses S. Grant started a new trend by taking a summer vacation at the New Jersey seashore away from the Washington heat. Although a Fourth of July public reception is no longer held, presidents and their families continue to observe a day of patriotism at the White House in whatever manner they deem appropriate.

Learn more about the history of Independence Day celebrations at the White House, and view a slideshow of historic July 4th photographs in advance of the upcoming holiday.