What Is the History of the White House Bunker?

Decades old and highly secretive

The White House
What's the origin of the White House bunker?
Rob Young/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / June 3, 2020 9:16 am

Over the weekend, reports emerged that President Trump had taken refuge in a bunker beneath the White House on Friday night. The existence of such a bunker came as a surprise to many. A bowling alley in the White House? Sure, that’s something people were aware of. But the bunker was more of a mystery — both when it was built and what it’s been used for in the past.

Now, at Popular Mechanics, Caroline Delbert ventured into the history of this structure within a structure. Delbert’s research points to a Cold War-era renovation of the White House as the time when the bunker was likely added, with security in mind:

The White House had to be retrofitted for the new threat of nuclear weapons, including the ability to “whisk” the President and other leaders and officials to a safe location deep underground. (In the most immediate sense, directly beneath the White House is a layer of more offices—and the iconic bowling alley.)

For understandable reasons, many details about the bunker are not available for public consumption. Delbert looked into some other prominent underground structures, including the Large Hadron Collider and Dover Castle, for hints as to what the process of building the tunnels might have involved.

Delbert also speculates that, given that the bunker was designed to survive a nuclear attack, it’s at least 1,000 feet below the surface. The full story of the bunker’s creation would likely make a gripping read — but it’s unclear if anyone will ever write it.

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