Black History Month: Meet the man who kept the White House chandeliers and windows shining bright

- Since Nov. 1, 1800, the White House has been home to every United States president except George Washington. Over the years, presidents have come and gone, but many people who work inside the White House stay.

One of those workers is Stewart Stevens Sr. He has served under seven different presidents and his job was to clean every window and chandelier inside the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Sometimes it would take me 18 to 20 hours to do one of them,” Stevens said. “They had over 6,000 pieces of Bohemian cut glass on each one of them.”

He described the process of cleaning one of the elegant White House chandeliers.

"When I was on my scaffold, I would take pieces off, put them in the bucket where I had some strong ammonia and hot water and rinse them in there, soak them in there real good, wash them off, take them out and lay them on a clean rag, then take the shammy, which is the sheepskin, and I polished it,” said Stevens. “When I finished with them, they were beautiful.”

With patience that most of us don't possess, Stevens developed his own technique and secret to making those chandeliers shine.

“When I clean the chandelier, I also take out the bulbs and I wipe off the bulbs, and the ones that had blown, I put in new bulbs,” he said.

Stevens started working at the White House during the middle of Richard Nixon's first term.

“When I would see him or when I would speak to him, ‘Good morning Mr. President,’ he would just throw his hand up. He wasn't as jolly as the other presidents,” Stevens said.

Two years before he became the only White House chandelier cleaner, he was the only window washer as well.

“I did everything myself and I didn't mind it,” he said. “I was nervous for a while when I first went over. But after I got to washing the windows, it just came to me. It was just a regular thing.”

How long did it take him to wash all of the windows?

“If I washed all the windows in the residence, it wouldn't take me more than a couple to three hours,” he said. “I was so fast at washing the windows that it wasn't enough to keep me busy.”

Stevens noticed the White House chandeliers were dirty and covered with cobwebs and spiders. He asked and got the green light become the White House chandelier cleaner.

"Everybody started talking about how clean the chandeliers were,” said Stevens. “The first ladies, they were noticing the chandeliers.”    

During his tenure as the sole White House window and chandelier cleaner, Stewart worked for seven presidents that also included Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

“Every morning, [Carter] would come through those double doors on his way to the Oval Office,” he described. “He kept his Bible with him all the time, but he didn't wear a suit and tie like all the other presidents. He had his blue jeans on with a checkered shirt.”

Stevens’ favorite White House memory happened during the Carter administration. The president surprised the entire White House staff with a trip to Camp David for a formal dinner.

“After we got finished eating, the butler came around and gave everybody some wine, and he poured wine in my glass and all the rest of the guys’ glass and he got around to President Carter,” described Stevens. “One of them was a new butler. He poured wine in President Carter's glass. And President Carter said, ‘I don't drink wine.’ He said, ‘Steve, would you like to have my glass of wine?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir, Mr. President.’”

He also has fond memories of Ronald Reagan.

“President Reagan was one of the best,” Stevens said. “I know he was a movie star and he always had a joke to tell. He was just as happy as he could be.”

He also worked for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“First time, [Clinton] said, ‘Stevens, I heard about you losing your mother.’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ And he said, ‘I lost mine too so I know where you're at. So hold your head up,’” Stevens recalled.

His last days in the White House were during George W. Bush's second term. He stepped off a ladder the wrong way, injured his knee and was never able to return to the job he loved.

“It was a very nice place to be because they clothed you, they fed you,” said Stevens. “Everybody down there called themselves one big happy family. Whatever the president wanted, we got it.”

There are 21 chandeliers in the White House to be exact. Two on the ground floor, nine on the State Floor, including the three massive chandeliers in the East Room, and 10 more on the second floor. Add that to the White House’s 147 windows and Stevens was responsible for cleaning all of them – all by himself for decades.

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