A couple of days after Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife moved into the White House, the 36th US president called a meeting with chief usher J.B. West. He wanted to talk plumbing.
According to former Bloomberg White House correspondent Kate Brower in her new book, “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House,” Johnson wanted to talk specifically about the shower.
“Mr. West, if you can’t get that shower of mine fixed, I’m going to have to move back to the Elms,” Johnson reportedly said in a raised voice (the Elms being Johnson’s former private residence in DC).
His preferred shower in his Elms mansion had several nozzles that shot out water with “needle-like intensity” and had water pressure “the equivalent of a fire hose.”
One nozzle was positioned to shoot up the president’s rear while another was aimed directly at his penis — he nicknamed that showerhead sprayer “Jumbo.”
Along with aggressive showerheads, Johnson requested the installation of a light switch that he could flip for either hot or cold water. (He did not want to have any warm water in his shower.)
The Kennedys never complained about the shower, so the engineers were at a loss. A team was sent to the Elms to study the plumbing … When he found out that a new shower for the president would require laying new pipe and putting in a new pump, Johnson demanded that the military pay for it. The project, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, was paid for with classified funds that were supposed to be earmarked for security.
When the plumbers ran into setbacks, Johnson reportedly yelled, “If I can move 10,000 troops in a day, you can certainly fix the bathroom any way I want it.”
After five years, five replacement showers, a special water tank with a pump, and six body-spray nozzles, the “shower crisis” was still an issue. According to Brower, the pumps sprayed hundreds of gallons of water per minute, more than a firehose, and that still wasn’t good enough.
When Johnson left the White House, Richard Nixon reportedly “took one look at the elaborate setup and said, ‘Get rid of this stuff.'”
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