He was quickly stopped by Secret Service agents after breaching a barricade and jumping over the fence on the North Lawn that was recently refitted with seven-inch (18-centimeter) spikes to make it harder to vault over.
In a statement, the Secret Service named the man as Joseph Caputo: “Caputo was immediately apprehended and taken into custody. Criminal charges are pending at this time.”
Secret Service officers had their guns drawn and were accompanied by K-9 units, according to two CNN photojournalists who saw the incident, which triggered a lockdown at the presidential mansion.
The United States, and major US cities in particular, are on heightened alert after the Paris terror attacks, but Obama stressed on Wednesday that there was no specific threat to the US.
Caputo was carrying an envelope, wore a blue shirt and white pants, and was cloaked in an American flag, the CNN journalists said.
CNN said he was at least the third person to scale a fence and make it on to White House property this year.
The Secret Service came under fierce scrutiny and its head resigned after a US war veteran climbed over the north fence and made it into the presidential mansion armed with a knife in September 2014.
He entered the front door of the White House and went through several rooms before being overpowered and arrested.