The history of the Resolute Desk

History :

Do you know the Resolute Desk ? This large 19th-century piece of furniture frequently serves as a desk for U.S. presidents at the White House, in the heart of the Oval Office.

(Photo : Victorian Replicas)

This Partners desk type was donated by Queen Victoria to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. It has been built from the wood of the British ship HMS Resolute, from where its name originates.

The desk is composed of a large tray whose top is covered with stretched leather. The tray rests on two carefully carved boxes. These boxes, as in any partners desk, contain house drawers on both sides. What for? As the name suggests, a partners desk is usually meant to be occupied by two people, sitting face to face.

A symbol of peace :

In 1855, an American whaling ship found the HMS Resolute, a British polar exploration ship.  Abandoned, it is caught in the ice of Davis Strait located between Baffin Land and Greenland. The HMS Resolute was brought back to Connecticut, United States. U.S. Congress buys the ship, restores it and sends it back to England where it is presented to Queen Victoria as a sign of peace between the two countries. HMS Resolute was then returned to service by the Royal Navy. When the ship was decommissioned, Queen Victoria had oak frames recovered from the ship. She had William Evenden build the Royal Chatham Shipyard, a magnificent desk she offered to the President of the United States in 1880. On the Resolute Desk, an engraved brass plaque immortalizes its history.

(Photo : Joseph Beaumier)

From 1880 to today :

This desk has been used by all presidents since President Hayes, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, from 1964 to 1977.

The Resolute Desk is first installed in the presidential office on the second floor of the executive residence, the central and historic building of the White House.

In 1902, the desks of the President and his team were relocated to the newly constructed West Wing, but the Resolute Desk remained in the executive residence in the president’s private office. After the major renovation of the White House under President Harry Truman (1948-1952), the Resolute Desk was placed in the Broadcast Room on the ground floor, where it was used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his radio and TV speeches.

President John F. Kennedy moved it from the executive residence to the West Wing by having it installed in the Oval Office in 1961. His wife Jacqueline had rediscovered it in the Broadcast Room. A famous photograph shows John F. Kennedy Jr., the then three-year-old president’s son, playing under the desk.

(Photo credit : photo 4)
(Photo credit : photo 5)

President Lyndon B. Johnson preferred to use his own partners desk and the Resolute Desk was then loaned for a traveling exhibition of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library from 1964 to 1965, then in 1966 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington for display.

Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford never used the Resolute Desk. It was President Jimmy Carter, upon his arrival at the White House, who had it reinstalled in the Oval Office in memory of his time in the Navy.

President Ronald Reagan used it in turn, but his successor, President George H. W. Bush, parted ways with it in 1989, five months after his arrival in the Oval Office. He prefers the partners desk he used in his White House vice president’s office. President Bush then installed the Resolute Desk in the Treaty Lounge in the Executive Residence.

President Bill Clinton reinstalled the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office in 1993, where his successor, President George W. Bush, retained it. The Resolute Desk was used by President Barack Obama during his eight years as president. Now, the President Joe Biden continues to use the Resolute Desk.

(Photo credit : photo 6)

Original… or almost :

The Resolute Desk has undergone only two modifications since 1880. President Franklin D. Roosevelt calls for a sign to be placed at the front of the office to hide his legs and his wheelchair. A panel mounted on hinges was ordered in 1944, but was not delivered until after the death of President Roosevelt in 1945. His successor, President Truman, nevertheless had the sign installed. On this sign is engraved the seal of the President of the United States. Interestingly, this is one of only three representations of this seal, among the many existing in the White House, where the eagle has its head turned towards the thirteen arrows and not in the current official sense, being towards the olive tree branch. The second modification of the Resolute Desk was requested by President Reagan, who raised it by 4.5 cm so that his knees would no longer hit the underside of the board.

A famous piece of furniture :

The Resolute Desk is enjoying a certain celebrity. The desk comes out of the shadows in 1963 when the mythical photograph showing President Kennedy’s son playing under the presidential desk while his father works. Then, in 2008, after a certain lull, the desk regained fame following the release of the film National Treasure:  Book of Secrets starring Nicolas Cage. In this film, one of the clues that could lead to the discovery of the treasure of Cibola, the city of gold, is in a secret compartment of the Resolute Desk. (Yes, I searched well and, in my desk, there is no secret compartment… Too bad!)

The Resolute Desk continued its artistic career by making appearances in several films and TV series, such as:

  • Olympus Has Fallen
  • White House Down
  • House of Cards
  • Designated Survivor (the Resolute Desk appears without the Roosevelt Panel)
  • Scandal
  • Madam Secretary
National Treasure : Book of secrets
(Photo credit : photo 7)
The designated survivor
(Photo credit : photo 8)


Source : Wikipedia in french

Name of the page : Resolute Desk

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