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Treasures of the White House: "Resolute" Desk

Treasures of the White House: "Resolute" Desk

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This double pedestal partners' desk, usually called the "Resolute desk", was made from the oak timbers of the British ship H.M.S. Resolute as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes from Queen Victoria in 1880. It has been used by every president since Hayes, excepting Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, 1964-1977.

It was used in the President's Office on the Second Floor of the Residence from 1880 until 1902, at which time the office was moved to the newly constructed West Wing. This desk remained, however, on the Second Floor of the Residence in the President's Study. In 1945, the desk’s rear kneehole was fitted with a panel carved with the Presidential Coat-of-Arms, and President Harry S. Truman was the first to use this updated version.

After the Truman Renovation of the White House, 1948-1952, it was placed in the Broadcast Room on the Ground Floor where it was used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during radio and television broadcasts. It was first used in the Oval Office in 1961 at the request of President John F. Kennedy. After President Lyndon B. Johnson selected another desk for his office, it was lent to a Kennedy Library traveling exhibition, 1964-1965, and then to the Smithsonian Institution for exhibition, 1966-1977.

In January 1977, President Jimmy Carter requested that this historic desk be returned to the White House for use again in the Oval Office. In 1981, President Ronald W. Reagan also chose to use this desk in the Oval Office. President George Bush used it in the Oval Office for five months in 1989 before having it moved to his Residence Office in exchange for a partner's desk which he had used in his West Wing office as Vice President. It was returned to the Oval Office for use by President Bill Clinton, 1993-2001. President George W. Bush chose to continue using it in the Oval Office during his terms.

A brass plaque affixed to the desk records the history of its creation:

"H.M.S. 'Resolute', forming part of the expedition sent in search of Sir John Franklin in 1852, was abandoned in Latitude 74º 41' N. Longitude 101º 22' W. on 15th May 1854. She was discovered and extricated in September 1855, in Latitude 67º N. by Captain Buddington of the United States Whaler 'George Henry'. The ship was purchased, fitted out and sent to England, as a gift to Her Majesty Queen Victoria by the President and People of the United States, as a token of goodwill & friendship. This table was made from her timbers when she was broken up, and is presented by the Queen of Great Britain & Ireland, to the President of the United States, as a memorial of the courtesy and loving kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the "Resolute'."

Office of the Curator, The White House

Bruce White
Gift of Queen Victoria, 1880