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The Resolute Desk is a double pedestal partners’ desk made from the oak timbers of the British ship HMS Resolute. In 1880, Queen Victoria gifted the desk to President Rutherford B. Hayes. It has been used by nearly every president since, with the notable exceptions being Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald R. Ford. The desk was primarily used on the Second Floor of the White House, where the presidential offices were located prior to the construction of the West Wing in 1902. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used the desk in the Second Floor Oval Room of the private quarters, requested that the desk’s rear kneehole be fitted with a panel carved with the Presidential Coat-of-Arms, but he did not live to see it installed in 1945.

Following the Harry S. Truman Renovation of the White House (1948-1952), the desk was relocated to the Broadcast Room on the Ground Floor and was used for a short time by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to conduct radio and television broadcasts.

The desk was first used in the Oval Office during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. When President Lyndon B. Johnson selected another desk for the Oval Office, the Resolute Desk became part of a traveling exhibition and then went on to the Smithsonian, where it was displayed from 1966 to 1977.

In January 1977, President Jimmy Carter requested that the historic desk return to the Oval Office. Since then, the Resolute Desk has been used by every president in the Oval Office, although President George H.W Bush only used it for five months before switching to a different desk. It was returned during the Bill Clinton administration and has remained there ever since.

The Resolute Desk, made by William Evenden, Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, England, was constructed from white oak and mahogany timbers taken from the HMS Resolute and was presented to President Rutherford Hayes by Queen Victoria in 1880. In 1852, the Resolute was part of a British arctic expedition to search for Sir John Franklin, who disappeared while trying to discover the Northwest Passage. The Resolute had been abandoned after being trapped in ice. The American whaler George Henry recovered the ship in 1855 and Congress appropriated the funds to refit it and send it to England as a gift in friendship to Queen Victoria. The Queen reaffirmed that friendship with the construction of this desk after the Resolute was decommissioned. Original designs for the desk featured portraits of Victoria and Hayes along with side panels featuring arctic scenes and British and American flags. The center panel with Presidential Seal was added for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. Although similar to the Great Seal of the United States, the Presidential Seal has slight differences in design. This version of the Presidential Seal depicts the eagle facing to the left and the talon holding the arrows. President Harry Truman would change the seal slightly by having the eagle face to the right and the talon holding the olive branch.

White House Historical Association

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