The Oval Office

The Oval Office is the office of the President of the United States. It is located in the West Wing of the White House and was originally constructed during the Taft administration in 1909 and reconstructed in 1933 during Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s administration.

The name comes from the shape of the room, which is oval. It contains three large windows to the south, behind the president’s desk and a fireplace to the north. There are four doors that lead in and out of the room. The western door leads to the President’s private study, the eastern door leads to the Rose Garden, the northeast door leads to the President’s personal secretary’s office, and finally the northwest door leads to the main body of the White House.

The first oval office constructed by Taft was to ensure that he related to his staff better by being more involved. He placed his office in the middle of the West Wing, in the center of all the action. The office had no natural lights other than skylights and allowed little privacy for the president.

When FDR came to office, he disliked the lack of natural light and privacy, so it was moved to the southeast corner of the West Wing. He had new large windows placed in the office, and its remote location in the West Wing allowed him to drift in and out of interacting with his staff.

The Oval Office since then has become a symbol for America, carrying many powerful memories. These include President Nixon‘s call to the astronauts after a successful voyage and John F. Kennedy Jr. peering through his father’s desk panel. Also the speech which Reagan gave after the space shuttle, Challenger, exploded would leave strong impressions.

The idea of an ‘oval’ office was not in the original plans of construction. The new construction of an oval took the famous Baroque concept of architecture. In its size, the large axis of the room is 10.9m, the short axis of the room is 8.8m, and the height is 5.6m.

Rather than the president’s office, the ‘elliptical salon’ in James Hoban’s original drawings of the White House, was the featured oval shaped room. The idea had been taken from George Washington‘s temporary home, where he liked to host his formal receptions in his apsidal bow ended room. This way, he was able to be an equal distance from all his guests when he gave a speech.

The floor of the Oval Office has been replaced three times. The first floor was made out of cork, but was ripped apart when President Eisenhower destroyed it with his golf spiked shoes. Thus President Johnson replaced the floor with wood-grain linoleum. Yet, when Reagan came to office, he disliked the linoleum and replaced it with a white pine and oak flooring. Its design is the exact same as it is today, a wagon-wheel pattern with the United States seal in the middle. The floor was replaced in 2005, but the design that Reagan laid out was kept.

The desk in the Oval Office also has an interesting history. It is called the Resolute Desk and been used since the Hayes administrations by every president but President Johnson, Ford, and Nixon. It is made from the timbers of the H.M.S Resolute.

The H.M.S Resolute was part of a four ship fleet that was sent as a search and rescue mission in the 1850’s for explorer Sir John Franklin. He was searching for a quicker way to the Orient using the NorthWest passage. During the search, the H.M.S Resolute and another ship became frozen in the Arctic ice. The crew was stranded in their ships for over two years.

After the second summer, the commander ordered the men onto the two free ships and sailed back to England. Unfortunately for him, he was court-martialed on the grounds that he abandoned a sea-worthy vessel. A few years later the ice around the ship had thawed and the H.M.S Resolute came drifting down and the Atlantic and was found by a fisherman’s boat.

The ship was towed back to the America and bought by Congress for $40,000. It was refurbished and refitted in order to be given as a token of friendship to England in 1856. It served in the Royal Navy for twenty years before it was decommissioned by Queen Victoria.

She made two desks out of the timbers of the ship, one for Buckingham Palace and the other for the President of the United States of America. It remains largely the same desk, even after a century has passed. It was modified twice including a height adjustment; such the President Reagan could sit at the desk without banging his knees.

There is also the famous panel on top of the desk, which was designed for John F. Kennedy Jr. , in order to hide his leg braces and wheelchair from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, he died before the commissioned panel arrived.

The panel carries the one of the three Presidential seals that the White House contains. It displays an eagle facing to in its right talon, where it clutches thirteen arrows. The more common Presidential seal is the eagle facing left, looking at the 13- leaved olive branch it clutches.

The Oval Office has had many memories and many powerful people reside in its presence. It has served as the workplace for the most powerful in the world for over a century. It has served as the room where hundreds and thousands of important decisions were made. It has had an amazing history for a simple room.


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