Resolute desk

Resolute desk

The "Resolute" desk is a large nineteenth century partners' desk that is frequently selected by U.S. presidents for use in the White House Oval Office. It was a present from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 and was built from the timbers of the British barque-rigged ship HMS|Resolute|1850|6. Every president since Hayes, except Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, has used the desk. President George H. W. Bush had the desk moved to the Treaty Room in the Executive Residence, but President Bill Clinton returned the "Resolute" to the Oval Office.


A gift to the Queen

HMS|Resolute|1850|6 was part of a four-ship squadron under Edward Belcher sent in the early 1850s to search for famed English explorer, Sir John Franklin, who was searching for the Northwest Passage to Asia. The "Resolute" and one of her sister ships became lodged in the Arctic ice, and after two full seasons, remained stuck. Following the second summer, the commander of the expedition instructed the crews of the two ships to board the two ships that lay outside the ice and sail back to England.

After their return, Belcher was court-martialed for abandoning a seaworthy vessel, as the "Resolute" broke loose of the ice the subsequent summer and was found by an American fishing vessel captained by James Buddington. The "Resolute" was towed into port and purchased by Congress for $40,000 and refitted. The "Resolute" was presented to Queen Victoria on December 17, 1856 as a token of peace. The "Resolute" served in the Royal Navy for 23 years following its return.

A gift in return

When the ship was decommissioned in 1879, the British government arranged for a desk to be made from its timbers. It was built by William Evenden, a skilled joiner employed at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham. It was presented to President Hayes on 23 November 1880.

A plate on the front of the desk bears the following inscription:

H.M.S. RESOLUTE forming part of the expedition sent in search of SIR JOHN FRANKLIN IN 1852, was abandoned in latitude 74 degrees 41 minutes N longitude 101 degrees 22 minutes W on 15th May 1854. She was discovered and extricated in September 1855 in latitude 67 degrees 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. [cite web |url= |title= The President's Desk |accessdate= 2008-05-10]

The desk was first commonly used by the president in his private study in the residence either in the present Yellow Oval Room or the Treaty Room. President John F. Kennedy first placed it in the Oval Office in 1961. Some presidents, such as George H. W. Bush, have used the desk in their private study rather than the Oval Office.

Presently the desk has been in the Oval Office for the past 16 years, having served Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.


The desk has been modified twice. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a front panel in order to hide his wheelchair. The hinged panel was commissioned in 1944 but was not delivered until 1945, following Roosevelt's death. President Truman had the panel installed anyway. The panel features one of four presidential seals in the White House that have the eagle's head turned towards the 13 arrows in the eagle's left talon as opposed to the now official arrangement with the eagle turned towards the olive branch in the right talon with the 13 leaves.

The second modification to the desk was made under Ronald Reagan. President Reagan brought his chair from the capitol in California; it was tall enough that his knees bumped into the desk when he moved. As a result, the desk was raised two inches to accommodate Reagan and his chair; this was achieved by adding a separate, uniform base to the desk to make way for his chair.


There are exact replicas of the "Resolute" desk on display in at least four presidential libraries. The desk at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library was recreated by Robert Whitley. The desk at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas was built by a company called The Presidents Desk. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California and the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, [cite web|url=|title=The Symbol of the Presidency] also include replicas of the "Resolute" desk.

A few independent museums also display replicas, including the American Presidential Museum, a gallery and museum of American presidents in Branson, Missouri, [ Treehouse Children's Museum] in Ogden, Utah, which features a small scale Oval Office; and a full-scale replica of the Oval Office (with desk) is open to the public at the American Village in Montevallo, Alabama.

Popular culture

Replicas of the "Resolute" desk have appeared in many movies. The desk was a key plot device in "", in which the desk featured a secret compartment containing related pieces of a clue to the location of treasure. Once the two parts of the map are fitted together, the ancient pre-Colonial symbols show the way to the City of Gold. The film also features a counterpart desk situated in Buckingham Palace which was supposedly made for Queen Victoria; Queen Victoria did have a writing table constructed from the timbers of HMS "Resolute". While it was kept for many years in Buckingham Palace, it is not a twin to the desk which was presented to President Hayes.

ee also

*Bureau du Roi
*Desk of Books
*Henry VIII's writing desk


; Sources consulted and recommended reading

* Abbott James A., and Elaine M. Rice. "Designing Camelot: The Kennedy White House Restoration." Van Nostrand Reinhold: 1998. ISBN 0-442-02532-7.
* Matthews, Elizabeth. "HMS "Resolute"." Auxilium ab Alto Press: 2007. ISBN 978-0755203963.
* Monkman, Betty C. "The White House: The Historic Furnishing & First Families." Abbeville Press: 2000. ISBN 0-7892-0624-2.
* Sandler, Martin W. Resolute": The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage and John Franklin, and the Discovery of the Queen's Ghost Ship." Sterling: 2006. ISBN 978-1402740855.
* Seale, William. "The President's House." White House Historical Association and the National Geographic Society: 1986. ISBN 0-912308-28-1.
* Seale, William, "The White House: The History of an American Idea." White House Historical Association: 1992, 2001. ISBN 0-912308-85-0.
* "The White House: An Historic Guide." White House Historical Association and the National Geographic Society: 2001. ISBN 0-912308-79-6.

; Endnotes

External links

* [ John F. Kennedy, Jr. peeking out of "secret door" in Resolute desk]
* [ Oval Office furnishings]
* [ Online White House Museum page on the "Resolute" desk]
* The "Resolute" desk is at Coord|38.89734|-77.03742|type:landmark_region:US_scale:1000|display=inline,title

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