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What Kind of Desk Does the President Use?

Did you know that when a new U.S. President move into the White House, they have their choice of what type of desk they want in the Oval Office? Given all the important work that takes place upon a Commander-in-Chief’s worksurface, you can imagine how important it is to get the right desk for the next four to eight years.
The current presidential desk being used by Obama has already endued the two previous administrations – Clinton’s and Bush’s – meaning it has been in consecutive use for over two decades. As it turns out, before Clinton the desk was swapped in and out since first entering the office back in 1880, when then-President Rutherford B. Hayes received it as a gift from Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
So the desk being used by our President is not only over a century old, but it was not even manufactured in the United States: instead, it was put together by Chatham Dockyard in Kent, out of British timbers sourced from a scrapped British ship. But the story gets even more interesting than that.
Before you think the U.K. was snubbing us by sending our leader a desk made from the carcass of a retired ship, it was actually a pretty nice gesture. The ship in question was the HMS Resolute, a historical part of British history at the time; it had been part of the convoy deployed to find British explorer Sir John Franklin, who had disappeared in the Canadian Arctic.
After two years, the search turned up nothing, the Resolute found itself stuck in the ice. It was subsequently abandoned by the crew, who left on the one remaining ship in the convoy. Suddenly, the Resolute found itself free as the ice melted a bit, and the British ship ended up drifting 1,200 miles before an American whaler found it and sailed it back to Connecticut.
In an expression of goodwill during souring relations between Britain and America, a Virginian Senator who had learned about the Resolute’s recovery proposed that it be refurbished and sent back to the U.K as a gift. So Congress put together $40,000 to pay for the ship’s refurbishment, which took place at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, then sailed it back in 1856 as a gift to Queen Victoria.
Clearly, the gesture worked, and by the time the ship reached its end about three decades later, the British were still on good enough terms to return the favor. The desk was built in a popular style at the time known as a “Partner’s Desk”. Used mostly by banks and financial institutions, this design is meant to be used by two people at once sitting on either side. So the original “Resolute Desk”, as it came to be called, had a large pass-through to accommodate legs on either side.
This remained until wheelchair-bound President Franklin D. Roosevelt had this pass-through obscured on the outward-facing side with a hinged panel, so as to keep his condition a secret. JFK had the desk modified further by installing a riser to the base, increasing the height. After JFK's death, the desk was sent to the Smithsonian, where it remained until President Jimmy Carter brought it back to the White House in the '70s. President Reagan used it thereafter, but the first Bush President got rid of it, only for President Clinton to bring it back. President Barack Obama still uses the desk, which has only been slightly modified (at the base and the center panel).
Who would have thought that the history of a Presidential desk would be so interesting? I wonder if the next occupant of the Oval Office would consider some Modern Design Furniture for the 21st century.
To see such the vast selection of Modern Design Furniture as interesting as an Presidential desk, visit my showroom at CA Modern Home at 1560 Lenox Ave. Suite 101 Miami Beach, Florida 33139, or contact 800.605.1859 or sales@camodernhome.com.
Jesse Brody
Jesse Brody

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