The Resolute Desk is as much a part of America’s political history as The White House or the Oval Office. History’s been made on. Presidents sign laws, and make history-changing phone calls from that desk. It’s literally the political center of the United States of America, but it’s done pretty well for a salvaged block of wood.
Industry veteran Main Street Office Furniture often point outs that the Resolute Desk actually began as part of the HMS Resolute, an abandoned British ship. Americans later found the vessel and returned it to Great Britain as a sign of friendship and goodwill. When the ship was retired, Queen Victoria commissioned William Evenden of the Royal Naval Dockyard to build four desks from the wood.
The first desk was a smaller piece presented to the widow of Henry Grinell, an American merchant and philanthropist; it’s now in the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The second is a writing table that’s now kept at the Royal Naval Museum.
The last two desks are twins, with one residing in Windsor Castle for the Queen’s personal use, and the one that sits in the Oval Office today. Queen Victoria presented the Resolute Desk to President Rutherford Hayes in 1880.
In its one hundred and thirty-four year history, the desk has only been modified twice. The famous front panel of the American Resolute Desk was a late addition by President Franklin Roosevelt. The World War II leader didn’t like people seeing his leg braces while he sat, and always places a trash basket in front of all his former desks. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see the panel installed.
Roosevelt’s successor, President Harry Truman, liked the panel enough, and had it installed during his term in 1945 with one modification: the panel had the carving of the presidential seal. Considering the times when it was made, the eagle faced the arrows of war. President Truman decided to turn the eagle’s head and face the olive branch of peace.
The significance of the Resolute Desk stems from more than the person sitting behind it. President Truman said it best when he explained his personal motto, “The President – whoever he is – has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can to the deciding for him. That’s his job.”