The Presidents Desk - A History by Canonbury Antiques

Relevant categories: Desks


Presidents desk

Also known as the Resolute Desk, the President’s Desk has been a constant feature in the U.S. White House since the late 19th century. As such, a number of presidents have made it a part of the oval office. The desk was made from wood salvaged from an abandoned British ship, which had been discovered by an American vessel and sent back to the Queen of England to symbolize goodwill and friendship. Later, the ship was retired and the wood used to make the President’s Desk, which was presented by Queen Victoria in 1880 to President Rutherford Hayes.


Nice side view of the Resolute Desk

In its long history, the desk has undergone some modification. When Franklin Roosevelt came to power, he asked for the kneehole to be fitted with a presidential seal carved on a modesty panel. Unfortunately, he died before that could be realized. In 1945, Presidents Truman requested that the eagle motif is installed on the desk. The only difference with the current presidential seal is that the eagle motif was made to face the arrows of war instead of the olive branch of peace.

There was also some modifications done to raise the President’s Desk by adding a plinth (uniform, separate base). When John F. Kennedy was president, a pine base was used to raise the desk. After his death, the desk went on display as part of the Smithsonian Institution, until President Jimmy Carter requested for it to be returned in 1977.

Inscription on the Presidents Desk

Later, the base was removed only to be replaced during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. According to President Reagan, he felt uncomfortable hitting his knees on the top and thus wanted the based replaced. But that base didn’t last long after it was replaced by a more durable one in 1986. This has been a part of the desk ever since then.

Presidents Who Have Used It

President Reagan at his Resolute Desk

The desk has been used by most of the U.S. Presidents since Hayes with the only exceptions being Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. However, not all those who used the President’s Desk had it in the oval office. Some preferred it in the private study in the presidential residence.

Since every president has his own style, he would prefer to have different things on the desk. A good example is Harry Truman, who had a plaque on the President’s Desk with the inscriptions ‘The buck stops here’. And so that statement became a big part of everyday talk after President Truman left office.

The Design


It was on September 9, 1879, when the plans for the President’s Desk were completed. Today, the designs can be found in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. It is also possible to view the plans online. The original gifts proposed by Queen Victoria were a library table and a secretaire, which were replaced by the Resolute Desk. The only common thing between the original plans and the desk is that both were to be made from timber from the ship named ‘Resolute’.



Clearly, the President’s Desk is one of the well-known antique pieces still in use today.

What Desk Is Donald Trump Using?


More from our Knowledge Base

What Is an Antique Bureau Plat FEB.20.2019

What Is an Antique Bureau Plat?

4 Things to Look For in Antique Mantle Clocks FEB.14.2019

Large range of antique mantle clocks - including French, English, gilt and garniture sets. Come view them in our Hertfordshire antiques showroom...

What to Look For in Open Front Bookcases FEB.14.2019

Sheraton, Regency, walnut, mahogany and satinwood, breakfront form or double fronted - we have various sizes, styles and shapes of open front bookcases all with adjustable shelving. The perfect piece of practical yet stylish furniture...