Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Oval Office Trivia

The entire play November takes place in the office of the President of the United States. Called the Oval Office, the office has been in use by the President since 1909 under President Taft.

 Why is the Oval Office oval?

The Oval Office has been the main office for the president since President Taft first worked in it about October 1909. After his inauguration President Taft held a competition to select an architect to enlarge and make permanent the West Wing's "temporary" Executive office built during Theodore Roosevelt's first term. Taft ordered a southward extension of the existing structure. The winning architect was Nathan C. Wyeth of Washington, D.C. who designed the wing expansion with a new office for the President. Wyeth modeled the new president's office after the White House's original oval-shaped Blue Room.

Before moving to the president's house in Philadelphia in 1791, George Washington ordered that the straight rear walls of the principal two rooms be rebuilt into a semi-circular form, or bows. In these bowed walls may be found the inspiration for the oval shape of the Blue Room. This distinctive shape apparently had been preferred by Washington to create a suitable space for a formal reception known as a "levee."

The original Oval Office decorated with green
burlap and painted ivory trim.
The levee, a tradition borrowed from the English court, was a formal occasion to allow men of prominence to meet the president. Replete with formal dress, silver buckles, and powdered hair, the event was a stiff public ceremony almost military in its starkness. Invited guests entered the room and walked over to the president standing before the fireplace and bowed as a presidential aide made a low announcement of their names. The visitor then stepped back to his place. After fifteen minutes the doors were closed and the group would have assembled in a circle. The president would then walk around the circle, addressing each man by his name from memory with some pleasantry or studied remark of congratulation, which might have a political connotation. He bowed, but never shook hands. When he had rounded the circle, the president returned to his place before the mantel and stood until, at a signal from an aide, the guests went to him, one by one, bowed without saying anything, and left the room.

Although the Oval Office was born in the expansion of the "West Wing" in 1909, the room's distinctive shape was inspired by the Blue Room and its form may be traced to a formal social greeting that was meant by President Washington as a symbolic means of dramatizing the office of the Presidency. After he became president, Thomas Jefferson ended the practice of holding levees and replaced this formal ritualized greeting with a simple handshake.

Why is the White House white? 

It has nothing to do with the burning of the house by the British in 1814, although every schoolchild is likely to have heard the story that way. The building was first made white with lime-based whitewash in 1798, when its walls were finished, simply as a means of protecting the porous stone from freezing. Why the house was subsequently painted is not known. Perhaps presidents objected to the dirty look as the whitewash wore away. The house acquired its nickname early on. Congressman Abijah Bigelow wrote to a colleague on March 18, 1812 (three months before the United States entered war with England):

"There is much trouble at the White House, as we call it, I mean the President's" (quoted in W. B. Bryan, "The Name White House," Records of the Columbia Historical Society 34-35 [1932]: 308).

The name, though in common use, remained a nickname until September 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt made it official. 

What's the history of the President's desk? 
The Resolute desk
Called the Resolute desk, the president's desk is made from the timbers of the HMS Resolute, an abandoned British ship discovered by an American ship and returned to the Queen of England as a token of friendship. When the ship was retired, Queen Victoria commissioned the desk and gifted to to President Rutherford Hayes in 1880.

The desk has twice been modified. President Franklin Roosevelt requested that the kneehole be fitted with a modesty panel carved with the presidential seal as he preferred that people not see his leg braces. Roosevelt didn't live to see the panel installed. President Truman liked the eagle motif and had it installed when he cam into office in 1945. Since this was prior to Truman's decision to turn the head of the eagle in the presidential seal to face the olive branch of peace, the eagle on the Resolute desk faces the arrows of war.

Every president since Hayes except Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford has used the Resolute desk, though some have chosen to use it in their private study in the Residence. The desk was made famous in part by a photo of President Kennedy at work with his son, John Jr, peeked out through the front panel.

The Resolute desk left the White House during President Lyndon Johnson's presidency as it was loaned to the Kennedy Library for a traveling exhibition from 1964 - 1965 and was then taken to the Smithsonian for an exhibition from 1966 - 1967. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter requested that the desk be returned to the White House for use in the Oval Office and it's stayed in the White House since 1977. 

[ Source 1 | Source 2 ]

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