The desk on display in the library is a replica of the one used by President Kennedy in the Oval Office of the White House during his term of office. The replica was made by the Robert Whitley Studios of Solebury, Pennsylvania, at a cost of about $12,000. The cost of the replica was paid by the Kennedy Library Corporation, which also raised the money for the design and construction of the library building. The dimensions of the replica desk are 31.5"h x 71.5"l x 48"d.
The original desk was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879. President Hayes wrote the first note on it, a thank you to historian George Bancroft in which he wrote, "It gives me great pleasure to say that I do it in the first note written on the desk made from the timbers of the Resolute sent by Queen Victoria for the President." The desk was made from the timbers of the British barque-rigged arctic exploration ship, HMS RESOLUTE.
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 670 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.
The desk was used in the White House for many years, and was reportedly esteemed by President Roosevelt in particular. The desk apparently was moved during the alterations to the White House in 1952, and Mrs. Kennedy discovered it in the White House broadcast room and had it restored to the Oval Office.
The original desk toured the world with a Kennedy Library exhibit in 1964-1965, and later was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution. The desk was in storage for President Eisenhower's administration and was kept by the Smithsonian between 1965 and President Carter's election; President Carter requested its return, and used it as his desk in the oval Office as did President Kennedy and others. President Bush did not use it beyond the first six months of his administration.
Items on the desk
1. Black Alligator Desk Set
- Six pieces: Desk Pad; Holder for Paper Clips and Pencils; Note Pad; Rocker Blotter; Blotter holder; Cigarette Holder; Letter Sorter.
- Gift from President Charles de Gaulle of France, on the occasion of President Kennedy's state visit to Paris, June 1961.
2. Presidential Appointments Schedule for Thursday, November 21, 1963
Shows the following appointments:
- 9:30 AM Hon. Thomas S. Estes, U.S. Ambassador to Upper Volta.*
- Hon. Charles F. Darlington, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Gabon.*
- 10:50 AM Depart South Lawn for TEXAS
- Although now obscured by the clouded and scratched plastic which encases it, the coconut husk bears the inscribed message:
NAURO ISL NATIVE KNOWS POSIT HE CAN PILOT
11 ALIVE NEED SMALL BOAT KENNEDY
- The message was inscribed by Lt(jg) John F. Kennedy after his PT Boat, PT 109, was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, the AMAGIRI, and he and his men were marooned on Nauro Island in the Solomons in World War II. (1)
- The book-ends on the desk are replicas of cannon mounted on the U.S.S. CONSTITUTION ("Old Ironsides"), now berthed in Charlestown. See also article on artist.
- "O, God, Thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small."
- Presented to President Kennedy by Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, "Father of the Nuclear Navy."
6. Steuben Glass Etching
- The etchings are of a PT boat and the Presidential seal. The item was presented to President Kennedy by an organization of PT Boat veterans known as Peter-Tare, Inc.
7. Gold Inaugural Medal
- The medal commemorating his inauguration was presented to President Kennedy by the Inaugural Committee.
- The ashtray is of Waterford crystal and bears an etching of the Kennedy coat-of-arms. The ashtray was presented to President Kennedy by Mrs. Dorothy Tubridy of Dublin, Ireland.
Among the books that President Kennedy habitually kept on his desk were the following:
a. Leather-bound copies of his own publications:
- As We Remember Joe (personal reminiscences of his brother, who was killed in World War II)
- Strategy of Peace
- Profiles in Courage (his Pulitzer Prize winning work of biography)
- To Turn the Tide
- Why England Slept (his honors thesis for Harvard University)
b. Other publications:
- The speeches of JFK during the 1960 Campaign
- Joint Appearances of Senator Kennedy and Vice President Nixon during Presidential Campaign of 1960
- Winston Churchill's four-volume biography of Marlborough
- Samuel Flagg Bemis's two-volume study of John Quincy Adams
- Herbert Agar's The Price of Union
- Henri-Beyle Stendahl's The Red and the Black
c. Also on the desk was a pocket Congressional Directory for the year 1963.
- One large green telephone with several buttons. Two small black telephones for communicating with his staff and the Mansion. (3)
11. Other Items
- Magnifying glass (5" x 2"), letter opener, framed photographs of his children, an ashtray with JFK's fingerprints on it (apparently a gift from J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation), a wooden handle with the die of the Presidential seal, a lamp, and ink and pen holders.
- According to a response written on 27 February 1961 by Pierre Salinger, Press Secretary to President Kennedy, located in the White House Central Subject File here at the Kennedy Library, the lamp was a Hercolite Executive (no. 605SB) made by Herco Art Manufacturing of Wallingford, Connecticut. (4)
* The Kennedy Library has oral history interviews with Ambassadors Estes and Darlington, in which each recalls this last official appointment of the President, prior to his departure for Dallas.
(1) Refer to Robert Donovan's PT 109, and Joan and Clay Blair's The Search for JFK, for details on the PT 109 episode.
(2) Why the President chose to have these particular books on his desk is not known to us.
(3) The individual function of these telephones, especially which one was used to communicate during national security emergencies, is not known to us. Note that the famous "hot line" that was installed between Washington and Moscow was not a telephone but rather a teletype machine producing typewritten communications at each end.
(4) At present we have no further information on these items, including whether Hoover was the actual source for the ash tray and what the purpose of the Presidential seal was.
References to the President's desk and the White House generally
Baldridge, Letitia. Of Diamonds and Diplomats.
West, J.B. Upstairs at the White House.
White House Historical Association. The White House, An Historic Guide.
Wolff, Perry. A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy.