When you think of the White House, the Oval Office is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Since this is where the sitting presidents spend the most time, they’re allowed to make some minor changes to the space. But there’s quite a bit about the Oval Office that the general public doesn’t (generally) know.
As it turns out, the president’s professional space is pretty interesting. And for most people, it’s a place shrouded in mystery. Here are some fascinating facts about the Oval Office you probably haven’t heard before.
The Oval Office wasn’t included in the original White House plans
The White House was constructed in 1792. It did not include a private work space for the president. It was President William Howard Taft who ordered the Oval Office to be added in 1909.
Next: Why is the office oval-shaped?
This is why the Oval Office is oval-shaped
Three rooms in the first design of the White House were oval-shaped so that the president could take part in greeting ceremonies. Oval rooms were common back then, as they were thought to encourage socializing. The formal procedure was eventually done away with by Thomas Jefferson, but when the Oval Office was designed, it retained the oval design to mirror those first three rooms in the original White House.
Next: President Roosevelt played a hand in the office’s location.
The Oval Office has been relocated
President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t like the original location of the Oval Office because it was in the center of the West Wing and didn’t have any windows. So he moved it to the edge of the West Wing, where laundry was once hung to dry.
Next: If you’re ever in the Oval Office, look up.
A permanent fixture
While each president is allowed to redecorate the Oval Office, there are some permanent fixtures that remain. One of them is a Presidential Seal on the ceiling.
Next: What about the president’s desk?
The president’s desk has an interesting history
The Oval Office has a Resolute desk that many presidents have used. It was made from the timbers of HMS Resolute, an abandoned British ship discovered by an American vessel and returned to the queen of England as a token of goodwill.
Next: A special spot for foreign leaders to sit
The Martha Washington chairs
Across from the president’s desk, two Martha Washington chairs sit in front of the fireplace. This is where the president meets with foreign leaders.
Next: The president can enjoy a little privacy in the Oval Office.
The Secret Service is stationed outside
To maintain the president’s privacy, Secret Service agents aren’t stationed inside the Oval Office. They do stand right outside, however.
Next: Watch where you step.
This is how the Secret Service keeps track of the president from outside the Oval Office
Just because the Secret Service isn’t in the Oval Office doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s going on. There are weight-sensitive pressure pads under the carpet that allow them to know where the president is at all times.
Next: The windows are what?!
The windows are bulletproof
During World War II, the windows behind the president’s desk were fitted with bulletproof glass.
Next: Yes, there are hidden passages.
The hidden passages
People always speculate that the Oval Office has hidden passages. In fact, there are two: One door opens into the main hallway of the West Wing, the other opens to the president’s secretary’s office. There’s also a “secret” passage beneath the president’s desk that allows for an escape in case of emergency.
Next: Don’t tell the president if you don’t like the art.
Presidents choose the wall art
One of the ways the presidents personalize the Oval Office is by picking out the artwork for the walls. The art is typically chosen from the White House’s personal collection or borrowed from museums. President Donald Trump chose a portrait of Andrew Jackson.
Next: You’ll never see the most striking feature of the Oval Office.
The floor is fantastic
Although it’s always covered by a rug, the Oval Office’s floor is its most striking feature. Originally ordered by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, it features an oak and walnut cross parquet based on a 1933 sketch by Eric Gugler that was never installed.
Next: There are two things in the office that nobody ever moves.
The flags remain
There are two things in the Oval Office that no one ever moves. The presidential flag remains to the president’s left, and the United States flag is always on the president’s right.
Next: President Truman’s slogan is catchy.
The sign on the desk
It seems as if every president has a signature slogan. President Harry S. Truman’s was “The buck stops here,” and that’s exactly what the sign on his desk said.
Next: Speaking of slogans …
Reagan and Clinton had this in common
President Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton may have been from different political parties, but they had at least one thing in common: The signs on their desks both said “It can be done.”
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