When President Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the construction of a temporary office building one hundred years ago, he not only permanently transformed the grounds of the White House, but he also transformed the presidency.
Theodore Roosevelt's temporary office building is known today as the West Wing. His six children and White House staff were crowded on the second floor of the White House. Congress appropriated $65,000 for the construction of a temporary, one-story office building just west of the White House. The White House interior was also restored in 1902.
President Roosevelt held his first cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the West Wing on November 6, 1902. The new office space gave the president and his staff much-needed room to work and serve the American people.
Roosevelt's successor, President William Howard Taft, relocated the president's office in 1909 and changed its shape to oval. By establishing the Oval Office in the center of the West Wing, the president was able to work more closely with his staff. As a result 20th Century presidents became more involved in the operations of government.
A fire broke out in the West Wing on Christmas Eve 1929 during the Herbert Hoover administration. When the charred interior was rebuilt, a new feature was added: air-conditioning. Four years later, another president named Roosevelt made changes to his fifth cousin's "temporary office building." Franklin Roosevelt expanded the West Wing and relocated the Oval Office to the southeast corner in 1934. He also built a swimming pool, which was converted into a Press Briefing Room during the Nixon Administration.
Although the West Wing's interior has changed since 1902, many of the issues facing the president remain the same. In the fall of 1902, Theodore Roosevelt was concerned with the familiar themes of world affairs, trade issues and appointments.
News of Roosevelt's decisions spread through wire services transmitted by telegraph. One hundred years later, news of President Bush's decisions is spread through wire services transmitted by email or the White House web site. President Roosevelt rode on horses or in carriages and sent letters or telegrams across the globe. President Bush makes phone calls from Airforce One. Roosevelt's staff walked to work. Today, President Bush's staff ride in cars or take the Metro.
Theodore Roosevelt's contributions to the White House and the presidency are remembered in a special room of the West Wing. Across the hall from the Oval Office is a conference room, the original location of President Roosevelt's office. Today the room is called the Roosevelt Room, in memory of Theodore Roosevelt, who built the West Wing, and Franklin Roosevelt, who expanded it. On the mantel is the Nobel Peace Prize, which Theodore Roosevelt earned in 1906 for his negotiations with Russia and Japan. He was the first American and the first sitting president to receive this prestigious award.
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